Norwegian Gard P&I Club has issued the following press release. Comments are welcome:
On the 18th of October an unprecedented number of industry participants met at a seminar organised by Gard, at their head office in Arendal, to discuss the issues surrounding the use of ‘onload’ lifeboat release hooks. A wide range of stakeholders including ship owners, life boat and hook manufacturers, classification societies, flag state representatives, P&I Clubs and a senior representative from the IMO, debated how injuries and deaths involving these hooks, which occur mainly during mandatory drills, could be avoided. The conference was both technical and practical with three survival crafts and a number of life boat hooks on display as well as video presentations showing the latest hook designs.
Alf Martin Sandberg, Senior Technical Adviser, who has been studying this issue on behalf of Gard for some years commented ”This is a complicated subject. There are more than 70 different hook designs on the market and there are no clear statistics on accidents where they are involved. This makes arriving at an industry consensus very difficult, but there is no doubt that these injuries and deaths are unacceptable. This is a very serious issue and one that we felt needed to be debated by everyone involved – which is why we organised this first ever seminar on the subject.
“Hundreds of people have been involved in accidents during the last 20 years and Gard alone has seen one death and six serious injuries this year due to accidents involving ‘onload’ hook failure during lifeboat drills. As a result, lifeboat drills generate fear in seamen. In addition to the tragic crew accidents with these hooks, P&I clubs are also facing the enormous potential exposure of a worst case scenario involving an ‘onload’ hook failure on a cruise ship lifeboat (which carry as many as 150 people) in a real-life emergency. The objective of the seminar was to explore the options available with all the interested parties.
“Broadly speaking there are three options:
Accept the situation as is, recognising that there will be a certain number of accidents every year, but improve the maintenance of the hooks and training in their use.
Impose a total ban on ‘onload’ release hooks and revert to offload hook solutions.
Go back to basics and design an ‘onload’ hook that is fit for the purpose, a fail-safe design which becomes an international standard. This solution would require agreement to the phasing out, and replacement of, the most dangerous, first generation ‘onload’ release hooks.
Another possible route is for cargo ships to generally adopt ‘freefall’ lifeboats – it was reported at the conference that it is now possible to fit such lifeboats also transversally on board a ship
“The purpose of the conference was not to reach a final agreement but to move the discussion forward. We were delighted that there was a genuine feeling amongst attendees that this was an issue that merited serious debate and many of the participants asked that another gathering should be held to continue the dialogue. It was also felt to be the beginning of a new era with hook manufacturers meeting each other, opening their doors and inviting competitors to inspect and comment on their hook designs.”