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An Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation report released today recommends that ship owners, operators and masters with totally enclosed lifeboats on their ships should consider fitting lifting rings with 'hand holds' attached to them, and the provision of foul weather recovery strops.

The ATSB report into the accident on board the French Antarctic support vessel L'Astrolabe states that, at about 0355 (local time) on 27 January 2005 a crew member on board the ship either jumped or fell from the ship into the Southern Ocean.In the days before the crew member had been exhibiting signs of depression and he was intoxicated at the time he went overboard.

The ship was 235 nautical miles to the south of Hobart at the time, and was returning from the French Antarctic base of Dumont D'Urville. When it was discovered that the crew member was missing, a search of the ship and sea was initiated by the ship's master. The crew member was found in the sea, about 4.5 hours after being reported missing. He was deceased when found.

One of the ship's lifeboats was used during for recovery of the deceased crew member. The relative movement between the ship and the lifeboat in the two metre seaway during the lifeboat recovery operation caused damage to the lifeboat, its fittings and the injury of one crew member. The second engineer almost severed his thumb when he caught his right hand between the swinging lifeboat fall block and the lifeboat hook assembly.

Neither the fall block nor the suspension ring had 'hand holds' attached, and the ship was not outfitted with foul weather recovery strops, thus the crew were required to manhandle the blocks and rings.

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

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Last update 01 April 2011