The incident

The vessel was on an ocean passage from the Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago to Durban, South Africa. Monthly maintenance jobs for the free-fall lifeboat (FFLB) were scheduled for the morning of 25 May 2019. The chief officer completed a ‘dangerous work permit’, which included a risk assessment, and had it approved by the master.

Before starting the maintenance works, the chief officer, the third officer and the bosun carried out a visual check on all the lashing arrangements and hoisting wires and found them in good condition. The chief officer asked the bosun to start the davit winch, to enable them to lower the floating beam unit and connect the hoisting slings to the lifeboat.

Once the hoisting slings were connected, the bosun lifted the lifeboat a few centimetres off the ramp. Thereafter, the third officer boarded the lifeboat and activated the freefall release handle to test the release of the release hook. Upon receiving a confirmation that the release hook was successfully activated, the third officer disembarked the lifeboat and disconnected the aft lashings and the power cable which were still attached to the lifeboat. At this stage, the lifeboat was only being held on board by the hoisting slings.

The chief officer instructed the bosun to lower the lifeboat back on the ramp and slide it down, to allow for maintenance works on the rollers. The bosun lowered the lifeboat to a distance of about two metres. As soon as the bosun stopped lowering, it was observed that the hoisting slings were slipping from their ferrule, one by one. In that moment, the floating beam unit recoiled and the lifeboat slid down to the water.

The man overboard alarm was sounded and preparations were made to retrieve the lifeboat. The rescue boat was deployed the crew boarded the lifeboat.

Due to the three metre swell that was rolling the vessel slightly and due to the absence of sound hoisting slings on board, the master assessed that the recovery of the lifeboat by using the lifeboat’s davit, was dangerous. In view of the situation, he decided to secure the lifeboat on deck by the use of the vessel’s cargo crane.

Probable cause

Transport Malta concluded that the immediate cause of the lifeboat release was that its weight was being supported by the hoisting slings that were attached to the lifeboat’s davit. The hoisting slings’ failure was the direct cause of the inadvertent release of the FFLB into the water.

Other factors that contributed to the accident were the following:

  • The failure of the hoisting slings was the direct cause of the inadvertent release of the FFLB;
  • The hoisting slings were completely covered with PVC sheathing;
  • The failure of the hoisting slings was attributed to: potential, inadequate pressure· applied during swaging; and/or the presence of sheathing inside· the ferrule.
  • No certificate for the hoisting slings had been received on board; 5. The PVC sheathing prevents the wire from being thoroughly inspected and may even entrap salty water in contact with the wire rope.

Recommendations

The Merchant Shipping Directorate was recommended to:

  • Publish an information notice, highlighting the dangers of sheathed steel wires on board ships due to restricted access to the wire rope for a thorough inspection