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The tragedy of lifeboat accidents relating to offshore drilling rigs


Report: Fatal Lifeboat Accident Caused by Damaged Release Cable




FROM 2019: Shell confirms two fatalities in a routine lifeboat drill

FROM 2017: Shell North Sea Lifeboats Dangerous Farce No. 3 

FROM 2008: Lifeboats trouble at Brent field

23 Dec 2021

Following the Alexander Kielland disaster in 1981 and the subsequent enquiry of the many recommendations made lifeboats launching arrangements were to be changed to on load release.  This recommendation was endorsed by the Norwegian Government despite objections regarding this system requiring specialist attention due to complexity and sequence of use.

These recommendations were universally adopted by SOLAS and became a requirement for all Drilling Rigs and permanent offshore fixed installations. Bearing in mind that in the event of a lifeboat evacuation of a fixed installation either floating or otherwise the situation prevailing would be dire and extreme.  Just the right time for errors to occur during launch. However, the vast majority of lifeboat on load release incidents have taken place during mandatory maintenance including a full launch and recovery exercises resulting in around 500 reported incidents and very serious injuries and deaths

The Norwegians have installed Free Fall designs on all new offshore installations and upgrades where ever possible, this system is also in use on many of Merchant fleets worldwide.  From my own personal experience, the free-fall system is less prone to incidents during launch but the recovery during a periodic test launch is a nightmare requiring a container pack full of special equipment and the assistance of the Stand By vessel to aid the process.

Practice launches can only be considered when the significant wave height is at or below 1.5 meters and at least stable for a couple of hours.  In other words, once a year if you are lucky.  Note that the SOLAS guidance asks for a launch test on a three-monthly interval.  This is impossible to achieve in the North Sea and in areas where a. “messy sea” can be experienced due to wind, swell and tidal influences.

The extract below is from a Norwegian web site and was published on 1 August 2006, yes 2006 a 35 year tragedy, that illustrates vividly that the authorities in most countries appear to sitting on their hands and content to accept the facts that on load release systems designs are not fit for purpose resulting in more deaths, permeant disabling injuries,  and other serious injuries to prevail far exceeding lives saved by lifeboats when required to be used for the purpose intended.

Perhaps time for a rethink.

Lifeboat accidents. The cases reported below illustrate the tragedy of lifeboat accidents. 

Twenty years of warnings and accidents

Due to the many on-load release accidents, there has been no lack of attention to the problem, no lack of in-depth investigations by good flag state administrations and no lack of coverage in the press. But still the accidents have continued to happen and seafarers’ lack of confidence in lifeboats has grown. Following is a far-from-complete list of papers that have been issued on the subject over the years, unfortunately without success in stopping the accidents.

1981. The official report of the ALEXANDER KIELLAND accident recommended to accelerate work for improved release mechanisms in lifeboats, but also warned of accidents that had happened with on-load release gear.
1986. Hazards of on-load mechanisms were highlighted in UK Merchant Shipping Notice M1248.
1991. The Norwegian Maritime Directorate issued a circular on the accidents with on-load release hooks.
1994. The Thistle Education and Consultancy Co. Ltd, Glasgow College of Nautical Studies carried out a study of the lifeboat release mechanisms for UK MSA.
1994. Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) published a “Lifeboat Incident Survey – 2000”, with a non-comprehensive list of 89 incidents, of which 26 were related to lifeboat disengaging gear.
1995. Seaways, the journal of the Nautical Institute, presented three articles on lifeboat release mechanisms by the senior lecturer of Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, highlighting the problems leading to accidental release.
2001. The United Kingdom Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) presented a safety study for UK and non-UK vessels inspected by them from 1989 to 2000 and found that accidents with lifeboats and launching gear represented 16 per cent of total lives lost on merchant vessels. They had registered 12 deaths and 87 people injured during training and testing of lifeboats. Quote: “…the MAIB suggests that anyone using a lifeboat, be it in a drill or a genuine evacuation, runs the risk of being injured or even killed”.
2001. Intertanko, in conjunction with ICS (International Chamber of Shipping), OCIMF and SIGTTO (Society of International Gas Tanker & Terminal Operators) raised the matter of lifeboat accidents with the IMO sub-committee on ship design and equipment.
2002. IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) stated in circular MSC 1049 that the number of accidents in lifeboats during lifeboat drills and inspections was unacceptably high and invited member governments to take action.
2003. Cayman Islands Shipping Registry issued a circular based upon the MAIB study of 2001, stating: “Nobody should be in the lifeboat during lowering or hoisting back to the stowed position”.
2003. IMO issued MSC circular 1093, “Guidelines for periodic servicing and maintenance of lifeboats, launching appliances and on-load release gear”.
2003. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) addressed lifeboat accidents in a safety bulletin. Quote: “Most lifeboat accidents have occurred during training drills, the purpose of which is to increase the confidence and competence of seafarers when handling lifeboats. Regrettably, that purpose is not always being met. There is increasing worldwide concern at the number of deaths and injuries that have resulted from lifeboat accidents and for the safety of seafarers when lifeboats are being used”.
2003. The Norwegian Maritime Directorate issued circulars on how to reduce the risk of accidents during lifeboat exercises. Their record showed five deaths on board Norwegian-flagged vessels during the years 1989-2001.
2004. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau issued an in-depth report on the death of two people and three seriously wounded in a lifeboat accident. Over the years Australia has issued several good investigation reports on such accidents.
2005. The New Zealand Branch of the Nautical Institute issued a “Lifeboat lowering questionnaire”.
2005. Study of accidents between 1992 and 2004 reported to Gard revealed 32 incidents, 74 injured, 12 deaths.
2006. Amendments to SOLAS Chapter III, adopted in MSC 78, on “Training Servicing and Maintenance of Life Saving Appliances” in force from 1st July 2006. 

From Gard News 183, August/October 2006

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