Since 2000, in South East Asia there have been 163 accidents in the region involving ferries, killing more than 17,000 people. Over the years there has been little effective action to reduce that toll among the countries with the most losses – the Philippines, China, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Now, following a conference in Manila in late April, has adopted guidelines to aid the process of reducing the mounting toll of accidents involving such vessels by addressing the question of whether a ship is fit for purpose.
(Below, Stephanie Coutrix spoke with IMO’s Lee Adamson who was there for the conference.)
IMO, and Interferry, which runs a ferry safety project for th developing world, have their work cut out. Ageing and poorly maintained vessels, refurbished second hand vessels with infrastructure added with disregard to stability, corrupt and incompetent enforcement of safety rules, lack of crew training in passenger control, abandon ship and fire fighting, a reluctance to actually count passenger numbers – at least one million unmanifested passengers are carried each year in the Philippines alone – all add to the death toll and the challenge of enhancing ferry safety in the region.
Apart from the closeness of major ferry operators and politicians in many of the countries concerned the viscous quality of the law making process in some may delay effective action interminably. In the Philippines, for instance, it is not enough for a law to be passed but implementing rules and regulations must also be approved, a process that can, and does, stifle change. A decade ago the Philippines passed laws mandating an IMO-compliant accident investigation regime but the implementing rules and regulations have yet to see the light of day.
The Manila Statement, says the IMO, acknowledges the urgent need to enhance the safety of ships carrying passengers on non-international voyages in certain parts of the world and urges states to review and update national regulations in relation to their passenger ferries and to apply the guidelines, in order to address the continuing unacceptable loss of life and damage to the environment and property due to marine casualties and incidents involving such vessels.
At the closing session of the conference IMO Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu said
“The public expects safety standards on domestic passenger ferries to be as strong as those on international vessels…Those travelling by domestic ferries should enjoy the highest practicable standard of safety irrespective of their citizenship.”
The Manila Statement highlights that the safety of domestic ferries is a shared responsibility between and among Governments; local authorities; ship-owners, ship-managers, ship-operators; shipboard personnel; maritime education and training institutions; classification societies and organizations which Governments authorize to survey and certify domestic ferries for compliance with the applicable laws, regulations and rules; insurance providers; port authorities, port terminal owners and operators; and the public and civil society as users of the services provided.
“Casualties and incidents involving domestic ferries can be avoided if adequate laws, regulations and rules are developed and effectively implemented and enforced,” Sekimizu said.
The Manila statement strongly recommends the use of the guidelines on the safe operation of coastal and inter-island passenger ships not engaged in international voyages. The guidelines address issues relating to: the purchase of a second hand ship intended to enter into service as a domestic passenger ship; a change in operating limits; the conversion or modification of a ship before the ship enters into service as a domestic passenger ship; passenger counting and voyage planning. The guidelines can also be used to check the operation of ships which are already providing passenger services and the ones relating to passenger counting and voyage planning in their daily operations.
The statement also urges States who need technical assistance on matters relating to the operation of domestic ferries to seek such assistance from IMO or from other States.
Since 2006, activities relating to domestic ferries have been pursued in partnership with the international non-governmental organization Interferry, including a series of fora on the safety of domestic ferries in the East Asia sub-region and for Pacific Island Countries and Territories, as well as the implementation of a national pilot project in Bangladesh, including the development of specific training programmes.