Rough seas with wave heights up to 50% above the stipulated heavy weather testing requirements proved no obstacle for VIKING’s patented LifeCraft system.
This paves the way for cruise ship operators worldwide to benefit from all the advantages that this new hybrid – intended to replace lifeboats/liferafts – has to offer, the company claimed.
LifeCraft has passed an important milestone in its journey to commercial use following the conclusion of the demanding full-scale heavy weather sea trial (HWST).
Developed and extensively tested by leading maritime safety equipment and servicing provider VIKING Life-Saving Equipment over the past 10 years, the new evacuation system unites the advantages of modern lifeboats – such as self-propelled manoeuvrability – with the flexibility, comfort and smaller footprint of today’s liferafts, combined with marine evacuation systems, VIKING said.
The system comprises two main elements: four inflatable VIKING LifeCraft survival crafts each with a capacity of 203 persons, so 812 in total, and a fully self-contained stowage and launching appliance, either placed on deck or built into the ship’s side.
“The HWST involved launching and testing how well the LifeCraft system performs in high winds, stormy seas and extreme weather conditions,” explained Niels Fraende, Vice President Cruise & LifeCraft. “We launched the LifeCraft with the ship heading three knots up against the wind, exposing the system to the full force of the fierce weather in the most critical test phase. We then demonstrated – with a simulated dead ship condition – that the fully loaded LifeCraft system provides a safe and stable means of evacuation in both the weather and lee side for several hours.
“In addition, we quickly and successfully manoeuvred the LifeCraft survival crafts on both sides of the vessel to a safe distance, demonstrating their built-in flexibility to move rescue-capacity to wherever it is most needed. Simulating station-keeping while waiting for rescue, we performed a 24-hour controlled drift test in the battering seas with no damage sustained to the survival crafts,” he said.
Heavy weather was experienced at the testing location on the North Sea between southern Norway and UK. After being ballasted with 70 tonnes to simulate full capacity, the LifeCraft was subjected to strong wind gusts with speeds of up to 18 m per sec in addition to significant wave heights of between 3.6 and 4.6 m.
Towering peak waves of 10 m greatly exceeded the required three meters needed for the trials, with the personnel from VIKING and DNV GL battling sea-sickness and heaving decks to conclude the tests.
The HWST consisted of multiple phases, all of which were witnessed and approved by the attending DNV GL senior surveyor acting on behalf of the Danish Maritime Authority.
The trial afforded crew members the opportunity to demonstrate, under extreme conditions, the capability of the chute arrangements that provide a controlled vertical passage from the embarkation point to the survival craft. All landed safely at the expected evacuation speed, dry and unperturbed by the elements.
Over nearly a decade, more than 50 prototypes were created and put through their paces undergoing a battery of tests, which, among other things, employed jet engines to assess how well they stood up to 150 km per hour winds.
Crucially, the four inflatable survival crafts are powered by electric motors instead of diesel-driven units. These not only enable excellent manoeuvrability for reaching a safe position or for rescuing passengers or ship personnel in the water, but are quieter in operation and more reliable, requiring far less maintenance.
They also pose less of a fire risk and reduce evacuees’ exposure to harmful fumes. Inside, there’s strong focus on comfort, with triple the air space of existing lifeboat solutions, for example, and a novel natural ventilation system.
From a ship design perspective, the system only takes up around 25% of the necessary deck space, compared to the equivalent capacity in lifeboats.
With heavy weather sea trials now complete, a few tests will be carried out on the system’s container, along with documentation and final approval by the Danish Maritime Authority (DMA).