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Health and safety

Lifeboat accident on RRS Sir David Attenborough caused by corrosion

14 December 2023

An investigation by the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has found that failure to maintain a davit caused a March 2021 accident during a lifeboat drill onboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough, the UK government's new state-of-the-art polar research vessel.

According to the investigators, a davit interlock device failed during the drill, causing the port lifeboat to fall into the water with three crewmembers on board.

After the lifeboat fell from the davit onto the ship's deck, and before detaching from its hooks, it was dragged over the side by the moving davit arms.

Fortunately, the accident did not result in serious injuries to the three crewmembers.

The vessel had been delivered by the shipbuilder just a few months before the accident, which took place during a lifeboat drill off the Isle of Mull in Scotland. It was the crew's first opportunity to practice launching the lifeboat at sea.

The investigation revealed that the failure of the davit was due to severe corrosion caused by a lack of maintenance. Required checks and planned maintenance on the davits had not been completed since they were installed on the ship in November 2019.

Investigators also found that the installation of the davits had not been fully completed and did not comply with the manufacturer's instructions or international regulations.

Following the accident, the RRS Sir David Attenborough was returned to the builder's yard for repairs, including completion of the davit installation.

Investigators identified several additional safety issues, including the failure of the safety equipment survey to identify the non-compliance of the davit installation with SOLAS regulations.

They also found that the ship's crew had not received proper training in operating the davit, and that the ship's operator had suspended maintenance of critical equipment.

Since the accident, British Antarctic Survey has developed checklists for the launch and recovery of the lifeboats, revised and republished the SOLAS manual lifeboat operating instructions, revised its risk assessment for the launch and recovery of lifeboats, and modified its training and drills so that the launch and recovery of lifeboats is conducted without crew embarked.


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