1.1 In 1986, on-load release hooks for lifeboats and rescue boats were made mandatory in the SOLAS Convention, in response to Norway’s worst offshore accident in March 1980, when the Alexander Kielland platform in the North Sea Ekofisk field capsized, killing 123 of the 212 persons on board. These then new SOLAS requirements were considered an important step forward in lifeboat design.
1.2 Some deaths in that accident were attributed to the fact that the lifeboat had no means of release when its weight was on the hook and falls. Therefore, on-load release systems were seen to offer benefits.
1.3 Since the IMO requirements for all ships to be fitted with on-load release systems came into force, there have been a number of serious accidents during drills and servicing.
1.4 Many of these accidents were attributed to either lack of maintenance, poor design or inadequate training. Failures of equipment can result in the premature opening of the on-load hook mechanism, causing the lifeboat to fall from the davits unexpectedly, even with three safety interlocks provided for in the design.
1.5 A number of current designs of on-load release hooks are designed to open under the effect of the lifeboat’s own weight and often need to be held closed by the operating mechanism. This means that any defects or faults in the operating mechanism, errors by the crew or incorrect resetting of the hook after being previously operated, can result in premature release.
1.6 A “Fall Preventer Device” (FPD) can be used to minimize the risk of injury or death by providing a secondary alternate load path in the event of failure of the on-load hook or its release mechanism or of accidental release of the on-load hook. However, FPDs should not be regarded as a substitute for a safe on-load release mechanism.