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SOLAS Is At Risk Investigation Reports of Failures of Life Saving Equipment Capt. Francis Lansakara – Council Member SNI

Despite effective SOLAS Conventions, regular IMO updates through circulars and resolutions and emerging new technologies yet, shipping casualties had been reported everywhere in the recent past and need not to say pose an imminent threat to safety aspect of this global industry. This paper intends to review recent maritime accidents and incidents originating from the safety equipment on board and access whether risk factors sufficiently addressed through current SOLAS regimes. Where life-saving equipment said to be the crew or passenger last resort to life the efficiency at which it should be maintained shall not be limited to mere certification but of good safety culture. The findings from the following case review are of some concern...

Life boat accident

Life boat crushed into the sea from a height of about 20 meters with 8 crew killing 5 of them.

On the 10 February 2013 at Santa Cruz De La Palma, Spain during a life boat drill Malta registered passenger liner’s life boat falls parted and crushed into the water with eight crew members on board causing death to five of them.
(For final report on the accident refer to Marine Safety Investigation Unit Transport Malta report No. 05/2014 total 50 pages)
The safety investigation found that the wire rope fall had parted near or around the forward davit’s upper sheave; the laboratory analysis revealed that the wire rope had parted at a site of pre-existing corrosion wastage and that it appeared dry and void of lubricant; the cause of the corrosion was due to the wire rope strands opening up under tension, allowing seawater and other contaminants to penetrate the inner core and corrode the strands; the wire rope fitted was not in accordance with the manufacture’s recommended specifications; and the grease with the incorrect specifications had been used to lubricate the wire rope during periodic maintenance.

Amendments to SOLAS regulations lll/19.3.3.4 came into force 1 July 2008 will allow during the abandon ship drill for the life boat either free fall or launch with only required operating crew on board or lowered into the water by means of a secondary means of launching without operating crew on board. The aim is to prevent accidents with lifeboats occurring during the abandon ship drills. In addition UK P&I Club recommends Life boats first lowered to water level for test and raised again for crew boarding . Only the number of crew required for operating purpose are required to be on board for drill purpose. About one and a half years later a lesser serious accident occurred on board the chemical tanker when accidental release of rescue boat with one fatality.

On 21 November 2014 during a drill the rescue boat of Hong Kong registered chemical tanker was accidently release from a height of about 13 meter s causing death to one seafarer and serious injuries two seafarers 

For full and comprehensive investigation report please refer to investigation by:

BSU- Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation Germany 44 page investigation report 364/14

The findings are rather disturbing as per report the use of an undersized wire rope for lowering and hoisting the rescue boat was responsible for the accident. The failure of the cable was facilitated by corrosion and non- functioning limit switches on the davit system. Furthermore the hook was not attached to the wire rope in accordance with the manufactures specifications. The accident would not have been possible if the periodic inspection of the entire system was carried out in accordance with the specifications as the defects would have noticed and remedied.

Annual service of David system as per IMO circular MSC/1 Circ 1206 rev.1, under section 4 encourage ship owners/managers to employ only qualified personnel approved by the manufactures of the life boats and davits for their service. This IMO circular was dated 11 June 2009 its primary objective was to avoid similar accidents however even after almost five and a half years later repetition of the same shows serious issues relating to compliance. As per the findings service to life boat davit was carried out by an unqualified personnel and not in accordance with manufactures instructions. On the South East Asian side of the maritime world recent fast ferry accident came into light as it occurred near the busy Singapore Strait traffic lane. 

Batam–Singapore fast ferry incident which occurred on the 29th November 2015 while enroute from Nongsapura ferry terminal in Batam Island towards Singapore.  According to eye witness account the water started coming into the ferry after she was reported to have collided with an unknown object at the about 9PM, at that time the ferry was still within Indonesian waters close proximity to the nearby fishing villages. The abandon ship order was given by the crew and all the 97 passengers and crew have abandoned the ship onto life rafts they were later rescued by villages nearby. Although there were no loss of life or any life threatening injuries some of the passenger known to have traumatised after the incident and there were complains as to lack of coordination among the crew during the abandon ship process and the crew’s lack of knowledge on life raft emergency operation procedure.  Investigation into the incident by Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) revealed two key points: I. “The primary causal factor was due to the Master, without tenable and valid safety reason altered the heading of ship  towards Singapore prematurely (taking a shorter route) and not following the approved passage plan.”  II.“The failure of both life rafts, in particular, the second life raft was due to broken rubberized compound connecting the one-way safety valve tube to the buoyancy unit. These life rafts were last inspected by a life raft service station in Batam (Indonesia) and was not carried out in accordance with the recommendations in IMO Resolution A.761 (18) – servicing intervals for a 20-year old life raft."

Full report available at MPA website:

Investigation Report for the Grounding incident of Indonesian Registered Passenger Ferry on 29 November 2015

SOLAS Chapter lll Life Saving appliances and arrangements 

Regulations 19- Emergency training and drills application to passenger ferries engage on a voyage which last more than 24 hours requires muster of passengers instructions to be given, whenever new passengers are embarked a safety briefing shall be given prior departure or immediately upon departure and all crew members to participate in drills as such each crew members of the passenger ferry must participate in one abandon ship drill and one fire drill every month. Fast ferries having lesser than 24 hours of voyage will be exempted from these regulations although they are of the same risk level at times. 

Responsibility & Risk - Compliance above SOLAS minimum safety standard required?

The above list is not exhaustive but a fraction of total number of accidents occurred in maritime industry due to failure of life saving equipment. These accidents highlights mere certification on board will not solve risk issues or reduce risk of fatal accidents. Note that all the ships in the above accidents had valid certificates although they had defective safety gear. It has been a practice in above cases to use unqualified service workshops for service of life saving appliances, objectively the responsibility of appointing or vetting a qualified personnel lies mainly with ship’s superintendent rather than master or senior officer as such whenever there is an accident as a result of an unqualified worker the majority of blame shall be borne by the superintendent. On the other hand the ship shall bear so me responsibility for failure to follow manufactures instructions during stage of maintenance. There is a considerable risk pose by SOLAS exemptions given under chapter lll regulation 19 for passenger ships where fast ferries are also considered under the same exemptions. The best practice in this case will be whenever required to recommend additional safety training measures over and above SOLAS chapter lll regulation 19 in order to save life.