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There's growing evidence that many perfectly legal lifejackets can do more harm than good – particularly when used without adequate training. It's time for the IMO to upgrade its standards, argues Captain MICHAEL LLOYD…
A UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report on the death of three crew members following the sinking of a fishing vessel last year raised concerns over the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) standards and testing requirements of lifejackets – and not for the first time.
The investigators found that the crew had been discovered unresponsive and floating face down in the water, despite wearing 'approved' lifejackets. The MAIB called for urgent research to be carried out into the suitability of lifejacket water performance test protocols, noting that a lifejacket should turn an unconscious person onto their back and keep their airway clear of the water.
The present day SOLAS requirements apply to lifejackets provided onboard ships constructed (having their keel laid) on or after 1 July 2010. I have always failed to understand the reasoning for the inevitable conditional clause 'only to be required after a certain build date' – especially coming from an organisation purporting to be dedicated to safety at sea.
After all, why should seafarers on one ship not have a lifejacket with up-to-date design when others sailing on a ship built after a certain date have different standards? Could it be that such a clause is required by those flag states who allow the influence of shipping companies on their registry to interfere with the safety regulations?
The IMO SOLAS training manual (3.2) has guidelines for the use of lifejackets, which include a recommended maximum height of 4.5m for jumping into the water with a lifejacket on. The guidelines also instruct the user to:
- hold your nose and cover your mouth with your left hand
- check to see the life jacket is tied and all the straps secured
- cross over your left hand with your right hand and hold on to the lifejacket collar
- hold your elbows down to the side
- keep the legs together as you jump
I believe that, once again, we are losing seafarers and passengers to the inability of the IMO to act on our essential safety equipment