If you work in the maritime industry, you likely know that there are many dangers. A recent cruise ship lifeboat accident highlights dangers that seem unlikely, but are actually a very real concern.
Cruise Ship Lifeboat Accident
Early in September 2016, the crew aboard the Harmony of the Seas – the largest cruise ship in the world – were conducting an “abandon ship drill” when a lifeboat became disconnected from its rigging. The lifeboat fell over 30 feet into the water, with crewmembers onboard.
One person died in the lifeboat accident, and four others were injured. Media reports indicated that two people were being treated for critical or life-threatening injuries.
This lifeboat accident was the second in three months, and the second to cause fatal injuries.
In July 2016, a crewmember on the ship Norwegian Breakaway was killed in another lifeboat accident. Both accidents are under investigation.
These two lifeboat accident examples are only a glimpse into the dangers of the maritime industry, specifically working on passenger ships.
In 2013, five crewmembers onboard the Thomson Majesty were killed when the lifeboat they were in plunged into the water landing upside down. In 2014, a cable snapped aboard the Coral Princess while a lifeboat was being raised into its rigging. One crewmember died in that accident.
Lifeboat Accident Risk Factors
Any time you work around heavy equipment or rigging, there is a risk of malfunction, negligent handling, or inadequate safety procedures. In the case of these two lifeboat accidents, part of the investigation is determining whether the lifeboats were secured and handled properly. The lifeboat drill process will also be examined.
Lifeboat drills are required as part of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) guidelines.
The Harmony of the Seas is outfitted with 44-ton lifeboats, each set to hold 370 passengers. The lifeboats are designed to be efficient, with minimal work required to lower and navigate passengers off the ship. Abandon ship drills are a critical part of ensuring passenger safety, and making sure that the ship is safe for everyone onboard.
Lifeboat Accident Causes
According to the Nautical Institute, most lifeboat accidents are caused at the time when human and mechanical structures interact. The most common factors leading to accidents include:
- Equipment failure
- Quick release mechanism failure
- Lack of maintenance
- Design failure
- Failure to follow correct procedures
- Lack of proper training
Experts argue that the davits (rigging) used to secure the tons of mass required to support lifeboats and passengers may be vulnerable after years of use.
Experts also warn that the complex series of actions required to safely and properly release the boats may be confusing for crewmembers.
Lifeboat Accident Prevention
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is responsible for safety standards, regulation, and other matters relating to the maritime industry. The IMO has a variety of publications designed to improve safety standards, training, and implementation of safe lifeboat management.
The IMO also works closely with the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) and the United Nations to propose and adopt laws and amendments to laws and regulations.
The IMO specifically addresses regulations within SOLAS, and works diligently to improve safety precautions and address risk factors. SOLAS includes regulations and treaties pertaining to the following areas of the maritime industry:
- Fire protection, detection, and extinction
- Life saving appliances and arrangements (including lifeboats)
- Safety of Navigation
- Carriage of cargo
- Management for the safe operation of ships
- Verification of compliance
In addition to the IMO and MSC, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) also has advised certain provisions for its members, including mandating the following:
- For training purposes, lifeboats may only be loaded while the ship is waterborne, and only while lifeboat crewmembers are onboard.
- During lifeboat loading drills, lifeboats should be filled with an equal number of crewmembers to the certified capacity of the lifeboat.
- Lifejackets should always be worn by lifeboat crewmembers, and all such crewmembers must attend the lifeboat loading drill.
- Lifeboat loading drills should be conducted every six months.
Union Organization Calls for Change
In light of the more recent injuries and deaths during lifeboat drills, the Union organization Nautilus International is calling for change.
According to Nautilus General Secretary Mark Dickinson, the dangers of lifeboat drills are well documented, and the organization advises against lifeboats being manned while drills are performed. Dickinson states that it is “appalling” that the maritime industry has not solved this issue.
Nautilus states that this issue has consistently been raised between themselves and the IMO, and believes that a more concentrated effort needs to be made to protect crewmembers from known dangers. Dickinson further states his opinion that the entire concept of lifeboats should be reviewed, as well as potential alternatives for evacuation systems.
Lifeboat Accidents and Human Error
Of course, as humans we have limited control over equipment malfunction or breakdown.
What we can control, however, is our response to the responsibility to maintain equipment, service it properly, and train employees to practice safe actions and behavior.
In the maritime industry, employers are required to do this and more to protect their workers. When they fail to do so and injuries result, they may be subject to consequences based on applicable laws, regulations, and company policies.
Injuries and loss of life caused by negligence are never acceptable, and it is the right of every maritime worker to have adequate training and a safe working environment.
Workers who believe these rights have been violated, or who have been injured in a lifeboat accident, may find it beneficial to contact a maritime injury attorney to discuss their legal rights.