While the Ship & Boat International team was wrapping up the 2018 edition of Significant Small Ships, we couldn’t help but think of some other significant vessels that had grabbed our attention last year – albeit for all the wrong reasons. For instance, take Phoenix, which capsized off the coast of Phuket, Thailand, leading to the deaths of 47 Chinese nationals. Or Lestari Maju, a ‘modified’ cargo ship-cum-passenger ferry which recorded 35 passenger fatalities after she grounded off the Selayar Islands in Indonesia. Or how about MV Nyerere, which sank in Lake Victoria, Tanzania, nearly wiping out her entire passenger complement? Or perhaps Sinar Bangin, which sank in Lake Toba, Indonesia – we can only hazard a guess as to how many perished in this accident as, by most accounts, the vessel was chronically overloaded, to the point of possibly carrying more than triple her passenger allowance.
Tragically, we could probably fill the rest of this page with similar examples, all sourced from 2018 alone. A recent report published by Lloyd’s Register Foundation highlights the fact that the global passenger ferry sector has averaged more than 1,000 fatalities per year since the 1960s, with most deaths recorded in Asia and Africa. According to the Foundation, 163 passenger ferry accidents were recorded between 2002-2016, resulting in 17,000 deaths. Of these accidents, 25% were recorded in Bangladesh; 16% in Indonesia; 11% in the Philippines; 6% in China; and 42% in the rest of the world (ROW).
(Incidentally, while the Foundation's report identifies the Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh as suffering the highest number of casualties worldwide, the ROW percentage should not be underestimated: ferry safety is not just an issue for ‘developing nations’, as the 2012 grounding of Costa Concordia and the 2014 blaze aboard Norman Atlantic would attest.)
Of course, much of the blame for these Asian ferry fatalities can be attributed to human factors. However, the Lloyd’s Register Foundation report acknowledges that, alongside perennial problems such as passenger overcrowding, inadequate crew/coxswain training and lack of safety equipment, “very poor vessel design and/or construction, leading to small vessels which are unseaworthy” commonly contribute to the problem. In fact, the report suggests that ‘unseaworthiness’ may be the leading “root cause” of ferry fatalities in Bangladesh and responsible for 50% of incidents (in contrast, ‘overloading’ and ‘crew incompetence’ were each identified as the prime cause of about 25% of incidents within Bangladesh). Vessel 'unseaworthiness’ could also be behind 30% of ferry fatalities in Indonesia and 18% of related deaths in the Philippines, the report hints.
In turn, Lloyd’s Register Foundation has recommended the establishment of a “non-profit and at least partially ferry operator-funded organisation, dedicated to improving safety in the industry”. Consequently, March 2019 has seen a small delegation from industry association Interferry travel to the Philippines on a fact-finding mission. In recent years, this country has managed to reduce its overall rate of ferry accident-related fatalities, and the Interferry representatives will speak to domestic maritime authorities, naval architects, boatbuilders, surveyors and academics, in a bid to determine a) how the Philippines has managed to lower its overall tally of ferry-related accidents, and b) how the lessons learned within this territory can be applied to other countries’ ferry sectors, to spark similar improvements in their safety regimes. We hope to cover the delegation’s findings and recommendations in future issues of Ship & Boat International.
A belated thanks is also due to the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association (WFSA) for kindly inviting Ship & Boat International to its annual conference in Bangkok, Thailand (pictured, above) in February. As a rallying point for suggested action, information exchange and networking, the conference did not disappoint, and the energy (and desire for change) among the attendees – who ranged from students and academics to operators, OEMs, builders and even a representative from the World Bank Group – was palpable. Again, we look forward to covering some of the key moments from the conference in greater depth in future issues. The ferry sector is clearly refusing to accept these fatalities as part of the ‘norm’ for certain countries, even if that is how it might appear when one considers the depressing but preventable, associated death toll – and that’s an effort we can all surely get behind.