No, MAC isn’t embarking on advocacy by four-letter word, culturally appropriate though it might be in the environs of the salty seadog, but when asked their opinion on the brewing controversy, or possibly manufactured controversies, surrounding the implementation oif the IMOs MSC1206 the response from one very experienced Master was ‘I don’t give a f*** ‘. He wasn’t expressing a lack of interest in lifeboat safety, far from it, it was simply that the situation regarding lifeboats in their totality is so bad that the controversial sections of MSC1206 hardly matter.
We’re likely to hear a lot about MSC1206 over the next quarter as it approaches finality at the IMO. The controversy surrounds provisions that those maintaining lifeboats and the equipment and spares used must be certificated by the lifeboat manufacturer. That, it is argued, would enhance safety by keeping the boats up to their original spec.
Given the continuing injury and loss of life involved in lifeboat accidents one wonders whether keeping a lifeboat up to its original spec is what is wanted, at least without far better training of seafarers and the excision of poor designs of lifeboats and hooks from the inventory.
We are already seeing the effects of IMO MSC1206 in the purchase by lifeboat manufacturer Schat-Harding of Willem Pot (See Comments section), a Netherlands company which includes lifeboat servicing in its offering. It is certainly cheaper to buy a company than invest in the equipment, faciltiies and experienced personnel to meet the demand that could be created by MSC1206.
MSC1206 is good for lifeboat makers and original equipment manufacturers, certification and approval of third party servicing engineers and equipment can be a nice little earner.
On the other side are the independent companies who argue that MSC1206 will remove a company’s ability to choose who services its lifeboats and thus reduce competition. A recently launched anonymous avocacy website, MSC1206, argues that third party servicing and spares have not featured in lifeboat accidents. The website, the owners of which seem to be shy of identifying themselves, does incvlude an excellent collection of links to lifeboat accidents reports and studies, probably the best on the web, with the two-fold aim, it appears, of showing that third part servicing and equipment have not played a role in lifeboat accidents (Although the report on the Aratere lifeboat accident in New Zealand, mentioned on the MSC1206 website, notes among safety issues “the fitting of replacement critical parts that were not made or approved by the manufacturer of the release mechanism” and that the manufacturers themselves don’t seem to be doing a particularly good job. It so argues because MSC1206 would remove independents from the gene pool.
What we are seeing here, of course is two industry sectors fighting for market. Given what’s happening to the lifeboats they’re fighting over, this is rather like the stewards on the Titanic arguing over who gets the passengers’ tips.
It was against that background that my grizzled old salty sea-dog growled “I don’t give a f***’.
If we are going to stop the slaughter of seafarers then the IMO, flag states and classification societies need to concentrate on enforcement of existing rules and regulations not inventing new ones. They need to address poor training, poor design of lifeboats and release gear, poor on-board maintenance, and some of the most appalingly opaque user manuals since the invention of the Chinese VCR.
There should be only one question about a lifeboat – is it safe?