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The ATSB has found that severe corrosion over a long period led to two deaths when a lifeboat fell 16 metres during a safety drill. The two crew died and three were seriously injured in a lifeboat accident on board the Hong Kong registered Lowlands Grace while the ship was anchored off Port Hedland, Western Australia, on 7 October 2004.

The five casualties were members of the crew who had boarded one of the ship's lifeboats during a planned lifeboat drill. While it was being lowered, the lifeboat's after on-load release hook failed and released the stern of the 3.5 tonne boat from its davit fall. The boat's stern then dropped and the lifeboat became inverted before the forward hook also failed. The lifeboat then fell, upside down, into the sea approximately 16 metres below.

All of the crew inside the boat were injured by the fall with one of the deceased being trapped inside the upturned lifeboat. The injured crew were assisted by the crew of HMAS Melbourne which was departing Port Hedland when the accident occurred and was quickly on the scene.

The report concludes that the lifeboat's after hook's keel stays were severely corroded where they were attached to the keel and they failed during the lowering process when there was a momentary shock load. The forward on-load release hook opened after the boat's foredeck failed under the load of the swinging lifeboat which led to the hook's locking mechanism being partially tripped.

The report also concludes that the ship's maintenance and survey regime with respect to the on-load release systems fitted to the lifeboats was deficient as the condition of the wasted keel stays had not been detected and rectified. The design of the on-load release system was also implicated in the failure of the forward hook as the system of locking the hook became particularly prone to spontaneous release when the foredeck failed.

The report contains recommendations to ship owners, managers, crews, statutory and ISM accreditation authorities and classification societies with respect to lifeboat hook inspection and maintenance regimes. A recommendation is also made to the on-load release system manufacturer in regard to the design of the system fitted to Lowlands Grace's lifeboats.

Copies of the report can be downloaded from the ATSB's internet site.

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Last update 01 April 2011