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Vanguard Offers Fresh Perspective on Lifeboat Hook Release Systems

Murali Dharan, CEO of Vanguard, provides a fresh perspective on lifeboat hook release systems and the impact that current legislation will have on operators and owners.

“It has been almost 15 years since the first rules governing lifeboat and davit inspections were introduced. They currently focus on lifeboat manufacturers carrying out necessary inspections and re-certifications.

The marine industry may not be aware that the majority of lifeboat manufacturers have acted simply in the role of a ‘component integrator’, by taking various other OEM components or systems, such as engines, steering systems, water spray system, compressed air systems and even to the extent of fitting OEM hook release systems.

We have all been made aware through the various reports and publications on the subject that most lifeboat accidents have been attributed to the malfunction of the hook release system, either due to poor design, poor maintenance or poor training. In order to address this issue, various sub-committees and discussion groups (reporting to IMO) have been formed and have tended to focus
their attention toward lifeboat manufacturers, who inherently are integrators.

We at Vanguard feel differently. Vanguard is of the opinion that hook release manufacturers should be the focus of all inspection, re-certification, and training matters. As a hook manufacturer, they would have all the necessary information pertaining to the release system. If this re-direction of focus were to be accepted, almost all of the issues involving the various aspects of system re-certification could be addressed in the interests of the industry.

Recognising and accepting that hook release systems are indeed an additional ‘component’, thus requiring the release system to be independently approved and certificated, would ease the burden on the marine industry by ensuring safer working and safety of seafarers.

Allowing the inter-changeability of approved and certified release systems, which incorporate many additional safety features, would go a long way, in the interim period, to achieving this.

Lifeboat manufacturers may argue against release hook system change-outs without the lengthy, complicated, and costly process of ‘prototype certification’, for what is, in effect, a simple change from one particular approved mechanism, or an equally approved and certificated system, of the same tonnage capacity and size.

However, the concept is not new – hook release systems have been changed out over the years without complications, and we advocate that any proposed hook change-out should continue to be kept
simple, in the interest of the industry.

With regard to the issue, and definitions being currently put forward by the various correspondence groups and advisory groups to IMO as to what criteria should be used to define ‘a poor design and unstable system’ of existing systems that would require potential change-out, I refer to a quotation from DE52/6/1: ‘Potential criteria for ‘poor and unstable design’: hooks that transfer load to the release cables; hooks that have locking devices that may turn due to forces from the hook load; and hooks made of material requiring paint or galvanizing in the hook-hook attachment to the release mechanism.’

If the above criteria are indeed accepted, it would render at least 90% of all lifeboats presently in operation globally as being non-conformant with the criteria, and deemed as being of ‘poor and unstable design’ as the majority of all systems in current use are galvanised. In our view, the parameters of the proposed criteria as mentioned are too restrictive, and fail to address the major point of design such as ‘Fail-to-Safe’ mode.

A ‘Fail-to-Safe’ system, if and when developed, would in fact negate all other conditions as it would put the system into ‘safe’ mode in the event of any system failure.

Until a ‘Fail-to-Safe’ system has been designed, developed and exhaustively tested, which according to some learned estimates may be anything ranging from five years hence to upward of 15 years, we should concentrate on considering making existing systems safer for our seafarers.

In the light of this current situation, we would recommend that this proposed ‘poor and unstable design’ criteria be restricted to hook release manufacturers that are defunct (hence no training or spares available), and hook release systems which have not been independently approved and certified.

The above measures, if implemented, would, by themselves, go a long way to ensuring the safe use of our existing lifeboats.”

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