IMO reviewing lifejacket performance following three deaths

Lifejacket model. Credit: Nick Blackmore/IHS Markit

IMO has proposed a review of the in-water performance of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) lifejackets after evidence was obtained, which shows that the organisation’s requirements for the design and testing of lifejackets may not provide the necessary safety assurances.

In July 2017, the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) reported on the deaths of three fishing vessel crew members who had drowned while wearing SOLAS lifejackets. Although sea and environmental conditions were calm, these seafarers were found by the rescue services in a face-down position.

Fishing vessel Louisa sank by the bow and foundered while at anchor in Mingulay Bay. Following recovery and investigation of the wreck, it was concluded that the likely cause of the foundering was flooding of the ship’s hold.

The coroner reported that the crew deaths were caused by drowning. However, all three seafarers were experienced and had completed sea survival training. After a review confirmed that the lifejackets in this accident held valid approval, an investigatory group was put together to identify the root causes of their performance issues.

The group was primarily tasked with reviewing the capability of a SOLAS lifejacket to keep a person’s airways clear of the water and the level of safety offered by existing SOLAS lifejackets.

In total, the investigatory group conducted three ordered sets of in-water lifejacket tests against the requirements within the LSA Code and resolution MSC.81(70), which included 2,856 righting tests and 1,060 freeboard measurements.

The issue will now be sent to IMO’s Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) for further review.