Leading lifeboat manufacturer and service provider Schat-Harding says IMO and some parts of the shipping industry need to move more quickly to a consensus on vital lifeboat safety issues which have important consequences for the safety of seafarers.
 
David Bradley, vice president operations, Schat-Harding Service says, “Good things are worth waiting for. But there is such a thing as waiting too long. The IMO debate over lifeboat hooks has gone on for too long. Seafarers deserve better. They deserve clear standards for lifeboat hooks and a clear timetable for replacing those which don’t meet the new standards. That will ensure their safety and renew their confidence in their boats. A lack of agreement at IMO by some industry bodies and flag states has pushed back consensus on this vital topic, and it could be two years or more before we have a properly agreed amendment to SOLAS for lifeboat hooks.”
 
According to Bradley there is a broad consensus that the current standards set by IMO for on-load release hooks have failed seafarers. “It is time for a new generation of hooks, and the fact is that hooks are available which meet all the proposed regulatory requirements,” says Bradley. “But shipyards won’t specify them and owners will not rush to replace existing hooks while they still meet regulations, despite the well-known risks to seafarers. Draft guidelines to ensure that on-load release mechanisms for lifeboats are replaced by those complying with new, stricter safety standards under SOLAS were discussed in February 2010 by the IMO Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Equipment (DE 53). But no agreement was reached. Similarly, no consensus was achieved at the 87th session of the Maritime Safety Committee in May 2010. There are good draft standards on the table but no consensus to turn them into regulations and the issue has again been referred back for further work to the IMO subcommittee on ship design and equipment. This will take place in March this year, and the findings taken in May 2011 to the 89th session of the MSC. That is unlikely to be the end of the story unless we see a move towards consensus by all parties. We hope that following the MSC 89 meeting in May we will have guidelines in place which will provide some clarity and consistency going forward. And we hope that the date now set as a target for introducing new SOLAS standards, 1st July, 2014, can be brought forward in the interests of safety.”
 
Schat-Harding’s new range of SeaCure on-load release hooks are the safest product of their kind on the market and are fully compliant with all proposed revisions to SOLAS. But too many seafarers will be denied the safer hook until agreement is reached at IMO.
 
“Safety-conscious owners are re-hooking their boats now and getting ahead of the game, and so are cost-conscious owners who do not want to be caught in a regulation-driven rush to rehook,” says Bradley “Shipowners have already turned to Schat-Harding to retrofit over 130 new hook sets in the last six months. Whatever the delays at IMO, Schat-Harding is there alongside owners and seafarers, helping them to meet and exceed industry safety standards at all times. But we are just one manufacturer and the shipping industry as a whole needs a consensus to put seafarers’ safety first and get new standards in place.”