Saga Cruises Ordered to Improve Safety

November 8, 2012
(10 a.m. EST) -- Saga Cruises has been instructed to improve its safety training procedures, following an investigation into an incident which led to two crewmen falling overboard during a lifeboat drill.

The men plunged 22 metres (72 feet) into the water from Saga Sapphire, when it was berthed at Southampton in March. The ship had just arrived in the U.K. after a lengthy refit, and was about to set off on a delayed maiden voyage.

No passengers were onboard at the time of the accident. Both crewmen were safely rescued, and suffered only minor injuries. An inquiry by the Marine Accident Investigation Board discovered that the men -- one of them a cook on his first posting to the ship -- were not wearing safety harnesses when they slipped from the roof of the ship's No. 5 lifeboat.

The cook had not received any training for his specific role, which he was undertaking for the first time. The report also found that " training oversight was inadequate, no one took responsibility for lifeboat training and the ship's safety management organisation was improperly prepared for its operational role."

The Acromas Group -- parent organisation of Saga Cruises -- has now initiated a review of the refit operation leading up to the incident and changes have been made to equipment, procedures and lifeboat manuals.

Refit work on the ship -- formerly Bleu de France -- over-ran by a month at the Fincantieri yard in Palermo, Italy. The ship's maiden voyage for Saga was delayed, and a subsequent cruise was cut short by an unrelated problem in the engine room.

The MAIB report says: "The planned refit completion date was February 17. However, industrial action by dockyard workers and fuel tanker drivers, as well as emergent lifeboat defect rectification work, delayed Saga Sapphire's handover to Acromas Shipping Ltd until March 16. The late departure resulted in the loss of a non-revenue shakedown cruise from Monaco and the delay of the first revenue-generating cruise, planned to depart from Southampton on March 26, until April 3."

Because of the delays, refit work continued during the ship's passage to Southampton, limiting opportunities for the captain to carry out safety drills en route. The report added that the poor standard of lifeboat preparation and crew training was exacerbated by late delivery of the lifeboats.

In its conclusions, the MAIB says "commercial pressure impacted on the ship's management team's focus on preparing the vessel for its operational role" and highlights the cook's "lack of experience and inadequate understanding of his lifeboat crew duties."

Robin Shaw, Saga Cruises Managing Director, said: "We have worked with the MAIB in reviewing the findings of the report. We accept their recommendations and are implementing them." --by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor