March 14, 2003

Austal wants changes in MES drills
Austal Ships is calling for a reduction is the scale of Marine Evacuation System (MES) deployment drills that builders of passenger vessels are required to perform.

The call follows a fatal accident during a marine evacuation system (MES) deployment drill in the U.K. last October. While the incident did not involve a vessel built by Austal Ships, Austal says the subsequent Safety Bulletin issued by the UK Marine Accident Investigation Board (MAIB Safety Bulletin 1/2003) last month, highlights a broader issue that has been of concern to it for some time.

Having been required to conduct many such evacuation trials as part of the commissioning process for fast ferry newbuilds, Austal says it is aware that there is potential for serious injury and, as the incident in Dover shows, even more tragic outcomes. Although the Safety Bulletin relates specifically to the vertical chute type MES, there is also a degree of injury risk in using other styles of MES.

"Clearly," says Austal, "reducing these risks is in the best interests not only of the individuals taking part in these drills but the ferry industry as a whole."

Currently, marine authorities require Austal to undertake a full or partial deployment and evacuation trials for each new vessel it builds. Owners/operators are required to periodically repeat this process. The performance of the same MES system in essentially identical installations, as proven in earlier trials, is not taken into consideration.

"Proper planning and briefing of the personnel involved, and the implementation of appropriate safety precautions, aids in reducing the risk associated with individual deployment trials," says Austal.

"Austal's view, however," continues the company, "is that a further and substantial reduction in the total risk could and should be achieved by reducing the number of full evacuation trials that are required by marine authorities, and that this would not reduce passenger safety in the event of an incident in service."

An MES design that has been previously successfully tested has already demonstrated its ability to transfer passengers from the muster station into the liferaft, and established the evacuation rate that can be achieved using that system. This is independent of the vessel to which it is fitted.

If MES systems were type approved and certified for a given passenger transfer rate (through an initial trials or trials), says Austal, then it should not be necessary to undertake a full evacuation trial on subsequent vessels. This would eliminate the need for people to actually evacuate from the vessel to the liferafts, which is the process with which the greatest risk of injury is associated.

Instead, it would only be necessary to demonstrate the suitability of muster areas on the vessel and prove the flow rate of passengers to the MES muster station (this would arguably be unnecessary on sister ships or those with substantially the same internal layout) and the proper functioning of the MES operating system, which can be achieved through a deployment trial.

Periodic repetition of the deployment trial demonstrates the system's ongoing function, as well as providing crew training opportunities, without the need to expose significant numbers of people to an injury risk as is presently the case with full evacuation trials. Where necessary evacuation drills involving a minimum number of people could be conducted to provide crews with experience in assisting passengers to use the MES system.

MAIB Safety Bulletin 1/2003

Fatal accident during a marine evacuation system deployment drill
in Dover Harbour on 9 October 2002

This document, containing Interim Safety Recommendations, has been produced for marine safety purposes only. It is issued on the basis of information available to date.

The Merchant Shipping (Accident Report and Investigation) Regulations 1999 provide for the Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents to make recommendations at any time during the course of an investigation if, in his opinion, it is necessary or desirable to do so.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) is carrying out an investigation into the fatal accident of a volunteer evacuee during a deployment drill of a vertical-chute type marine evacuation system. The MAIB will publish its report on completion of its investigation, with final recommendations.

The volunteer evacuee became stuck in the chute and lost consciousness during the rescue. She was released and taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead. This case illustrates that blockages in vertical-chutes can occur, and this bulletin makes interim recommendations on the conduct of drills, the adverse effect of blockages in an actual emergency, and the need to remove the risk of blockages in the chutes.

Stephen Meyer
Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents



At about 1219 on 9 October 2002, a fatal accident occurred while an 'abandon ship' drill, using a vertical-chute type marine evacuation system, was being conducted in Dover harbor.

After the marine evacuation system was deployed, eight people descended the vertical-chute into two large, fully reversible liferafts. These people were evacuee receivers and assistants, observers and manufacturer's representatives. After some 124 people had gone down the chute and entered the liferafts, a female volunteer began her descent. However, 9 seconds later she shouted for help; the chute controller stationed at the top shouted to her to wriggle, but she replied that she could not. A chute sweeper (a person trained to clear blockages in chutes), who was one of the ship's officers, then went down the chute in a controlled manner and found the volunteer stuck in a piked position (hands and feet above her head) inside one of the descent sections. Her lifejacket and jacket had come off and were over her face and head. The sweeper tried to pull her up, but was unsuccessful. He called out for someone to cut her out. The chute was then cut to allow her to descend in a controlled manner into the liferaft, where she arrived unconscious. After first-aid had been administered, she was evacuated ashore by a fast craft, which had been standing by, and taken to hospital where, sadly, she was pronounced dead.


This tragic accident has highlighted a number of risks that need urgent attention. The volunteer who died might not have been particularly fit or healthy. Until the actual cause of death has been established, it is recommended that only fit and healthy volunteers are selected to participate in drills.

The initiator for this accident appears to have been the riding up of the volunteer's lifejacket over her face and head. It is recommended that all personnel using a vertical-chute marine evacuation system should be provided with lifejackets that cannot ride up.

It would seem that in struggling, the volunteer caught her feet, which allowed her body to continue downward. She ended up in a piked position, thus blocking the chute. Recommendations are made to shipping companies to take this possibility into account in their safety case/risk assessment of evacuation procedures, and also to manufacturers to remove all possible causes for such a blockage.

Interim Safety Recommendations

Shipping companies, which have, or are, intending to have vertical-chute marine evacuation systems installed on their ships, are recommended to:

1. Revalidate their risk assessment for drills, with particular emphasis on selecting fit and healthy volunteers.

2. Revalidate their safety case and/or risk assessments on the adverse effects of possible blockages in chutes at the time of the evacuation in an actual emergency.

3. Ensure that all personnel using a vertical-chute marine evacuation system wear lifejackets which will not ride up during the descent of a chute.

Manufacturers of all vertical-chute marine evacuation systems and the authorizing bodies, are recommended to:

4.Take urgent action to remove any possible causes of blockages in chutes by redesign and/or other means.

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