The right time for crew members to abandon their vessel depends on whether this is the last option to be saved or not. Otherwise, it might be safer to stay on ship until the expected assistance finally approaches. It is necessary to ensure that crew can handle similar situations and have been trained through drills and risk assessments, in order to be prepared to efficiently manage an “abandon ship” operation.

Real Life incident

On a routine inspection which took place on a Maltese-flagged bulk carrier, the 2nd engineer got injured when the freefall lifeboat was inadvertently released. The 2nd engineer was inside the boat and as there has been indicated by the investigation, lifeboat release mechanism was not fully and correctly reset since the last time it been exercised. Moreover, there has been indicated that the two simulation wires failed to bare a load below its safe working load, making lifeboat to be launched from the stern of the ship. It took 5 hrs to recover the lifeboat back on vessel.

As the above incident shows, all precautions should be taken place before the circumstances demand that the crew should abandon the ship, otherwise operations, will fail undermining safety.

Ocean going vessels abandonment

For ocean going vessels, ship’s abandonment is to be conducted with totally enclosed lifeboats or free fall lifeboats and each of these demands different manipulations when the need of falling into the water arises. It is easy to understand that lifeboats are safety equipment which need the appropriate maintenance with periodical inspections and tests to ensure that they are properly working. Except from these precautions, IMO at its requirements regarding abandon ship operations (updated June 2017), requires additional measures aiming prevention of accidents with survival crafts. It focuses on the use of uniforms and also to the authorization, qualification and certification requirements to ensure reliable service is provided (requirements will enter into force on 1 January 2020).

Totally Enclosed Life Boats

This type ensures water tightness and also it gets upright on its own if an overturn have been caused by big waves. In case of an abandon ship operation, and a totally enclosed lifeboat is used, the crew should act as follows, before lowering of boat to the water:

  • Sound abandon ship signal, MAYDAY signal and fix ship’s position.
  • Activate EPIRB and SART
  • Stop main engine and propellers should be secured
  • Muster at lifeboat stations with the appropriate life jackets and immersion suits
  • If time permits, equip the lifeboats with extra blankets, water or food and remove painters from lifeboat (if any)

Free Fall Life Boats

Free fall is similar to an enclosed lifeboat, but it differs in the process of launching, as it is constructed in such way, so it can easily penetrate the water as it falls from the vessel without any rope support. When the crew uses a freefall lifeboat, should act same as for an enclosed lifeboat, but there are some additional measures to be taken, as the crew when board into the lifeboat should be prepared accordingly to experience a free fall situation which demands very careful preparations.

As have already been mentioned, familiarization with lifeboat equipment and procedures that should be followed during such situations should practice during drilling operations. SQE Marine provides Emergency Checklist to be used as guidance at training drills and also when abandoning the ships seems inevitable.