Cargo ship lifeboats need to be reinvented

The Container Ship Safety Forum (CSSF) has released a statement to call for a reinvention of the lifeboat onboard cargo vessels so safety can be improved. According to CSSF, over the years, many seafarers have been injured – some of them fatally – while launching the lifeboat during evacuations or evacuation drills. This has nothing to do with the lifeboats not being compliant with safety standards, but simply because the launch of a lifeboat is a dangerous task to perform.

“For way too long, we have seen able seafarers being injured when launching lifeboats even though crews have been trained and the lifeboat is modern and fully compliant,” said Aslak Ross, Chairman of the CSSF.

Deaths due to lifeboats

A study in 2014 by a UK safety group using accumulated data over a ten-year period indicated that incidents involving lifeboats and their launching systems had caused nearly 16% of the total lives lost by merchant mariners. Even more survived lifeboat incidents but suffered severe injuries of the spine and lower extremities.

In 2017, the UK Chamber of Shipping issued an article ‘Lifeboat drills: We need to save lives, not lose them’ in which they identified 60 fatalities during testing of lifeboats over a 10-year period. In the article, it was stated that simulation training could improve safety.

Last year, InterManager, the international trade association for ship and crew managers, raised awareness of the fact that seafarers are dying needlessly in lifeboat accidents, when maritime legislation doesn’t require vessels to be manned during drills. According to InterManager, since 1981 there have been 419 deaths involving lifeboats, 346 serious injuries and 116 minor injuries.

“Everyone knows there is a problem as seafarers are scared to launch lifeboats. However, no one has offered a plausible path towards a solution to the problem for cargo vessels,” claimed Aslak Ross.


Aslak Ross finds that simulation and use of new technology is one way to conduct drills in a safer environment, and CSSF support the intent to reduce the risk of accidents. However, he adds, it does not solve the core of the problem: Launching a lifeboat is too dangerous. And even though simulation has its advantages, it should only be used as a supplement to well-conducted onboard abandon ship drills where crews are familiarized with the ship specific equipment.

“Such systems should also be made available to cargo vessels without delay. It is long overdue to change the current environment and innovate to eliminate the risk of lifeboat accidents. We need approved systems that can be fitted to newbuildings – we need to safeguard our seafarers,” concluded Aslak Ross.

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