After a growing number of cruise ship lifeboat accidents, PST speaks to key players to find solutions
After a growing number of cruise ship lifeboat accidents, PST speaks to key players to find solutions
A series of cruise ship lifeboat incidents has underlined the need for a greater focus on training and maintenance and a more effective approach to design.
But while the number of incidents has increased – in the latest incident a lifeboat broke free of its davits and fell into the water on board Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Dream at the end of December 2018 – there is some progress being made. Initiatives include a new class certification, industry-wide replacement of lifeboat hooks, and a new lifesaving solution that claims to be safer than the traditional style.
Lloyd’s Register (LR) is investigating the loss of the lifeboat off Carnival Dream. LR passenger ship support centre senior fire and safety specialist Captain Antonio Prestigiacomo told PST that the root cause has not been identified and investigations are ongoing.
He commented “Until a technical investigation is completed it is difficult to identify if the root cause was related to equipment design or an operational related issue.”
He highlighted that the maintenance regime of lifesaving appliances needs particular attention in the industry. “Having well-skilled engineers that can carry out the right maintenance of the equipment is fundamental. Interaction between equipment manufacturers, service suppliers and ship crew is very important in maintenance inspections.”
Trade union Nautilus International has been outspoken about lifeboat dangers and the need for action to address design shortcomings.
Nautilus International professional and technical officer David Appleton told PST “[the accidents] are mainly down to design – that is the ultimate cause.” Examples include issues with wires that fail, or where the designs mean it is not possible to adequately maintain and grease wires. Mr Appleton said this could include wires being hidden, which meant they could not be maintained properly or going around “impossible bends”, thus weakening the wires.
Eliminating human error
As well as equipment failures and a need for better maintenance, human error is a factor in many of these incidents. This highlights the need to improve crew training and to ensure drills are carried out in a risk-free setting.
Mr Appleton favours a two-pronged approach, looking at both equipment failures and human error. “There needs to be recognition of the purpose of lifeboat drills and testing. A drill should be where you learn in a risk-free environment, where if you make a mistake you do not kill anybody, where an inspection is meant to test whether something works. Loading a lifeboat with 30 people to check it works is not among those things.”
RINA passenger ships centre of excellence safety expert Piero Moncheroni also highlighted the need for greater training and awareness, as he pointed out that when it comes to lifeboat incidents, the human factor “cannot be forgotten”, as well as operational factors including bad weather.
He emphasised it was of “paramount importance” for shipowners to improve crew members’ awareness of the dangers of handling lifesaving appliances.
He added that some equipment is easier to operate and more user-friendly than other types. “Some operators choose to use a telescopic system that is slightly easier to operate than traditional gravity davits, but it is very important that crew has the full skillset for the type of davit system and boat used. And the lifesaving system should be properly maintained, this is of utmost importance in my view.”
There is certainly a growing awareness in the industry of the importance of training. For example, Survitec is offering free training where, during annual inspections, its trained engineers observe the ship’s crew carrying out required function tests and maintenance.
Survitec regulatory and compliance manager Paul Watkins said “If you can spot a problem that is happening and retrain that crew then that is a potential accident averted.”
A new class notation launched just last year is a positive step as it embraces both design issues and safety drills. DNV GL’s voluntary certification standard covers the davits used to launch and recover tenders, including those which have a dual use as a lifeboat.
DNV GL head of section lifting appliances Aldo Matteucci said “The main idea for setting the standard was driven by market requirements, by owners and manufacturers noticing the increased number of issues related to the continuous use of davits for tender boats.”
He explained how davits for tender boats are used frequently, therefore increasing the probability of malfunctioning and problems. This would affect using a cruise ship tender that also serves as a lifeboat.
An important part of the certification is to include a risk analysis, Mr Matteucci said. “The majority of tender and lifeboat incidents are assigned to the human factor, so the more you use the equipment, the higher the probability that they can get into some trouble. In order to tackle this, our approach is that there must be risk analysis from the designer, and we need to open up use of new technology and materials, like radio signals.” This would include, among other things, using radio to remotely launch and recover tender boats, without personnel near moving parts.
DNV GL suggested that as well as radio, control and monitoring could include warning signals or sensors.
While using electric power and radio signals are not allowed by SOLAS when the tender is in lifesaving mode, such monitoring systems can be used in a lifeboat drill. Mr Matteucci said “Few accidents have been reported in real lifesaving operations – accidents tend to occur during maintenance and when the crew carry out drills. Using monitoring systems can help prevent accidents as there is a better chance to see things or be warned by the system that something is wrong.”
The notation – launched last year – has been applauded by davit manufacturer Vestdavit. Vestdavit development director and naval architect Atle Kalve said the new DNV GL performance standards represent a “significant advance” on the way SOLAS regulations for davits are based on minimum lifting and lowering speeds set for lifesaving appliances.
He believes the issue is particularly pertinent given the trend for more expedition cruise ships sailing in polar waters, with adventure ships increasingly crossing waters previously preserved for navies, coastguards and research vessels.
Mr Kalve said “DNV GL has considered issues surrounding recovering tender boats in sea states higher than 0-1 Hs. In higher sea states, boats need to be hoisted clear quickly to avoid being lifted by a following wave with a risk posed to crew when that wave subsides, the rope is slack and the boat drops.
He said existing Vestdavit products already meet the required standards.
Boosting hook safety
Replacement of non-compliant hooks means that they must now be manufactured from non-corrosive materials (Pictured: Survitec’s hook solution)
Steps have also been taken in the industry to improve the safety of lifeboat hooks. An IMO directive states that all existing lifeboat release systems have to be tested to exacting standards, and that hooks found to be non-compliant must be replaced or modified. Survitec’s Mr Watkins, who also attends IMO through his place on the International Life-saving Appliance Manufacturers’ Association, emphasised that the directive had “made massive strides in safety – these new exacting requirements have almost totally eliminated the chance of unintentional release.”
Highlighting how the requirements have helped, Mr Watkins said “For example, hooks must now be manufactured from noncorrosive materials. Previously, it was acceptable for hooks to be manufactured from carbon steel and galvanised.” He said this could eventually lead to corrosion and hooks being seized if they are poorly maintained.
Survitec global technical sales manager Robert Wallace added one of the biggest previous factors that contributed to accidents was that the weight of the lifeboat could be transmitted to the opening mechanism in the previous hook designs, which could enable the mechanism to turn. “Now the weight of the lifeboat cannot be put on the turning mechanism – that has taken away one of the biggest problems.”
The period of five years – when ship operators have to change noncompliant hooks at the next scheduled drydocking – will be reached on 1 July 2019.
Survitec has changed thousands of noncompliant hooks with its Safelaunch hook solution. Cruise ship projects included rehooking three Royal Caribbean cruise ships between 2017-2018.
New LSA raises safety bar
As well as an increased focus on training and hook replacement, a new life-saving product is coming to market this year that claims it will “raise the bar” on safety.
Viking Life-Saving Equipment’s hybrid LifeCraft consists of four LifeCraft units, each able to take 200 people. Each of these self-propelled inflatable units can be placed either on deck or built into the ship’s side. Development work on LifeCraft started in 2009, aiming to combine the advantages of modern lifeboats, such as self-propulsion, with the inflatable feature of liferafts.
Senior vice president of Viking’s passenger division Niels Fraende said “More than anything else, the Viking LifeCraft really raises the bar for passenger vessel safety and it is more than a few steps ahead of currently available solutions on several key parameters. That has been the ultimate aim from day one.”
He singled out how this craft increases safety compared to traditional life boats: rather than entering a lifeboat at deck level, the LifeCraft is entered at sea level. Mr Fraende explained “It is safer to be at sea level than evacuating into a lifeboat sitting on davits. If an incident happens during evacuation, it’s safer using a chute or slide than a lifeboat launched out over shipside.”
Another major way in which the LifeCraft will boost safety is that its functionality can be electronically surveyed daily, with information being sent directly to the bridge. “The bridge then constantly has an overview of readiness and live awareness of any issues,” said Mr Fraende.
More needs to be done
It is encouraging to see the industry is taking steps towards reducing the number of cruise ship lifeboat incidents. But as the frequency of incidents shows, there is more to be done. LR’s Captain Prestigiacomo believes the industry should review the applicable oversize lifeboat requirements.
He said “Oversize lifeboats are becoming so common that all parties should look into the possibility of including specific requirements in SOLAS or LSA Code to ensure technical consistency.”
Currently they are covered by an alternative design arrangement process while specific requirements for lifeboats are limited to 150 people.
Mr Appleton called for greater discussion. “There needs to be a fundamental look top-down rather than patching up – if something designed to save lives is regularly killing people then the industry really needs to take a holistic look at it.”
It remains apparent cruise operators, manufacturers, class, industry associations, IMO and flag states must work closely together to bridge the lifeboat safety gap.
A lifeboat on board Carnival Dream broke free from its davits and plunged into the water.
Five people were hurt, one seriously, during a routine training exercise involving a lifeboat on P&O Cruises’ Arcadia, while it was in the Azores.
A nitrogen cylinder burst on board an Emerald Princess lifeboat, causing one fatality.
A lifeboat broke free from Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas while it was in the port of Charleston (reported Cruiselawnews.com).
One crew member was killed, and four other members were injured after a lifeboat fell from the Harmony of the Seas during a safety exercise.
A lifeboat drill accident left one Norwegian Breakaway crew member dead and three others injured.
A tender boat on the Balmoral operated by Fred Olsen Lines malfunctioned, during a scheduled boat training drill (reported by cruiselawnews.com).
Five crewmen were killed after eight crew were checking a lifeboat when its ropes snapped, and it plunged into the sea off Thomson Majesty.