EDITORIAL | China leads the way in ferry safety activity

Brodrene Aa/Sinoway's brand new catamaran ferry Xin Shun Shui on the Pearl River

In mid-November I was delighted to be able to represent Interferry, the international association of ferry owners, at the third ASEAN Regional Forum Workshop on Ferry Safety in Guangzhou, China. The workshop was very well organised by the China Maritime Safety Administration in conjunction with its Thai counterpart.

This was the second such annual workshop in which I have participated. There have been three and they illustrate China’s determination to eliminate the problem of fatal ferry accidents. China, itself, used to have a terrible death toll from ferry accidents but, over recent years, the country has made dramatic improvements to that record.

Drawing on that experience, China is now trying to assist neighbouring countries in the ASEAN region to do likewise. It is providing ideas, assistance and advice. The workshops are an important facet of that.

Technically, I was representing the Domestic Ferry Safety Committee of Interferry through its FerrySafe Group, which has been generously sponsored by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation. I reported on the two recent FerrySafe missions to the Philippines where we determined the main reasons for the very impressive improvement in that country’s previously appalling ferry safety record. Our objective now is to spread or evangelise those lessons among other countries with similarly bad records.

Twenty countries and 34 speakers

Twenty countries were represented by 102 delegates, predominantly from China. Of the 34 speakers, most reported on the situation prevailing in their home countries. All were very open in their comments.

There were also two very interesting presentations from Thai owners of ferry fleets and four from leading Pearl River-based shipbuilders that showed off their latest ferry developments. Their vessels are built to the highest international standards. Most, notably, they were high-speed catamarans which, of course, have an impeccable passenger safety record. China must now be the world’s largest builder of such vessels.

42-metre catamaran ferry from Jianglong Shipbuilding

The third workshop had a decidedly more positive feel to it than did the second, not that the second was in any way disappointing. The 34 speakers were all more confident and seemed to fully comprehend the need for improvement in their own countries following the examples of China and the Philippines. There was a general consensus that the Philippines had developed a formula that could practically be transferred to other countries in the region.

It was generally agreed that while the Chinese MSA’s recent achievement in “persuading” the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee to take the problem of domestic ferry safety seriously was very valuable, there was a feeling that IMO was rather “half-hearted” about it.

More work to be done

So, it was obvious that more work remained to be done with IMO to ensure that it develops the will to do something about domestic ferry safety. Domestic ferries, after all, account for about 98 per cent of passenger ferry fatalities. Two working groups were formed with that end in sight.

The third workshop maintained and enhanced the enthusiasm seen at its two predecessors. The reality of the ferry safety problem was unanimously acknowledged by the, mainly government, delegates present. There is obviously strong enthusiasm to further develop the process of improving ferry safety in the wider Asia/Pacific region. A strong willingness to work to achieve those improvements was gratifyingly obvious.

Neil Baird

Co-founder and former Editor-in-Chief of Baird Maritime and Work Boat World magazine, Neil has travelled the length and breadth of this planet in over 40 years in the business. He knows the global work boat industry better than anyone.