The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released its report after a lifeboat was inadvertently released from the bulk carrier Aquarosa (pictured above) about 450 nautical miles north-west of Dampier, Western Australia on 1st March 2014.
At the time of the incident, a ship’s engineer was on board the lifeboat inspecting a hydraulic pump which controlled the craft’s release mechanism. The engineer operated the pump’s handle three or four times to check for leaks when he felt the boat shudder and then move. He realised the lifeboat had been released and tried to strap himself into a seat as it launched, but suffered serious injuries when the boat hit the water. Other engineers on Aquarosa raised the alarm with the ship’s bridge, and the offi cer of the watch slowed the vessel and began to turn around.
About 10 minutes after the initial incident, the bridge crew noticed the lifeboat was underway and heading towards the Aquarosa. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority was contacted while the ship’s crew prepared to rescue the engineer.
The operation to recover the injured man took just over three hours as he was unable to climb unassisted. The lifeboat was recovered and secured to its cradle about five hours after the accident happened.
The engineer received on-board medical treatment for an injured left leg and cuts to his face and head. He was taken to hospital and diagnosed with a fractured left knee cap when the ship berthed at Kwinana a week later.
The engineer told investigators he had operated the on-board release hydraulic pump three or four times before it engaged. The boat’s operations manual said the pump is designed to require 10 to 12 pumps before the mechanism is tripped. Investigators found the mechanism had not been correctly reset after an earlier operation, and no marker was in place which would alert the crew to that fact. They found while the engineer’s decision to check for leaks was well-intentioned, he was not aware of the risks posed by the poorly set release mechanism.
The lifeboat cradle also incorporates two wire slings which are designed to prevent the lifeboat launching after the on-load release has been triggered. Analysis of the slings found their failure was consistent with overload and not the result of defect or damage.
As part of its report, the ATSB has asked the lifeboat’s manufacturer to modify the on-load release mechanism to avoid similar incidents in the future. Those adjustments include incorporating a marker to show the mechanism is in the correct position, and modifying the wire slings designed to keep the boat in place during launch simulations.