New SOS rafts for steamer

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THIS white canister is one of two newly fitted to the forward deck of Queenstown’s TSS Earnslaw that could save up to 300 lives if the vintage lake steamer was ever to sink.

The cylinders each contain a giant inflatable liferaft capable of holding up to 150 people.

They were installed recently during a major safety revamp for the 97-year-old craft.

The inflatables – 12.4 metres long by 7m wide (inset ) – were specially made in Denmark and complement existing equipment which includes 210 life jackets, flotation devices to support 450 people, and two ship’s tenders.

“The new rafts are much more suitable in a worst-case scenario and if the ship had to be abandoned,” Earnslaw boss Andrew Husheer says. “We are told people wouldn’t last for much more than 15 or 20 minutes in the water because of the extremely cold temperatures.”

A safety drill was performed on Lake Wakatipu two weeks ago in which the local coastguard and fire services were involved.

“It went very well but we used a smaller 30-man inflatable raft because it would have taken too long to pack the bigger ones on the Earnslaw back up,” Husheer adds.