Marine safety investigations & reports

Lifeboat accident and injury to crew aboard Waddens

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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On 13 February 1999, the motor vessel Waddens was berthed, port side to, at No. 8 wharf in the port of Cairns. The vessel had been on a voyage from Lihir, Papua New Guinea, to Tauranga, New Zealand, but had diverted to Cairns after it experienced problems with the main engine turbocharger.

The master and mate decided that the opportunity should be taken to run the starboard lifeboat. Permission was obtained on 14 February from Cairns Harbour Control to lower the boat and run it in the harbour. The boat was lowered to the water at 0830, manned by the 2nd mate and an able-bodied seaman (AB) and tested for about an hour.

At 0930, the lifeboat was positioned under the falls for hoisting and connected to the lifting hooks. There was some difficulty experienced in positioning the boat under the falls because of a strong tidal flow. The mate, bosun and an AB were standing by on the ship while the falls were being connected and the boat was hoisted.

When the boat was ready for hoisting, the 2nd mate returned to the aft end of the boat while the AB remained forward. The boat was hoisted to a position where the tricing pendants were to be attached and the winch stopped. At that moment, the falls suddenly disengaged and the lifeboat fell to the water, landing upright.

The 2nd mate was observed lying on the aft deck just outside the cabin. The AB, who had been at the fore end of the boat, was in the water. The AB who had been standing by on board the ship dived overboard to assist him. Both AB's then climbed aboard the lifeboat and, while one of them assisted the 2nd mate, the other manoeuvred the boat to the wharf and made it fast.

Having informed the master of the incident, the mate called Cairns Harbour Control to request assistance and an ambulance. The ambulance arrived at about 0945 whereupon paramedics attended to the 2nd mate. The lifeboat was towed by a coastguard craft to a marina pier from where the 2nd mate was taken ashore and transported by ambulance to Cairns Base Hospital.

At about 1015 the lifeboat was returned to Waddens. It appeared to be undamaged and was later hoisted and stowed on board without further incident.


These conclusions identify the different factors contributing to the incident and should not be read as apportioning blame or liability to any particular individual or organisation.

Based on the available evidence, the Inspector concludes that:

  1. Mechanical failure was not a factor.
  2. The locking devices securing the release lever were not engaged.
  3. The release mechanism was operated inadvertently, possibly by the boat's painter fouling the release lever.

Contributing to the accident were issues of poor ergonomic design:

  1. The release lever was fitted at a position in the boat where it could interfere with free access to and from the fore deck through the cabin window.
  2. The location of the release lever meant that, if unlocked, it might be moved accidentally to a position at which the hoisting hooks could release.
  3. Although there is no evidence that release lever was mistaken for the gear lever for the engine in this instance, the proximity of the lever to the engine controls, in the Inspector's opinion, increased the possibility of accidental release.
Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 188KB]
General details
Date: 15 February 1999   Investigation status: Completed  
Location: Cairns    
State: Queensland    
Release date: 30 October 2000   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: Serious  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel Waddens  
Flag A & B  
IMO 8317978  
Type of operation General cargo  
Damage to vessel Nil  
Departure point Lihir, Papua New Guinea  
Departure time N/A  
Destination Tauranga, New Zealand  
  Crew Passenger Ground Total
Serious: 1 0 0 1
Total: 1 0 0 1
Last update 19 May 2016