HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) – A U.S. Coast Guard warning about lifeboat equipment involved in a fatal accident has prompted a Canadian survivor to call for a redesign of the widely used system.

Kevin Nicholson, 49, of Halifax, was one of three Nova Scotians taking part in training aboard the lifeboat when it broke free of steel cables and plunged 60 feet from an oil rig into the Portland harbor on Jan. 13.

Andrew Caldwell, 49, of Centreville, Nova Scotia, was killed. Nicholson and Charles Dorey were injured.

“They should…come up with some kind of a better system,” Nicholson said about the release mechanisms used on the Norwegian-made lifeboats.

The veteran seafarer, whose arm was broken in three places when the lifeboat hit the water, was reacting to a Jan. 27 alert issued by U.S. Coast Guard investigators. The alert says the hooks connecting the cables to the boat were a potential safety hazard.

According to the report, the mechanisms may look like they are safely secured to the cables when in fact they can suddenly let go.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s office of investigations wrote: “The mechanism can appear upon casual examination to be locked and…it could bear a significant load. However, the hook can in fact release at any time without warning.”

The Coast Guard also recommended the lifeboats should not be used for training until the investigation is complete.

A company spokesman said that until the Coast Guard’s investigation is complete, it’s premature to place the blame on the mechanisms.

“According to the information we have received, the hook mechanically did not fail,” Dag Songedal, vice president of Norsafe, said in a telephone interview.

“In our opinion, it’s a case of human error, although we haven’t received any final report from the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Still, the company remains open to considering changes, he added.

“We feel the hook is made according to existing regulations,” he said. “But when that kind of accident happens we always look into how to avoid such accidents in the future, even if the reason may be human error.”

AP-ES-02-24-04 1639EST



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