Lifeboat drill went wrong, injuring 2, partly because of corroded gear, safety board finds

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has finished its investigation into a lifeboat accident that left two crew members badly injured in Vancouver’s English Bay nearly two years ago.

The men were inside the lifeboat on the Blue Bosporus cargo ship for a drill on Dec. 1, 2020. The lifeboat suddenly broke off the ship around 1:15 p.m. and plunged into the water below.

For the crew inside, the free fall was about 14 metres ⁠— equal to nearly three storeys.

On Tuesday, the TSB said the lifeboat broke free because the slings, or wires ropes, holding the vessel in place had failed.

During the drill, the crew “unknowingly” attached the ropes to the boat in a way that put too much pressure on the back right corner, according to the report. Steel crimps holding part of the ropes together had corroded and cracked over time and couldn’t take the pressure. 

The sling at the back right of the lifeboat snapped first. The rest then followed, releasing the lifeboat without warning.

An injured crew member from the Blue Bosporus is taken to hospital in Vancouver after being injured in a falling lifeboat during a safety drill on Dec. 1, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The report said the crew members had been standing inside the lifeboat, not strapped in to any seats. One was left with serious injuries to his hand, and the other hurt his legs.

Coast guard officers, the Vancouver Police Department’s marine unit and the Vancouver Port Authority all responded to the mayday call. Both crew members were transported to the Canadian Coast Guard base in Kitsilano, then moved to hospital.

The TSB said the shipping company, Apollonia Lines S.A., had regular maintenance routines in place to check the lifeboat and its launch setup, but didn’t specifically tell the crew to check the condition of the slings. 

The company replaced the damaged equipment on the Blue Bosporus after the incident. It also sent its ships new safety requirements around “inspections of lifeboats and associated equipment and for lifeboat drills,” the TSB said

A broken bracket and sheared bolts are seen onboard the lifeboat from the Blue Bosporus after the failed drill on Dec. 1, 2020. (Supplied by the Transportation Safety Board)

A Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft comes ashore at English Bay in Vancouver after the rescue of two cargo ship crew members. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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