Utter, irresponsible stupidity. Perhaps ‘incompetence’ needs to be in there somewhere. The failures of the most basic safety measures aboard the cross-channel ro-ro ferry Eurovoyager were an inexcusable disregard for human life worthy of the most miserable third world ferry outfit in the Philippines or Bangladesh.
The insanity of sailing with water-tight doors unsecured, and act of irresponsibility which resulted in a seafarer being severely injured in a crushing incident, is a particular hot-button in the UK, where the deaths of 193 people when the Herald of Free Enterprise sank in the English Channel in 1987, the country’s worst maritime disaster in 90 years, are still remembered.
Herald of Free Enterprise capsized and sank because she sailed with her bow doors open. It was common practice on Eurovoyager to sail with watertight doors unsecured.
Says the MAIB report on the incident: “…all of Eurovoyager’s watertight doors were required to be kept closed at sea, and the number left open during her voyage prior to the accident is of concern. Moreover, the similar status of the doors found in the VDR data recovered during the annual performance checks from as early as 2003, indicates that this was a long-standing practice. Not only did the crew fail to close doors after passing through, the indication on the door operating console on the bridge showing that the doors were open was ignored. For a vessel operating in the Dover Strait, which is one of the world’s busiest waterways, such practices were potentially very unsafe.”
The situation came to light after a fitter was crushed as he tried to pass through a watertight door as it was closing. The closing speed of the watertight doors was dangerously fast, something not identified by previous surveys. Says MAIB: “… given the age of Eurovoyager, the lack of timing tests on the watertight doors during either her class or EU Directive surveys is surprising.
”Although surveyors frequently have to use their discretion when assessing conformity of older vessels with the technical requirements of regulation, the extremely fast watertight door closure rates on board Eurovoyager would almost certainly have been identified as a potential danger to the ship’s crew had such tests been conducted. Remedial action could then have been initiated.”
Watertight doors are dangerous. In this case they were made even more dangerous not only by the speed at which they closed but also the inadequacy of the alarms meant to alert crew that the door concerned was closing.
It’s worth noting in the MAIB analysis: “The door closure rate was almost three times faster than the rate required by ships built after 1992 (Eurovoyager was built in 1977 – MAC). Therefore, assuming a body depth of 35cm, he would have had 3.7 seconds to get through the door if fully opened, but only 0.3 seconds (Figure 10) if it was opened halfway. As the fitter was 6cm taller than the door opening, he is likely to have bent his knees when passing through, thus further reducing the time available.”
One reason for the incident is that a surveyor from the Belgian Maritime Inspectorate was aboard. The master put the control of the watertight doors into remote, so they could be closed from the bridge rather than at the doors themselves.
One of his concerns was that crew often left doors open.
This is the fourth serious accident due to entrapment within watertight doors that the MAIB has investigated since 1991. Three of the previous accidents occurred
on passenger ferries while the doors were in local control and where the poor
design of the door control lever was the main contributory factor.
To return to the issue of watertight integrity, undoubtedly the corpoate blame will be passed down to the master and crew of Eurovoyager but the fact is that safety culture starts at the top. When there is a lack of corporate leadership in safety then those farther down the food change will lack safety awareness.
Eurovoyager’s operator, Transeuropa Shipping Lines, needs to do some very careful examination of its own attitude towards safety, because it clearly isn’t working.
The fourth accident occurred in August 2008, when a crew member of a UK registered ro-ro vehicle ferry died in an accident almost identical in circumstances to that on Eurovoyager. The doors were being operated at sea in remote operation mode, and the crew member tried to pass through without opening it fully. The MAIB is aware of at least six other recent accidents where crew members, passengers and shore workers have either been fatally injured or suffered major injuries due to being trapped by watertight doors which were left in remote mode.
In September 2000, the ro-ro passenger ferry Express Samina, struck a reef in the Aegean Sea, resulting in flooding of the engine room and loss of electric power. With 9 of the ship’s 11 watertight doors open, the rapid ingress of water caused the vessel to sink. Eighty two people died.
In February 2004, the ro-ro passenger ferry Stena Nautica, with 128 people on board, collided with the dry cargo vessel Joanna. The watertight doors of Stena Nautica were open at the time and, although the system was switched to remote mode operation after the collision, many of the doors remained open, and the vessel almost foundered.
So, watertight doors are there for a reason. Closing doors after you’ve passed through is not only good seamanship, it’s a step towards preserving your life and that of everyone on board.
A recommended procedure for passing through watertight doors is to open the door fully, reach through to the lever on the other side and hold it in the open position, pass through, then allow the door to close safely.
Depressingly, the MAIB report says: “Immediately after the accident on board Eurovoyager, all of her crew were re-briefed regarding the correct procedure to operate and transit the watertight door in line with MGN 35 (M+F). A few days later, while the system was being tested in remote operation mode, a crew member was observed to be passing through a partially open door.”
MAIB has issued a flyer to the shipping industry regarding the dangersof watertight doors: