Swedish commuter ferry operator Stirsöbolage has become the first Scandinavian company to benefit from the new Zodiac MES ESS automatic escape slide. This follows the installation of three 3.4 meter slides aboard the Älvsnabben 4 during a routine refit at the Swede Ship yard in Gőteborg. The Zodiac slides and accompanying reversible 100 person life rafts were designed to be launched from the boat’s bridge at the touch of a button, without any crew input. This feature is particularly valuable for vessels with small crews.
The Älvsnabben 4 operates as a commuter ferry around Gőteborg and possesses a reinforced hull that enables it to work in ice during winter months. The 31 metre aluminium boat was built in Norway in 1994 and can carry 200 passengers as well as 40 bicycles. The installation of the Zodiac MES ESS slides has increased available deck space by permitting the removal of the eight 25-person life rafts in favour of the three more compact and more efficient slide and life raft containers. The operator also benefits from a cost-saving by removing the need to service eight life rafts in favour of the three slides. The significance of these benefits has prompted the operating company to place an order for an identical installation to be made in August on the sister vessel, the Älvsnabben 5.
The new slide was primarily developed by Zodiac SOLAS to meet the demand for greater safety and efficiency on vessels with limited crews. However, in an emergency, the benefits of automatic slide and liferaft deployment can be appreciated by crews of any size as it enables them to attend to a wider range of passenger safety tasks. The slide and liferaft are launched and inflated automatically by the ship’s Master on the bridge simply by pressing a button on the system’s control box. This automatically launches the unit over the ship’s side where the slide and raft will inflate. A pair of self-tensioning electric winches will then pull-in bowsing lines to make the escape system secure and ready for use. The only human intervention necessary is for the removal of a locking pin to open the gate and permit access to the slide. It has also been designed so that it can be accessed and used independently by disabled and wheelchair-bound passengers who would otherwise require assistance to escape.
The slide is available in five sizes ranging for freeboards of 1.7 metres to 3.8 metres. The open liferaft is reversible and can be used whichever way up it floats and can be supplied as a 50, 100 or 151-person model. A canopied version of the raft is also available if operational conditions make it desirable.
The entire system is vacuum-packed and stored inside a square container that is carried on a deployment cradle. When the launch button is pressed the container lashings are automatically released, and a mechanism pushes the container overboard. Inflation of the slide and raft is immediate and the automatic tightening of the bowsing lines ensures that the system is ready for use in barely a minute. The system will continue to function if the ship has a list of up to 20 degrees to port or starboard and if the vessel sinks hydrostatic release units will enable the slide and raft to inflate and float free.
The vessel’s 24 volt emergency electrical supply is used to power the bowsing winches and supplementary batteries can also be supplied that will perform the task if there is a power failure. In such an event, or if there is physical damage to the communications, the system can also be activated manually by crew. The lashings and manual release mechanism are easily accessed by crew members but have been designed to remain largely inaccessible to passengers.
The new Zodiac MES ESS escape system is EC(MED) approved by Bureau Veritas and is manufactured by Zodiac SOLAS at its factory at Chevanceaux near Bordeaux, France. The company also manufactures and maintains life rafts for all types of merchant vessels, ferries, and cruise ships and can provide complete rescue systems combining escape slides, rafts and rescue boats.