Saving time and killing people

Once again the safety of ferry passengers plays second fiddle to saving time, on this occasion one person was crushed between the water tight doors of a Ferry sailing from Ostend to Ramsgate.

The Marine Accident Investigation Board  published its findings on today after an incident on November 3rd 2008, during which a  fitter was crushed in a steel watertight door.

The accident happened on board Transeuropa Ferries’ Eurovoyager as it came into Ramsgate harbour.

The report revealed that watertight doors were routinely left open on the Eurovoyager as it sailed across the Channel.

Herald of Free Enterprise

Herald of Free Enterprise

The actions of some of those involved in the Cross Channel Ferry industry are unconscionable.

In March 1987, 193 people were killed, due to water entering the vehicle area of the Herald of Free Enterprise causing it to capsize, the report into the accident highlighted the importance of the watertight doors, in addition to recommending changes to ferry design.

‘…If substantial quantities of water reach the bulkhead deck, such a ferry may become totally unstable. The disaster to the HERALD was certainly unusual and it is to be hoped will never recur. Nevertheless, leaving the bow doors open is only one of several ways by which water in quantity may
gain access to the bulkhead deck….’

‘…The superstructure must have doors to allow access for the vehicles and these are usually, but not always, at the ends. Obviously the doors have to be weathertight when closed, to ensure the buoyancy of the superstructure….’

Twenty one years later little seems to have changed, with Ferry operators continuing to take short cuts for time expediency.

It appears that someone on-board this ferry at least, knew that the watertight doors should be closed, as the MAIB report into the Eurovoyager states:

‘…It was the usual practice on board for the watertight doors to be in local control. However, VDR data showed that many of the doors were routinely left open at sea, which potentially compromised the vessel’s watertight integrity. Remote control had been selected on this occasion to ensure that the doors remained closed while a Belgium Maritime Inspector was on board conducting an EU ferry inspection….’

Because a marine inspector was on-board, the doors were automatically closed, this leads to a natural conclusion, that although those on-board knew the doors should be closed, they really couldn’t be bothered and because not closing the doors was so routine, the only way to ensure the Inspector would be satistied, would be to make them close automatically.

Immediately after the incident, Transeuropa Ferries sent a circular reminding crew of correct safety procedures and ordering staff to keep watertight doors closed while at sea.

An on board training manual has been updated and all watertight doors now close in line with SOLAS requirements.

To use a poor analogy, sounds a little like shutting the door after the horse has bolted.

A flyer has also been sent out by the MAIB to the shipping industry, reminding them of what they should be doing routinely, including a further reminder of closing watertight doors.

‘…A Belgian Maritime Inspectorate surveyor was on board carrying out an in-service inspection. Although it was the on-board practice to keep the watertight doors in ‘local’ control when at sea, the master switched the doors to the ‘remote’ or ‘doors closed’ mode when leaving Ostend to ensure that none could be left open during the inspection. The master informed the crew of this action….’

‘…The decision to place the watertight doors in ‘remote’ mode was influenced by the crew’s lack of discipline in closing the doors when at sea. The sinking of the Greek ferry, Express Samina, with the loss of 82 lives, clearly shows why watertight doors must be closed at sea. Every effort must be made to ensure this is achieved….’

As a more sober reminder to those who decide the short cut is a good idea, we should see criminal charges brought against these people who endanger lives, because they, can’t be bothered.

The video below is a pertinent reminder of the reality of The Herald of Free Enterprise disaster.

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