IMO Confronts Passenger Safety Failings

IMO Secretary General Sekimizu
IMO Secretary General Sekimizu speaking at the 95th session of the Maritime Safety Committee

Published Jun 3, 2015 11:36 AM by The Maritime Executive

IMO Secretary-General Sekimizu expressed supreme sorrow for the victims and families of the Yangtze River ship disaster in his opening remarks to the Maritime Safety Committee. The sinking of the 456 passenger cruise boat highlights a key element that the committee will address this week: safety on short-sea passenger voyages.

Since the beginning of 2014, more than 20 ships carrying passengers on domestic short-sea voyages have suffered severe accidents, with the loss of nearly 1,000 lives. One of the most notable was the capsizing and sinking of the ro-ro passenger ferry Sewol in April 2014, which resulted in the death of over 300 passengers. The Norman Atlantic another ro-ro ferry is a second recent example. The late 2014 incident claimed nine lives, while the bodies of nineteen other passengers were never recovered.

Sekimizu noted that much progress has been made in ensuring passenger safety aboard large passenger vessels. In particular, the IMO has put provisions in place in light of the increasing size of ships. However, passenger shipping in the domestic sector has not received the same level of attention. “Unfortunately, while the safety standards on passenger ships in international voyages has advanced considerably, the same cannot be said for passenger shipping in the domestic sector,” Sekimizu said.

He further went on to add that the IMO’s top priority should be reducing the number of lives lost at sea by half, with the primary aim of saving the lives of passengers as well as those of seafarers. Achieving that degree of safety on domestic passenger ferries will take a collaboration between the IMO and state governments. In Sekimizu’s proposal SOLAS would cover the safety standards of domestic passenger ships. 

“The travelling public has every right to expect that safety standards on domestic passenger ships should not only be the highest practicable but also match these to be expected on passenger ships operating on international voyages,” the Secretary-General said, adding, “I firmly believe that the currently unacceptable level of casualties and incidents involving domestic ferries can be avoided if adequate laws, regulations and rules are developed and effectively implemented and enforced.”

The 95 session of the MSC is meeting June 3-12 in London. It will additionally address adoption of a mandatory safety code for ships using gases or other low-flashpoint fuels, consideration of cyber threats to maritime security and unsafe mixed migration by sea.