Martin Watts looks at the rules surrounding fall preventer devices, and gauges the maritime safety industry's opinion on their use

In January 2013, IMO regulations (MSC. l / Circ. 1392) covering lifeboat release and retrieval systems were introduced, following a series of accidents involving lifeboat hooks. These rules require the replacement of non-compiliant lifeboat systems by 2019 and, as a transitional measure, Fall Preventer Devices (FPDs), which are designed to prevent uncontrolled on-load lifeboat hook release, may be used to provide a secondary safety system. Unfortunately, FPDs arź themselves somewhat controversial, with a ³¹ck of industry consensus regarding their design and operation, apparently not helped by the provisions of IMO MSC.l/Circ.1327, which regulates their use. In an attempt to explain this situation and gauge the current state of play, SAS interviewed a few manufacturers.

Speaking for ILAMA, the International Lifesaving Appliances Manufacturers Association, the chairman of its technical committee, Harry Klaverstijn, confirmed that in principle, ILAMA is not against the use of FPDs. "The main issue raised for many years by our members is the ³¹ck of design criteria. For years ILAMA has tried to convince all parties involved, Administrations, ROs, Class Societies and end users, through IMO, of our concerns with the use of FPDs due to the ³¹ck of proper requirements matching existing hook systems. Regretfully up till now in vain," he said. Klaverstijn went on to give a practical example of how current rules have caused design and testing difficulties. "Manufacturers are unable to confirm that the attachment eye is suitable for the use of an FPD unless the load is limited to the design load of the attachment eye, and a fully laden boat is far heavier than an empty boat plus a few persons," he added.

Roeland Scholtes, global service director of Harding, was emphatic in stating the view of his company, "Harding is of the opinion that we do not dispute the intentions for the use of FPDs, but we cannot support their use on boats manufactured under the Harding 'umbrella'." Scholtes listed the technical reasons that explained his company's position and made the following comment regarding theapplicationofMSC.l/Circl327,which "re¹uires the FPD to be attached at al) times during drills and emergency evacuations from the vessel. It then states that once the boat is in the water, the FPD should be removed before opening the hooks. Very little consideration has been given to the restricted access and the environment in considering that this e¹uipment can be removed easily whilst the boat is in the water and a period of exposure in a marine environment." Again, this indicates dissatisfaction with the scope of the rules on part of a significant manufacturer.

The lack of consistency highlighted by ILAMA is also demonstrated by the choices made by other manufacturers. Vanguard Lifeboat of Singapore is a manufacturer that produces FPDs for the marine market, and takes very seriously its commitment to compliance with the regulations. Edna Lim, marketing manager, said Vanguard has seen the need to produce and sell FPDs and is still doing so to aid and assist shipowners. "Vanguard's FPDs are fully compliant to the IMO/MSC/Circ. 1327regulations." Limsaid owners who fit non-compliant FPDs, will face "stern action from the classification societies", and reminded SAS that, "after July 2019, there will be no requirement for FPDs so long as the latest hook systems installed are incorporated with fail to safe design".

Similarly, Survitec continues to supply FPDs to its customers. Rope product sales manager Carine De Weirdt confirmed that the company had sales growth in this area the past year, and that the company was finalising a new type of FPD which makes it possible to produce shorter lengths. Survitec has just finalised its Lloyd's certification and first production has started. De Weirdt also commented that FPDs will be around after 2019, and comply with the regulations provided that they are used as a safety precaution as long as hooks are not in place. This last statement refers to the status of FPDs as secondary systems only.

German lifeboat builder Fassmer has adopted yet another approach. Hans-Christian Mornhinweg, managing director, explained that they are not selling so-called FPD strops anymore, as the attachment points at the hooks are not designed for a fully loaded boat. The requirement for FPD is for fully loaded. "There is conflict in the rules. The IACS design and approval re¹uirements for FPD strops are very difficult to fulfill if you follow [them] 100%," he said. As a result, Fassmer have concentrated on producing FPD locking pin devices for fitting to their own lifeboats.

Mornhinweg's remarks neatly summarise ;he lack of consistency in the sector, with manufacturers focused on ensuring the safety 5f their own equipment. While the future under Circ. 1392 (post 2019} seems assured, ;he lack of universal confidence in transitional arrangements continues.

Safety at Sea February 2014