Home Cruise Preparation Feature: Protecting passengers and crew at sea

Rebecca Gibson explores some of the major health and safety challenges facing the passenger shipping industry, as well as some of the products and services that are helping operators to protect their ships, passengers and crew

Feature: Protecting passengers and crew at sea


By Rebecca Gibson
20 January 2022

While incidents such as onboard fires, hull breaches, floods and major outbreaks of contagious illnesses onboard cruise ships and ferries are rare, if they do happen, they can have a significant – and potentially catastrophic – impact on the vessels, as well as the health and safety of passengers and crew members. Consequently, in the event of such an emergency, shipowners want to ensure that crew members have all the skills, knowledge, tools and technologies they need to rapidly detect and resolve operational issues to prevent them from becoming a danger to everyone onboard.

Below we showcase some of the latest products and services that are helping cruise and ferry operators to improve health and safety onboard their vessels, particularly as they continue to grapple with the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. We also ask Interferry’s Johan Roos how the global ferry industry is working together to overcome some of the biggest safety challenges it faces.

Reducing fire risk
Johan Roos explains how Interferry is working with the International Maritime Organization and operators to decrease the dangers of onboard fires and increase domestic ferry safety

Advances in maritime safety have been impressive over the past few decades, particularly within the international ferry industry which has a year-on-year record of close to zero fatalities. However, there are still several key areas that need improving, according to Johan Roos, executive director of European Union (EU) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) affairs at Interferry.

Top of the agenda is minimising the risk of fires onboard both ro-pax and ro-ro vessels. Although the IMO continually amends the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations on ro-pax fire safety, it became a major priority for many ferry operators in the wake of the fatal fire onboard Norman Atlantic in December 2014, as well as the fire on Sorrento, which forced 156 people to abandon ship in April 2015.

“Both fires were devastating for all involved but one important outcome was that they significantly increased fire safety awareness among ferry operators,” says Roos. “Yes, some structural and equipment-oriented improvements were overdue, but these fires clearly showed that having the right onboard response and effective communication are key to survival in emergencies.”

Interferry is heavily engaged in EU-funded research and development project LASHFIRE, which aims to add another layer of measures to the IMO’s current fire safety regulations.

“With the rapid development of electric and alternatively powered vehicles, LASHFIRE’s work may prove very timely because there currently are no robust guidelines or requirements covering the new risks associated with battery fires and the implications of carrying compressed natural gas, LNG, hydrogen or other yet-to-be developed alternative fuels,” says Roos.

Interferry is also working to resolve the EU’s investment in enhanced damage stability for ro-pax ships after it chose not to fully accept the 2020 amendments to the SOLAS II-1 regulation, which addresses subdivision and damage stability requirements in passenger ships.

“The EU is still looking into ways to maintain unilateral requirements that go beyond the international ones, but we believe this is a misguided approach as it is predicated on the notion that today’s ferry designs are no safer than those of the 1990s,” says Roos. “This is simply incorrect, but because the regulatory approach has shifted from prescriptive requirements to more modern probabilistic requirements, it’s impossible to compare the designs of yesterday with those of today.

“Now, the very same forces that pushed probabilistic requirements on the industry are concerned that they cannot predict their outcome and are therefore attempting to gold-plate their own standards. This process has gone on for a long time, but it hasn’t tangibly improved anything.”

Another key priority for the industry is to improve domestic ferry safety. “Between 2010 and 2019, more than 98 per cent of global ferry fatalities occurred in domestic operations in countries that are not members of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, so after many decades of build-up, the IMO is finally making a proper effort to help these countries and we truly welcome this,” says Roos.

“Interestingly, this has not been driven by the Western countries that are investing resources in academic studies, but rather by China, which has taken on a leadership role for Southeast Asia with strong support from the Philippines and Thailand. Interferry is very active on issues pertaining to domestic ferry safety, and we work hard to convince Western IMO Member States to lend their support to addressing real safety problems.”

Like many industries, the global ferry sector will also continue to be challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic for the foreseeable future.

“The Covid-19 pandemic was never really a major threat to ferry operators because the vessels are well-suited to social distancing and the industry could very quickly implement new operational protocols to ensure safe travels,” says Roos. “However, with IMO Member States not being able to agree on common rules, most passenger traffic had to be suspended so many operators have lost out on two critically important summer seasons.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that proposed ‘Covid passports’ will help business return to some normality, but it seems that IMO Member States are still hesitant to follow the agreed procedures, making passengers anxious about booking trips.”

To quell these fears, Interferry members have been following jointly developed Covid-19 mitigation measures since summer 2020.

“Our guidelines were revised in summer 2021 and outline various measures that will help to keep passengers and crew safe, both onboard the vessels and in ports and terminals,” says Roos. “These measures, combined with the robust IMO regulatory framework means that passenger shipping is generally one of the safest forms of transport.”

Solutions for safety
We asked representatives from the supplier community outline how their newest services and solutions are helping operators to mitigate a myriad of risks to keep their vessels operational and their passengers and crew safe and healthy. Below is a list of the experts who shared their perspectives with us, which you can read in full from page 110 of the digital edition of the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review:

  • AM Defence & Marine
  • AP Companies
  • Carrier
  • Celios
  • Coltraco Ultrasonics
  • Liferaft Systems Australia
  • Speedcast
  • Tototheo Maritime

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