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polar research ship rrs sir david Attenborough

People watch as the RSS Sir David Attenborough leaves Liverpool to begin sea trials in New Brighton, Britain, November 3, 2020. REUTERS/Phil Noble

MAIB Report Reveals Maintenance Failures in Lifeboat Drill Accident on New Polar Research Vessel

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 8708
November 3, 2023

An investigation into a lifeboat drill accident on board the UK government’s state-of-the-art polar research vessel RRS Sir David Attenborough has revealed that a critical a piece of equipment on the lifeboat davit due to severe corrosion caused by a lack of maintenance on the less than 1-year-old vessel.

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) published its report into the March 4, 2021 incident this week.

The incident occurred when a davit interlock device failed during a lifeboat drill off the Isle of Mull in Scotland, causing the research vessel’s port lifeboat to fall into the water with three crew members on board. After falling from the davit onto the ship’s deck, the lifeboat was dragged over the side by the moving davit arms before detaching from its hooks.

Fortunately, the accident resulted in only minor injuries.

Sir David Attenborough had only recently been delivered from the shipbuilder, Cammell Laird Limited, a few months before the accident. The launch of the lifeboat was the crew’s first opportunity to practice the procedure at sea.

Operated by the British Antarctic Survey, the RRS Sir David Attenborough is one of the most advanced polar research vessels in the world. The ship gained internet fame during its construction when users voted overwhelmingly to name it “Boaty McBoatface” in an online contest.

CCTV footage of Sir David Attenborough's port lifeboat
CCTV footage of Sir David Attenborough’s port lifeboat. Photo courtesy UK MAIB

The MAIB investigation revealed that the failure of a critical interlock device on the lifeboat davits was due to severe corrosion caused by a lack of maintenance. In fact, investigators that found required checks and planned maintenance on the davit had not been completed since it had been installed on the ship in November 2019.

Additionally, it was found that the installation of the lifeboat davits had not been fully completed and did not comply with the manufacturer’s instructions and international regulations.

Following the accident, Sir David Attenborough returned to the builder’s yard for repairs, which included completion of the davit installation.

Several safety issues were identified, including the failure of the safety equipment survey to identify the non-compliance of the davit installation with SOLAS regulations. The ship’s crew had also not received proper training in operating the davit, and the ship’s operator had suspended maintenance of critical equipment.

The MAIB made two recommendations as a result of the investigation. First, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is urged to review its processes for delegating Safety Equipment Surveys to Recognised Organisations to ensure compliance with SOLAS regulations. Second, the MCA is advised to review its policy for delegation, particularly regarding initial safety equipment surveys for newbuild vessels or those joining the UK register.

The MAIB report can be found here.

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