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The ATSB has found that the third officer of the Panamanian tanker Port Arthur suffered a fracture of his cervical spine during a lifeboat drill on 20 October 2003. Three other crew in the lifeboat escaped serious injury when the boat fell 10 metres into Port Botany after its suspension hooks opened prematurely while it was being launched.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released its investigation report into the accident which concludes that the lifeboat's on-load release hooks had not been correctly reset when the boat was last lowered. Lack of effective maintenance had made the hooks difficult to reset and their design made it difficult for the crew to confirm whether or not the hooks were correctly reset.

The ATSB's report recommends that manufacturers of lifeboats and on-load release systems ensure that shipowners and operators of ships are advised of on-load release system incidents and that design changes are promulgated to all vessels fitted with their equipment. The report also recommends that manufacturers of on-load release systems ensure ships using their equipment are provided with detailed instructions for the operation and maintenance of those systems.

Since it was formed in 1999, the ATSB has issued reports on four previous lifeboat accidents, three of which were also associated with improperly reset on-load release hooks.

In September 2002 the ATSB released a safety bulletin on lifeboat accidents which was widely distributed to the maritime community as well as to the International Maritime Organization. The bulletin points out that:

Relatively complex designs, together with a poor understanding of their operation by ship's crews, insufficient maintenance and less than adequate manufacturer's instructions have led to the involuntary release of one or both hooks. The largest number of accidents, just over half of those reported, were caused by the unintentional release of hooks while on-load.

With regard to ship's safety management systems, the report recommends that shipowners, ship operators and International Safety Management accreditation authorities ensure that, with respect to crew training, maintenance and operational safeguards, such systems contain procedures commensurate with the considerable risks associated with lifeboat on-load release systems.

Copies of the report may be downloaded from the website or obtained from the ATSB by telephoning (02) 6274 6478 or 1800 020 61.

Media contact: 1800 020 616
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Last update 01 April 2011