A global approach to domestic ferry safety

Interferry’s Johan Roos explains why the global industry must focus on helping developing nations
A global approach to domestic ferry safety
FERRYSAFE's Johan Roos (third from right) and Edwin Pang (third from left) at the Maritime Industry Authority in Cebu, Phillipines

By Johan Roos |

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Following major ferry accidents in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s (Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987, Scandinavian Star in 1990, Jan Heweliusz in 1993 and Estonia in 1994) many European countries have cooperated to strengthen requirements for ferry safety with the help of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and European Union (EU).

Although these regulations are typically developed for the international market, thanks to the EU’s wider reach, many significant IMO regulations have been transposed to also be applicable for domestic ferries that operate exclusively within one country’s territory. At Interferry, we strongly endorse national adoption of international rules, under the motto that ‘a ferry passenger should be equally safe regardless of the ferry’s destination’.

While there is no mechanism for IMO regulations to be enforced on domestic operations, most developed countries use the key parts as a basis for developing their own corresponding, but adapted, national requirements. Thanks to this positive development, the number of annual ferry fatalities in international operations between developed (OECD) countries has been consistently low for decades.

The situation in developing countries, however, is different. Since 1985, some 97% of known ferry fatalities have occurred in domestic operations in non-OECD countries. Over the 10-year period between 2009 and 2018, 99.8% of known fatalities occurred in domestic operations in non-OECD countries. Hence, it’s evident that any efforts to enhance ferry safety should target domestic operations within these developing markets.

Still, the IMO trudges on to ‘enhance’ passenger ship safety for internationally operated ships.

Interferry has long been engaged to raise the awareness of domestic ferry safety and has continuously encouraged the IMO to expand its remit to also engage with domestic operations. While the IMO has consistently quoted some formal reasons not to do so, it has become increasingly apparent that investing the collective resources of the international community to address a fraction of a percentage of the problem is unequitable and untenable.

Therefore, Interferry has been very happy to see how China and the Philippines have asserted strong leadership to put this issue on the international agenda over the past few years. However, we have also been very disappointed to see the limited support from other leading developed maritime nations.

In November 2018, China suggested to the IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) that a statistical analysis of domestic ferry incidences in IMO Member States should be undertaken, but this was met with a lukewarm response. Building on that placeholder and continuing the work that was initiated by his predecessor, IMO secretary general Ki-Tack Lim issued a strong note to the following MSC in May 2019, encouraging a stronger IMO investment. Coupled with a renewed Chinese proposal to formally establish domestic ferry safety on the MSC agenda, the IMO Member States agreed to proceed with an ambitious work plan, seeking to develop model regulations for domestic ferry safety.

In parallel to these high-level deliberations, Interferry has been kindly supported by Lloyd’s Register Foundation to pursue FERRYSAFE, which is a long-term project that aims to identify and promote safety advances in ferry operations. The project team has already completed two visits to the Philippines and is now developing a short, but comprehensive, report about which measures are best suited to truly enhance domestic ferry safety.

While there may be merits (although yet to be validated) in providing advanced calculations for probabilistic damage stability, FERRYSAFE would rather promote the fundamentals. Based on the initial findings from the Philippines, these include proper surveys, prohibition for ferry operations in adverse weather conditions, proper classification and a strong adversity to graft and corruption throughout the judicial system.

The FERRYSAFE team will present its findings at Interferry’s 44th annual conference and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation conference, both taking place in London, UK this October. Dissemination to other developing nations – particularly in Southeast Asia and Africa – will follow mainly via Interferry’s ongoing participation in the ASEAN regional ferry safety forum and through its involvement with the IMO’s Safety Committee and Technical Cooperation programme.

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