Yet another death in a lifeboat, aboard the cruise ship Coral Princess in Colon, when a boat fell from its falls, killing a seaman and injuring the boatswain. These would be skilled people, used to handling boats aboard a vessel which would use its tenders regularly to take passengers ashore in anchorage ports.

Why cannot this steady loss of life, aboard craft which were supposedly designed to save it, be stopped?

By grim coincidence, as the crew of the cruise ship were mourning their loss, safety expert and accident investigator Captain Denis Barber was speaking to naval architects in London about the failure of the maritime regulatory establishment to deal effectively with this ongoing tragedy. Captain Barber, who has personally investigated two separate fatal lifeboat incidents aboard Bahamas flag ships, has strong views about their design, the complexity of their release gear and the false premise represented by their all-enclosed nature.

It was the mandatory requirement for boats to be all-enclosed and fitted with on-load release arrangements that he believes are at the root of the troubles. Why, he asks, did boats have to be all enclosed, as survivors in the 21st century would be unlikely to undertake prolonged voyages in them. Indeed, the habitability of these enclosed boats he suggests are just as much an issue, citing the master of the MSC Napoli, who found that his crew faced seasickness and ferocious overheating in their enclosed boat, after they had abandoned their structurally damaged containership in the English Channel. Two of his crew were almost at the point of death in their awful conditions when they were rescued by helicopter, only a few hours after their abandonment. It was, perhaps, worth mentioning that when the cruise ship Explorer sank in the Antarctic some years ago after striking ice, all aboard were saved using the elderly vessel’s open lifeboats.

Enclosed boats are, he says, impractical, with no outside decks to walk upon and the crew unable to do anything but sit, surrounded by their own vomit and await rescue. He criticises the great height of davits on some craft, which will see boats suspended on enormously long wire falls. All too often it has been impossible to maintain the gear, to check whether wire falls are corroding internally, while the complexity of the hooks has contributed to numbers of fatal accidents.

He is enraged by the number of accidents that take place during drills, which has wrecked any confidence seafarers have in the equipment put aboard to save their lives in extremis. He believes that the present refusal of the authorities to employ safety pennants is both wrong and illogical and it is a disgrace that many davits have no place where such can be secured. The failure of IMO to confront the issue of drill accidents, he believes is a disgrace, progress being prevented by “a wall of bureaucracy”, handicapped by the lack of practical seamen in the regulatory process.

Captain Barber considers that SOLAS, and the LSA Code are aimed at lawyers and need “seafarer translation”. He suggests that Marine Escape Systems offer a safer means of escape.

It was a thoughtful, challenging talk that raised a lot of questions. Why do we need these enclosed death traps? Do we really need on load hooks? Can’t we go back to something simpler, when complexity has been fatal for so many unfortunate people?  Are these questions unreasonable?

Author: Michael Grey              Source: