For a number of years, IMO, classification societies, flag states and shipping associations have been placing great emphasis on lifeboat safety in an effort to reduce the number of reported deaths and injuries which are occurring within the industry.
Lifeboat and davit manufacturers have also been ramping up their training and service company certifications to meet the growing maintenance and servicing needs of the industry. But sadly, this has come about at the expense of quality of service and professionalism.
In the course of these commendable efforts within the industry as a whole, a new, unforeseen element of danger has arisen – the rise in the number of sub standard service providers. A vast majority of these companies are relatively new ‘service’ companies which took advantage of the legislation under the MSC 1206 rev1 guidelines to literally ‘collect’ OEM service authorisations and approvals without having the requisite technical expertise, experience and/or any form of internal training and quality control systems in place.
These ‘sub-standard’ service providers are unfortunately adding yet another dimension to the overall situation regarding the safety of seafarers, together with lifeboats, davit maintenance and servicing in particular.
To highlight the issue: professional service companies have been called in on numerous occasions to rectify, or carry out repairs to works that had previously been undertaken and carried out by these ‘sub-standard’ service providers which have resulted in deaths, severe injuries to crew, or to expensive LSA equipment respectively.
The marine industry is hard pressed to identify the professional versus sub standard operators. When in need of equipment inspections, repairs or maintenance vessels rely mainly on web searches and/or OEM lists of ‘authorised’ service engineers / companies that are approved by the OEM, to fulfill their requirements, however, there is no guarantee that the job will be professionally handled.
Nowadays, any ‘service’ company can pay a fee, send their ‘engineers’ to an OEM, have a quick three-day course (at best a week) and collect the authorisation certificates, which will enable the company to be let loose within the industry – unless, of course, manufacturers themselves take a more active and professional stance in the vetting of course applicants so as to improve the quality of their appointed service network companies.
Just recently, in Malaysia, an OEM accredited and authorised lifeboat service company supposedly carried out a five yearly overhaul and inspection of two European manufactured lifeboats and davit systems, as prescribed by the I.M.O MSC 1206 Rev 1 guidelines.
Within approximately one month or so after this ‘inspection’ and ‘overhaul’ was undertaken, Technofibre Malaysia were urgently requested to attend the vessel upon its return to the home port in order to carry out a damage repair survey on one of the lifeboats which this particular authorised Malaysian company had recently undertaken.
Technofibre (Malaysia) found extensive damage to the lifeboat, which after survey, due to massive structural damage to the keel, resulted in the lifeboat being deemed as ‘Beyond Economical Repair’ , and therefore to be scrapped.
The ‘inspection’ and ‘overhaul’ that this service company carried out on the internal air cylinders, were, at best, what can only be described as cursory (that is, of course, assuming that they even removed them for checks), no hydrotest, no test stamps – a disaster just waiting to happen. This is a prime example of the slipshod and unprofessional works that still seem to prevail within the lifeboat servicing industry despite all the current measures and legislation by IMO.
The above recent incident is just one of the many unreported disasters caused by sub-standard companies. Incidents of failed release hook systems causing death and destruction continues to plague the industry, in spite of the tightening of the IMO regulations.
Bona fide service companies, owners, class and manufacturers need to do far more in weeding out these ‘service providers’. More thought needs to be given to raising the entry requirements and standards for companies wishing to engage in these type of activities, perhaps along the lines of the current MCA doctrines for ILSTO’s. Poor servicing standards are not just confined to lifeboats. Davit systems, winches and wire falls also fall victim. Corroded wire falls and winch brakes and disintegrating brake material after servicing and maintenance have been reported.
As far back as 1993, Technofibre has advocated that lifeboat and davit service companies are dealing with very critical pieces of life-saving equipment which are considered unforgiving (ie. no margins for errors or mistakes). Service companies need to recognise this fact and acknowledge it by continually striving to raise their own training and servicing standards if we (the industry) are to safeguard the lives of our seafarers.
As a footnote, even with the introduction of IMO MSC 1206, the situation hasn’t really improved. Manufacturers, could perhaps, re-evaluate as to whether the ‘quickie’ service company authorisation courses that most OEM’s presently offer is really sufficient for ensuring professional standards and conduct are maintained.