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Damaged safety latch allows BC Ferries rescue boat to fall into sea

This photo from the TSB report shows a rescue boat similar to the one involved in the incident with the same type of davit.

TSB photo

A rescue boat from BC Ferries’ Spirit of Vancouver Island slipped off a davit hook due to a damaged spring-loaded safety latch, causing an “uncontrolled fall” into the water more than 50 feet below, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) said in an investigative report.

No injuries were reported in the incident, which occurred on June 19, 2018, in Swartz Bay, British Columbia, after the completion of a davit repair. But the impact from the fall resulted in two cracks to the rescue boat’s fuel tank and minor damage to the hull. An estimated 26 gallons of gasoline spilled from the tank.

The rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB), one of four on the ferry, is 22 feet long and 6.5 feet wide. It weighs 2,443 pounds and has a six-person capacity. It was manufactured in March 2014 and fitted on the starboard side of the vessel in 2016, along with the davit used for raising and lowering the boat.

The incident occurred at the No. 1 dock at BC Ferries’ Swartz Bay Terminal while a service technician for the davit manufacturer was responding to a call about intermittent jerking of the device. The technician, positioned on deck 6, lowered and raised the rescue boat several times with assistance from crewmembers to test the davit and determine the source of the problem.

As the troubleshooting continued, the technician explained to a deck hand that he planned to charge the device’s hydraulic accumulator with nitrogen. To allow that, the deck hand lowered the rescue boat to the water and slackened the fall by approximately three feet, then raised the davit back to its maximum height. The unmanned rescue boat remained floating in the water, with the fall slack and the lifting shackle and hook resting on top of the fuel tank, while the technician charged the accumulator, the TSB report said.

The bent safety latch with the shackle positioned on top of the hook.

TSB photo

After the technician had finished charging up the nitrogen, the first engineer came up to deck 6 to witness the testing and acknowledge the completion of the repair. The deck hand began retrieving the rescue boat from the water using the davit. When the boat was approximately 10 inches below the davit’s limit switch, the deck hand changed the lifting speed from high to low to avoid activating the switch. The rescue boat jerked slightly due to this change in speed, then fell about 52 feet into the water.

After the incident, the first engineer, the deck hand and the technician inspected the hook and observed that the spring-loaded safety latch was bent to the side, creating a gap between the latch and the tip of the hook. It could not be determined when or how the safety latch was bent.

TSB investigators determined that the hook design is such that the lifting shackle can rest on the tip of the hook. While the rescue boat was floating unmanned in the water, there may have been an opportunity for the shackle to become positioned on the tip of the hook so that it could slip off due to the bent safety latch.

According to the TSB, the incident was the second in two months involving a BC Ferries rescue boat. On April 18, 2018, a rescue boat on another company ferry fell into the water during a drill, injuring two crewmembers in the vessel.

The TSB said that after the June 19 incident, service company Palfinger Marine instructed its technicians to conduct davit maintenance or repairs only after confirming that a rescue boat had been removed from its davit fall. Another safety action was taken by BC Ferries, which currently is not putting employees in rescue boats while lowering or raising them during training drills, spokeswoman Astrid Braunschmidt told Professional Mariner.

“They are boarding the boats from the water during training operations,” she said.

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