Clay Maitland

On a quest for quality in shipping

Deadly Craft.

Posted on | February 21, 2013 | No Comments

It might be stretching both taste and veracity to describe them as “deathboats”, but the most recent multiple-death accident to a lifeboat demonstrates beyond peradventure that in modern times, more people have been killed and injured by lifeboats than have been saved by these craft.

The cause of the accident which saw the lifeboat aboard the Thomson Majesty plummet into the sea and kill five of its occupants is yet to be determined, but a broken wire fall was conspicuous in photographs of the aftermath. The accident is one of the worst to have happened, and yet we seem no nearer to making the very necessary lifeboat drills any safer for ships’ crews.

It has been estimated that literally hundreds of seafarers have been killed and injured in such a fashion, mostly, it has to be said, since the advent of enclosed boats and on-load release hooks. The truth is we don’t really know the number, because only a certain number of flag states seem sufficiently competent to collect this information, and inquire into the causes of these clearly avoidable accidents. That itself might be considered something of a scandal.

Should we try and return to a simpler past, when equipment was far less complex and seafarers seemed able to launch and recover lifeboats without killing and injuring their occupants? That is probably impossible as we have to deal with the smaller crews of today, less familiar with boatwork than their predecessors and it is thus necessary to automate the process as much as possible. When it is designed and manufactured to the right standard,  treated properly and maintained correctly, the best modern equipment is obviously fit for purpose. When one or more of these elements is missing, if it is some equipment sourced for its cheapness, allowed to corrode and then used by people who don’t understand seamanship, there will be consequences.

Sensible strategies which have been recommended by IMO suggest that people should not be inside boats being lowered or raised, but this itself seems somewhat inadequate a solution. There is a real problem here that needs more than bandages to staunch the blood being spilt and the talking needs to stop.


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