A series of safety measures covering lifeboat servicing and maintenance that took years of painstaking development has been stalled ahead of what was expected to be routine final approval at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The move marks another failure of the regulatory authorities to push through measures to tackle lifeboat accidents during drills, which have caused hundreds of seafarer deaths and serious injuries and are recognised as one of shipping’s biggest killers.
The package involved enhanced servicing and maintenance requirements.
It had been developed by a special subcommittee, had already been approved and was only expected to go through the formality of a final reading at last week’s IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) meeting.
The IMO confidently predicted before the meeting that “the MSC is expected to adopt draft amendments to Solas [Safety of Life at Sea] Chapter III”.
However, an International Association of Classification Society (IACS) objection — centred around “inconsistencies” with the testing of free-fall lifeboat release systems — ended with the package being blocked. IACS points out that it is unclear in the amendments whether the launching of a free-fall lifeboat is required during safety tests.
It simply asked the IMO to clarify the situation but the effect has been that the whole package has now been sent back to be amended at the subcommittee, something which some fear could mean delays to the introduction of critical safety measures.
An IMO insider told TradeWinds: “Once IACS had made its objection, then the Bahamas, Panama and Liberia all jumped on it and there was no choice but to throw it [the safety measures] back to the subcommittee.”
The concern is now that the reversal will further delay the mandatory application of the safety guidelines, which have already been circulated as a voluntary measure for the industry. They were viewed as a comprehensive attempt to finally get to grips with the lifeboat safety problem. Poor servicing and maintenance standards had been earlier identified as one of the key causes of the unintended release of lifeboats during lowering.
In an earlier agreed separate measure, ships are required to upgrade on-load release mechanisms to an improved IMO standard in the first drydocking after July this year but no later than July 2019.
The main lifeboat manufacturers have been adding to their service capability so as to cope with the new requirements.
One said: “We have been telling owners this is about to come in and how to cope with it — and now there is still nothing.”
There has been a noted reduction in lifeboat safety-drill accidents since owners began to take their own initiatives.
Some are conducting lifeboat drills, which are required every three months, without crew in the lifeboat. In other cases, a fall-prevention device, known as a strop, is being fitted to the release mechanism to prevent it from releasing the lifeboat while it is still being lowered.
However, there is still concern in the industry over the safety and condition of existing lifeboat release arrangements.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) recently instructed its port-state control inspectors not to enter lifeboats unless they are visibly shown that the release mechanism has been correctly set first. It says AMSA inspectors must first be satisfied with the securing arrangements of lifeboats before they enter.
AMSA said: “This requirement is a control mechanism that AMSA has implemented to reduce inspectors’ exposure to risk.”
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