Lifeboats are important for safety on large ships, and yet they have caused countless accidents resulting in injuries and deaths. These are the smaller vessels that are designed to carry passengers and crew when a ship is damaged in some way, capsized, or sinking. In order to be able to use them effectively and safely in an emergency, it is essential that the crew members of a ship are trained and have practiced filling and lowering lifeboats.
To make sure that the crew can do this, ships hold lifeboat drills. Crew members are required to practice these drills regularly, but numerous accidents during these drills have caused injuries and fatalities. Many of these unfortunate incidents could have and should have been prevented if better and safer procedures had been put in place by those in charge. If you work aboard a ship with lifeboats and have been injured during a drill, maritime laws protect you and could help provide you with compensation for your medical and other expenses.
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Lifeboat Drill Requirements
A drill includes crew members getting people into lifeboats, lowering those boats into the water, often from a great height, and then lifting the boats back up and re-stowing them. The process is fraught with dangers, which is why it is practiced. Drills are necessary to ensure that the crew can get the lifeboats, with passengers, safely into the water. During a real lifeboat situation there are many more people and passengers may be panicking. Adequate practice is necessary so that crew can go through the routine safely, even with distractions.
International rules state that ship crew members must participate in a lifeboat drill at least once a month. Each individual crew member must meet this requirement, and so there may need to be more than one drill per month to involve every member of the ship’s personnel. Often this requirement comes down to the time period just before a ship departs.
Because of accidents that have occurred in recent years during these drills, guidelines have been created in an attempt to make them safer. One of the changes made to international requirements for lifeboats is that inspections of lifeboats and the related equipment must be made regularly be experts from the manufacturer as opposed to the crew. Another change allows for lifeboats to be launched during drills without crew members aboard. Guidelines for the functioning of the release mechanism have also been changed to make these safer and to avoid incidents in which the mechanism fails and the boat falls to the water.
Common Drill Accidents
The changes to guidelines and requirements for these safety drills were made in an attempt to curb the number of accidents that occur during these events. There have been numerous accidents leading to the injuries or deaths of crew members, which could have been avoided. The most common types of accidents that occur during drills are related to equipment failures, poor communication, and bad practices. Most of the accidents that have occurred could be blamed on the following:
- The failure of the release mechanism for lowering the lifeboats into the water
- A failure to communicate properly from one crew member to another during a drill
- Inadequate training of crew members leading to unfamiliarity with the equipment being used
- Unsafe or negligent practices during drills
- Accidental operation of the release mechanism, causing free-falling lifeboats
- Poor maintenance of lifeboats and related equipment
- Failure of mechanisms on lifeboats and related equipment
Another important issue with lifeboats is that many of the boats in use today are not designed well enough to hold the number of people they are supposed to be able to carry. This may be related to global increases in weight, while the standards for lifeboats have not changed. Average weights have gone up, while lifeboat capacity has stayed the same. This could lead to serious accidents during real abandon ship incidents.
Examples of Accidents
Too many tragic accidents have occurred during drills for lifeboat safety and abandon ship procedures. Five people died in one such incident in Spain in 2013. Crew members were practicing lowering lifeboats into the water from the side of a large ship. Eight crew members participating in the drill while the ship was docked in port were sitting in the lifeboat as it was lowered to the water. The lifeboat fell nearly 100 feet when a failure occurred and five of the eight crew members were killed as the boat hit the water and flipped over.
In Finland in 2012, 20 people were injured in a lifeboat accident. Crew members were practicing dropping through a 14-foot chute into lifeboats and the drill was only stopped when subsequent personnel refused to follow their injured crew members in the procedure. Those who had already completed the chute experienced burns from trying to slow their descent as well as sprained ankles and other minor injuries. An inspector on site watched from a distance and was unable to see that crew members were being injured during the drill. Someone in charge should have been there to ensure workers were training safely and to stop the procedure when it became clear that they were being injured by it.
Some of these drills cause only minor injuries such as the incident that occurred in Finland, but far too many are more like the one in Spain. Fatalities and serious injuries are too common aboard lifeboats and during drills. While changing guidelines and requirements should help, improvements are slow to come to this industry and people working aboard ships with lifeboats are still at risk.
Getting Help if You Have Been Injured During Lifeboat Practice
If you are injured as a crew member working on a drill with lifeboats, you should seek medical treatment right away and also have an official report filed as soon as possible. Taking these measures and ensuring that you have good records of them will mean that you can fight for the compensation you deserve for your injuries. You are entitled to compensation when injured on the job, but if your employer refuses, you may have to fight for it. Having medical records and a documented accident report will help you make your case if that happens.
When faced with a fight for your rights under maritime law, an experienced attorney is your best ally. When an employer is trying to deny your rights and doesn’t want to pay you any or all of what you are owed, you can rely on a lawyer to help you sue them. Contact a professional who can help you file a claim and make your case and you will have the best chance of recovering damages and getting the money you are owed.