IMO Studies Asian Passenger Vessel Safety

Princess of the Stars
Princess of the Stars capsized in the Philippines in 2008.

By Wendy Laursen 2015-03-08 19:51:30

IMO conducted a hazard identification (HAZID) exercise for non-SOLAS passenger ships in the Philippines last week. The aim is to develop a template for the use of the HAZID by other IMO member states, as a way of enhancing the safety of domestic passenger services.

The exercise was conducted with the participation of officials from the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), Department of Transportation and Communications, Republic of the Philippines, other government agencies, local classification societies‎, IACS members, domestic shipowners, domestic crew associations, shipyard operators, surveyors and consumer groups. 

The Philippines has suffered some notable maritime accidents, and last year insurer Allianz reported that the nation had the highest vessel loss rate based on 2013 statistics. The most common cause of losses in 2013, and for the preceding 12 years, was foundering with bad weather a significant driver. “More than two years after the Costa Concordia disaster improving passenger ship safety continues to be a priority with a particular focus on services in Asia, where quality standards can be an issue,” states the Allianz report.

Notable in the Philippines record of tragedies is Princess of the Stars. The vessel capsized off the coast of San Fernando at the height of Typhoon Frank in 2008 en route from Manila to Cebu City. It was permitted to sail, as it was considered large enough to stay afloat in the typhoon's periphery. However, Frank unexpectedly changed course later that day, and the ferry capsized. Only around 50 people survived of the 862 passengers and crew on board.

More recently, in August 2013, St. Thomas Aquinas departed from Nasipit on the Philippine island of Mindanao heading for Cebu City when it collided with cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete. The 40-year-old vessel immediately began to take on water, prompting the captain to give the order to abandon ship. The crew hurriedly handed out life jackets as hundreds of passengers jumped overboard. Within 30 minutes, the ship had sunk. At the time of the collision, St. Thomas Aquinas was carrying 715 passengers (58 were infants) and 116 crew members. Many passengers were asleep at the time or otherwise had trouble finding their way to the deck in the dark, and 116 people died.

The incident led to concerns that not all regional ferries meet IMO’s SOLAS and Stockholm standards, both of which were adopted in response to the Herald of Free Enterprise and Estonia passenger ship disasters.

It is envisaged that the outcome of IMO’s HAZID exercise will be presented at the international conference on the enhancement of the safety of ships providing domestic passenger services to be held in the Philippines in April this year.