Sep 052011

Germany’s maritime investigators have expressed concern regarding the ease which which passengers can be reclassified as “special crew” on Danish vessels in its report on a minor accident involving the sailing vessel J.R. Tolkien and CMV Navi Baltic.

The accident itself was minor. However, JR Tolkien  could have crossed the bow of the CMV Navi Baltic with 90 passengers on board.
Says the report: “From the perspective of the BSU, the investigated vessels displayed significant deficiencies in terms of equipment and safety, which are not in line with international regulations. With regard to the operation of these vessels, there is no adequate
safety instruction in those deck areas that are potentially hazardous, for example, closing-off certain areas when making fast, closing-off the unsecured superstructures, decks for passengers”.

At major maritime events, a departure parade such as that shown above for example, the crew has enough to do with handling the sails, navigating and observing the rules for avoiding collisions. If these vessels are then sailed with only two experienced crew members with, for example, 90 passengers, problems and critical situations are inevitable. Whether used as a passenger ship or as a special purpose ship, the right ratio must prevail between the number of qualified crew members and the number of passengers or the special purpose of the ship.

A reduction of experienced crew members and replacement by passengers, without the definition of criteria for qualification and experience, reduces safety standards significantly.

Inexperienced passengers on board must be able to rely on the fact that all safety regulations are met, that the crew is qualified as well as experienced, and that the vessel is licensed for the type of transportation.

Based on their use, the BSU takes the view that the three vessels investigated are passenger ships and do not count as special purpose ships according to the SPS Code when on international voyages. These vessels are used on domestic and international voyages for the transportation of paying passengers.

That the same co- sailors on the same vessel are supposedly passengers on domestic voyages and special personnel on international voyages, and added to that, that the change in status of vessel and passengers/special personnel is effected simply by an entry in the log book, is somewhat unconvincing.

In the interest of passenger safety, the relevant provisions of the EU Directive on passenger ships must be complied with on domestic voyages, and the SOLAS regulations for passenger ships on international voyages, without the flag State falling back on possibilities for exemption.

The three marine casualties investigated are not a random accumulation of individual cases. A total of 22 marine casualties involving Dutch sailing passenger ships have been reported to the BSU since 2003. These cases are made up of collisions, groundings, injured people on board and persons falling overboard.

The issue of Dutch sailing vessels on domestic voyages in Germany under the EU Directive on passenger ships and on international voyages as special purpose vessels as well as the associated issue of compliance with international safety rules are long-standing and debated in an extremely controversial, partly polemic manner.

On no account does the BSU wish to enter into this debate; however, for reasons of safety it is imperative that orderly and safe conditions are established for the operator, the supervisory and control authorities, but also for the passengers, in particular, and that a basic rule is soon found.

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