Two Crewmembers Injured in Lifeboat Accident Off Virginia

Lifeboat arrangements on the Chemtrans Nova, ex name Sharon Sea, Dec. 2015 (video still via social media)

By The Maritime Executive 02-08-2019 11:07:21

On Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued and medevaced two engineers from a tanker off the coast of Virginia after they were injured in a lifeboat accident.

Two crewmembers of the tanker Chemtrans Nova were working on an enclosed lifeboat when it released from its davit, and they both went over with it. The crew of the Nova contacted Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads to request assistance.

The Coast Guard cutter Reliance was about 20 nm away and diverted to the scene to assist. A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft also picked up the Nova's request for assistance, and it provided support for long-distance communications between Coast Guard assets on shore and on scene.

When the Reliance arrived, she launched a small-boat crew, which pulled one survivor from the lifeboat and rescued another from the water. The victims' injuries included a broken leg and a stomach laceration. 

To medevac the crewmembers for treatment, Air Station Elizabeth City launched a Jayhawk helicopter to rendezvous with the Reliance. With long-distance communications assistance from the P-8, the helicopter arrived and took the crewmembers on board for a flight to Norfolk. 

“The Navy was very helpful. After they overheard the broadcast, they helped locate the men in the water and stayed on scene until the nearby Coast Guard cutter arrived,” said Chief Petty Officer Josh French, a search and rescue coordinator at Sector Hampton Roads. “It was definitely a collaborative effort to rescue them. They were fortunate things fell in place, with everyone being close by.”

Lifeboat accidents resulting in injuries or death are all to common in the maritime industry, especially during drills and maintenance. According to BIMCO, most of the accidents happen in boats using conventional davits and on-load release systems. However, recently other parts of the suspension and lifting systems have been identified as points of failure too, particularly the wire rope falls on larger lifeboats. IMO recommends the use of Fall Preventer Devices - nylon straps that are set in parallel to the on-load release hook - to prevent the accidental release of a lifeboat during drills and maintenance. 

"It is appalling that the industry seems incapable of solving this problem [and] it is high time that we had some radical thinking about the whole concept of lifeboats and to examine the potential of alternative evacuation systems," said Mark Dickinson, secretary general of seafarers' union Nautilus, in a 2016 statement.