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JPA Cate 02-10-2015 17:06

Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
I was reading about the Freighter last heard from near Crooked Is. (near the Bahamas), during hurricane Joaquin, and got to wondering....

The ship was listing at 15 degrees, but they had stopped the leak. Then contact was lost.

Now, assuming that all thirty- three crew made it into the 40 yr. old sinking ship's lifeboats, does anyone here on CF know how well such boats protect the people in them? Please assume that the lifeboats are in good repair (which I know may not be so), or explain in detail what failures you think might occur.

Thanks, guys,


transmitterdan 02-10-2015 18:08

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms

The best reporting I found seems to be here: UPDATE: Search Suspended Overnight for Missing American Cargo Ship 'El Faro' with 33 Crew - gCaptain.

I don't know whether the life boats are "hurricane proof" or not. But I think any small boat no matter how rugged would be a terrible place to be in 10M waves which is what has been reported. I hope it is just a communications problem but the information available is concerning. One report said the ship had taken on a 15 degree list and propulsion was a problem. If they are beam to 30 foot seas in hurricane force winds then it is possible they could be capsized rapidly. If their EPIRB is working then I don't know why the USCG would be searching for them. Perhaps the weather prevents the EPIRB from reaching the satellite but I kind of doubt that. The crew had been communicating by Inmarsat but suddenly went silent. All we can do tonight is pray I fear.

Doug Brown 02-10-2015 18:22

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
Unless the lifeboats have been upgraded over the years, they are probably the "open" type. Depending on the seas and if they are in good enough condition to float, they would offer some protection, but probably very little in a Cat 4 hurricane.

What can go wrong? Just about everything that you can imagine...

If they had not yet launched them and the ship was already listing 15-deg, the main problems that come to mind are that the davits and falls were a fur ball of rust and would not operate or the crew didn't know how to operate them.

The boats could hit the hull side on the way down or not reach the water (they would have been launched at a heel of greater than 15-deg).

My best guess is that the leak became "unplugged" or there was another breach in the hull allowing in additional water. The "free surface effect" would then play it's part (even at 15-deg it would be huge) and the ship would basically just snap roll over. The crew would be unable to launch the lifeboats.

If the crew was still inside and dressed in their gumby suits when she rolled, they couldn't get out and would drown inside the ship.

Being in a Cat 4 hurricane at sea in a ship is pretty terrifying - been there and done that. I always wondered how I could safely get the crew off the ship and into the inflatable rafts and never came up with a fool proof plan. I always thought I would lose part of the crew in those conditions.

I don't think launching a lifeboat could be done in Cat 4 conditions.

I hope they made it.

FamilyVan 02-10-2015 18:28

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
The boats are extremely safe once in the water, provided you take precautions against sea sickness, because they are total puke machines.

The hazard is, life boats often will not be launchable from a severely listing ship. In fact, regs actually specify a specific list that they must- in theory, be launchable too.

If you read back through old accident reports (if you're into that sort of thing), its a very common theme, Titanic, Costa Concordia, many many founderings, people die or their rescue is delayed because extreme lists prevent the crew from deploying the craft.

The other issue, is deploying life boats can be really dangerous stuff, even in calm water. To the point where, in recent years, the periodicity for lowering life rafts to the water for drills has decreased under international guidelines and national regs, because more guys were getting killed or seriously hurt in training accidents then were being saved by the training- a common theme in training accidents, is the training more hazardous than what the guys are being trained for?

If the guys made it onto the boats though, they may be uncomfortable, but sinking is pretty unlikely. Just imagine 25 hot, sweaty uncomfortable guys in an enclosed 30' boat- and then one of them hurls, then the next, then its on your boots, yikes!

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FamilyVan 02-10-2015 18:41

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
Here's an interesting example of a life boat training exercise gone bad. In this particular example, the hazard to the passengers was an exhaust leak.

Mock disaster becomes real | Toronto Star

Not the type of problem you would really expect to encounter on a life boat.

FamilyVan 02-10-2015 18:54

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
Here's a link to a well known incident that we are all familiar with, rather than me focusing on obscure Canadian incidents.

At least 3 could not be launched due to the list, the report specifies the boats most be luanchable to 20 degrees- well, 15 degrees in degrading conditions, is awfully close to 20 degrees as specified.

My concern here, would be the boys couldn't launch their life boats, or the ship capsized or foundered so quickly, they couldn't make it to the boats, if the men made it to the boats and were able to deploy, almost certainly there would be survivors.

El Pinguino 02-10-2015 19:15

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
All the photos show open boats.

Call me old fashioned if you must but I prefer them to the fully enclosed ones in 'most conditions' but these aren't 'most conditions'.

Strange no EPIRB TX..... she should have a 'float free' jobbee on the monkey island.

FamilyVan 02-10-2015 19:28

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
Side launched open life boats in those conditions would be a real **** show to launch though. At least from my experience.

Then once they're down, trying to get the bugger started, to hold them against wind and seas so the other 30 guys could climb down a 40 year old rope ladder? Before the lifeboat got girded by its own lines?

Can you imagine trying to hold the decompression lever and hand crank a rusty old diesel in big breakers while being girded and slammed against the steel hull of the mother ship?

Yikes, I might prefer a free fall davit in those conditions.

I know, you know this Penguino, but you can't release the hook until the tension is released, in big seas and high winds- almost guaranteed you need to get the engine running before you can release the tension.

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avb3 02-10-2015 19:37

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
Looks like there were only two life boats, and if it was listing at all, I can't see how both could be launched. They are sitting way up high what looks like the bridge deck.

FamilyVan 02-10-2015 19:41

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
Thanks for the pic Av. It gives a clear picture of how difficult it could be.

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JPA Cate 02-10-2015 22:11

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
Thanks guys,

Nothing written so far has surprised me.

I had been hoping that they might have been required to keep the safety equipment upgraded, but guess that's too much to hope for.

Someone remarked on the absence of EPIRB signals. Yeah. As transmitterdan said, Pray for them.


donradcliffe 02-10-2015 22:26

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
It is a US registered vessel, which should have periodic inspections.

RaymondR 02-10-2015 22:43

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
My recollection of the davits in the image is that the boats are in a stowed position and the first thing is to run them down to deck level for boarding. After boarding they are lowered and there is a lever which is thrown over athwart-ship to release the hoisting attachments, the lever can be used to actually unhook under load so that the boat can be dropped onto the top of a wave if the parent vessel is still making way.

The steel life boats have a fair bit of reserve buoyancy built in although I cannot recollect whether or not the cover can be kept on once they are manned. My recollections of a Cat4 cyclone I experience on a floating drilling rig was that whilst there were monstrous waves they were not breaking.

Hopefully the crew are aware that any attempt to rescue them would probably be far more risky than riding the storm out and have decided not to trigger an EPIRB until conditions are more suitable.

Rustic Charm 02-10-2015 23:15

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
When such large vessels go missing, effectively disappear, it's never a good sign. Usually associated with a sudden incident.

Does anyone know if it was laden at the time?

SaltyDawg86 02-10-2015 23:34

Re: Safety of Ships' Lifeboats in Major Storms
They were open top life boats and the whole crew could fit into 1 boat if needed. Being an open top, the crew is safer on the ship. No debris or slicks found yet, and epirb was set off. Still hope.

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