A lifeboat drill in Spain’s Canary Islands, off the island of La Palma, went fatally amiss on Sunday when the boat unexpectedly fell from the ship and capsized in the water, killing five crewmembers and injuring three more.
The Spanish national radio broadcaster RTVE reported that the lifeboat, owned by the British-run Thomson Majesty cruise ship, fell from the cruise ship and plummeted roughly 55 ft. while undergoing an emergency drill.
A spokesman for the company confirmed the accident, saying, "Thomson Cruises can confirm there was an incident involving the ship's crew during a safety drill on board Thomson Majesty, in La Palma, Canary Islands today at 11:50am local time.”
The Guardian reported that the fatalities were believed to be three Indonesians, a Filipino, and a Ghanaian. Local Spanish reports indicated that the injured parties were two Greek nations, and another Filipino.
Andrew Linington, a spokesman for Nautilus International, an international trade union of maritime workers, said that testing lifeboats is notoriously dangerous activity that the industry has failed to adequately address. "We've had this happen so often and the industry has moved lamentably slowly to deal with the problem,” Linington said, adding that the union has cautioned members not to sit in the lifeboats during drills.
"There's been research which suggests that more people are dying in lifeboat drills than are being saved by lifeboats. It's that serious,” Linington said. “The death toll has been such that we advise our members: if you're doing a drill the drill is about raising and lowering the lifeboats. It shouldn't be about people actually getting into them. We advise them to do it without people in the lifeboats."
Linington said that while safety aboard cruise ships is moderately better than in other parts of the industry, there are was still a litany of preventable accidents and that deaths at sea are disproportionately higher than in other vocations.
"We would say there are still too many preventable accidents on cruise ships, and lifeboats is a classic example of that,” Linington said. “It's an inherently dangerous life, even in the 21st century, and we'd say too dangerous. For British seafarers, and they tend to be working at the higher end of the industry, the workplace death and injury rate is over 50 times what it is on average for all land-based workers."
As of now, investigators are still working to determine what caused the accident, according to the Thomson spokesman.
"We are working closely with the ship owners and managers, Louis Cruises, to determine exactly what has happened and provide assistance to those affected by the incident,” the spokesman said. "We are also working closely with all relevant authorities and will be co-operating fully with their investigations."
"We can also confirm that there have sadly been five crew fatalities and three crew members injured. One person has been discharged from hospital and we expect the other two people to be released from hospital imminently. Our thoughts are with the families of those involved,” he added.
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