Interferry: putting safety first

Interferry’s Oliver Weiss explains to Rebecca Gibson why the global trade association joined with the International Maritime Organization and other partners to organise the Africa Ferry Safety Seminar, which took place in Tanzania in April 2024 

Interferry: putting safety first

By Rebecca Gibson |

Historically, almost all ferry fatalities have occurred in developing nations, according to Interferry. Consequently, the association has been working to increase safety awareness among regulators, operators and the public in countries such as Bangladesh and the Philippines, and for 2024, it will widen its focus to Africa.  

Oliver Weiss, chair of Interferry’s Domestic Ferry Safety Committee, explains why Interferry is now prioritising Africa, as well as highlighting why it hosted a seminar in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on 16-17 April 2024. 

Certain countries in Southeast Asia have a very poor ferry safety record, so why is Interferry hosting a ferry safety seminar in Africa rather than this region?  

There is a problem with fatalities in Southeast Asia, so unsurprisingly, our efforts to improve domestic ferry safety have been focused on that part of the world so far. We’ve seen positive developments in the region and awareness has improved a lot, partially thanks to social media and our recent FerrySafe initiative in the Philippines. However, the number of people perishing in ferry accidents in Africa is worrying. While most fatalities are never reported or estimated at best, the continent’s safety record is very concerning and there has been little effort made to improve it.  

Who else did Interferry partner with to host the seminar? 

It would have been very difficult to organise this seminar on our own, so we’re most grateful that the IMO threw its weight behind it. We also thank the official host, registry and regulatory body Tanzania Shipping Agencies Corporation, and World Maritime University (WMU). The latter is an independent academic institution founded by the IMO and has a very strong alumni network in Africa. With our support, WMU conducted a scoping study of ferry safety in 2022, focusing on seven countries with the highest number of fatalities in domestic ferry accidents. Four of these seven high-risk countries were in Africa. 


Pexels Alexander Zvir

Interferry is working with ferry operators in developing countries to ensure they follow safety procedures and fit vessels with equipment such as lifeboats

What did you learn from WMU’s scoping study? 

WMU’s scoping study was an eye-opener for us. We realised that, for the most part, we were not familiar with the African ferry community. We had little information about the number of fatalities, who the operators and stakeholders were, or the vastness of the ferry network. African countries are interesting from an Interferry perspective because the continent’s domestic ferries provide services on rivers, lakes and oceans, all of which have different safety issues. The seminar gave us first-hand knowledge of the African ferry scene. It also ties in well with our own 48th Interferry conference, which will be held in Marrakesh, Morocco, in October 2024. We want to encourage African operators, regulators and legislators to join us in Marrakesh for a follow-up session. 

Who attended the two-day Africa seminar and what topics were discussed? 

We had a strong Interferry team with specialist providing expertise. Overcrowding and overloading are a significant problem in developing countries, and this was addressed in the first two panels, which focused on ticketing and passenger counting and loading/stowage, respectively. We had a whole range of experts come to Dar es Salaam, including those with experience in enforcement and ferry ticketing.  

Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corporation shared its expertise and recommended investment in newbuild tonnage as one of the safety issues is a poorly maintained second-hand fleet. We also had a session dealing with political will. Admittedly, this is a very sensitive topic, but it’s one of the key recommendations that came out from our FerrySafe project in the Philippines. If there’s no political will to bring about enforcement or change, you will not improve your safety record. The same goes for a ‘no sail’ policy; this ensures that the master has the authority to cancel sailing in the event of severe bad weather.  

Although all sessions were held in English, this was a true pan-African seminar with invitations to both francophone and anglophone countries. The IMO invited up to 50 delegates, encompassing regulators, legislators and government bodies concerned with ferries. Interferry also invited a similar number from ferry operators throughout Africa.  

What do you expect to achieve with the seminar?  

Let me stress that we were not in Dar es Salaam to lecture these operators and their governments as there are other tools available, for example the IMO’s Model Regulations on Domestic Ferry Safety. The primary purpose of the seminar is to enhance ferry safety across the African continent. The best way to do this is for Interferry panellists to listen to the African delegates’ experiences and then make suggestions and recommendations. We are very conscious this cannot just be a one-off; we expect to repeat this exercise, but we hope a seminar is the right format to improve domestic ferry safety in Africa. 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of  Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe  for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.  

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