Interferry Commits to Global Safety Plan

Rabaul Queen
Rabaul Queen

By MarEx 2016-10-28 21:40:42

The industry body Interferry has unveiled a strategic plan promising to put safety issues at the heart of its work as the voice of the worldwide ferry industry. The pledge came at the global trade association’s 41st annual conference in Manila this month – a venue chosen to spotlight the challenges of domestic ferry safety in developing nations.  

The plan signals Interferry’s overriding ambition to help lift ferry safety in all parts of the world to the very high standard already in place in North America and Europe, where casualties in recent decades have been extremely rare.  

Chairman Mike Grainger – managing director of Liferaft Systems Australia – told 307 delegates from 32 countries: “Interferry has developed a strategy taking us to at least 2020, and to be reviewed annually, that will promote safety and quality improvement alongside our role in helping to develop international regulations. Meanwhile we will extend internal and external networking opportunities to ensure that the knowledge and experience of our members is shared not only among themselves but with the industry and authorities at large.” 

A comprehensive conference agenda explored topics ranging from technical innovations – including autonomous vessels, propulsion systems and alternative fuels – to loyalty cards, insurance risk assessment and the impact of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
A string of speakers listed the main causes of incidents on domestic ferry services in developing nations – unsuitable and poorly maintained vessels, ill-qualified crew, overloading, inadequate weather forecasting and lack or sluggish enforcement of rules.  

Delegates heard that the global ferry industry carries more than two billion passengers per year, almost half of them in SE Asia.  Some 95 percent of the estimated 2,000 deaths per year occurred in emerging nations – a death toll equating to just one passenger per million but which speakers insisted could be reduced if stakeholders joined forces to take action.

Ashok Mahapatra, director of the IMO maritime safety division, was the keynote speaker in a mark of the organization’s long-running joint initiative with Interferry on domestic ferry safety.  He asserted that safety standards should be the same on all ships, whether on domestic or international voyages, but the IMO could not enforce this on domestic routes because that was at the discretion of national maritime administrations.  

“For now we must accept the realities of what can be afforded to the highest practical standards,” he conceded, “but I would encourage relevant governments to have the primary long-term objective of uplifting to somewhere near SOLAS standards within 15-20 years.  IMO has developed global regulations for non-convention ships and if governments request help we will give it.” 

Captain Nurur Rahman, Papua New Guinea’s maritime safety operations manager, recalled the Rabaul Queen disaster of 2012, when more than 100 died after the overloaded ship was engulfed by large waves. “She was built for service in the inland Sea of Japan, not for Force 10 winds and swells of five meters, and never stood a chance in those conditions. Enough is enough – no more loss of lives due to unsafe ferries. We need a concerted effort by governments, owners and designers.”

Michael Niemann, fleet manager of Australia’s SeaLink Travel Group, proposed a strategy for safer domestic ferries based on universal uniformity of standards. “We need to adopt a holistic approach and support those nations that need help,” he urged.  “But the solutions need to be economic as well as practical – set the bar too high and everyone will just walk under it.”

Murray Goldberg, founder and CEO of Marine Learning Systems, reviewed the SailSafe management/union joint initiative in place at BC Ferries since 2007.  This features a Standardized Education and Assessment (SEA) program blending eLearning and face-to-face learning, which experience had shown was more effective than either element used alone. As he reported: “It’s fair to assume that this has been a major factor in accidents dropping by 60 percent, on-time performance improving by 92 percent, insurance claims costs falling 75 percent and days lost being cut by a third.”  

Neil Baird, chairman of the World Ocean Council corporate responsibility alliance, presented his research into every known casualty over the past 50 years, which showed that 90 percent of accidents and deaths were directly attributable to human error and should be readily preventable.  

He then criticized maritime authorities for appearing ‘very unconcerned’ about domestic safety regulations, claiming: “Compatible and competing industries, especially aviation, have made dramatic safety improvements over the past 30 years that apply across the industry. There are too many platitudes from the IMO and national governments concerning regulatory and enforcement deficiencies. I think it’s obscene to say we can’t get involved in domestic regulation.”

Johan Roos, Interferry regulatory affairs director, pointed out that IMO’s remit was as a facilitator enabling member states to come together. “When we bash the IMO and ask them to do more, we need to remember they are not allowed to intervene on domestic safety because then you run into sovereignty issues,” he argued. “We really need to ask about our own member states – for instance, why don’t the European Uunion or all developed nations do more? We as an industry must try to do something more rapidly.”  

Ari Huttunen, head of ferry design at Finland-based marine engineering company Foreship, outlined the ‘much more demanding’ requirements being proposed under SOLAS 2020 for increased damage stability – higher freeboard, wider beam and extra sub-division on vehicle decks. “The semi-watertight sub-division is effective but consumes vehicle space and harbour time,” he acknowledged. “Hopefully there is room to agree a workable solution, so I think we can still design a feasible ferry.”

Paivi Haikkola, head of R&D at naval architects Deltamarin, introduced her company’s concept of safe and affordable ferries purpose-designed for Far East markets. Taking account of the main reasons for incidents, she said the high freeboard designs combined sub-divided hulls, reliable propulsion with power margins for bad weather and passenger spaces that inhibited overcrowding while providing large mustering areas. By using popular steel profiles and locally sourced equipment, the vessels offered a valid compromise of construction and operating costs.               

Papers and videos are available under the “conference” section of the Interferry website here.