EDITORIAL | Covid-19 results in lowest ferry fatality toll ever in 2020

Passengers and crew being rescued after the ferry Raja 4 capsized off Koh Samui, Thailand on August 1, 2020. Two passengers and three crewmembers died as a result of the incident. (Photo: Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Office, Surat Thani)

Thanks very largely to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 had the least number of fatal ferry accidents and fatalities since our records commenced in 1966, according to the Baird Maritime Passenger Vessel Accident database (BMPVA). In fact, it is almost certain that 2020 was the best year ever for ferry accidents and their resultant fatalities.

There were 19 “known” fatal ferry accidents globally in 2020. They led to the deaths of 238 people, an average of 12.5 fatalities per accident. Those accidents occurred in 15 countries. Four of those countries experienced two fatal ferry accidents each while the other 11 each suffered only one.

After several relatively good years, Bangladesh had a poor 2020. With two accidents resulting in 58 fatalities, Bangladesh was responsible for 24 per cent of the 2020 fatalities. Next worst was Brazil with one accident resulting in 48 fatalities that amounted to 20 per cent of the global total. The Solomon Islands and Uganda had equally poor years with one accident each resulting in 28 fatalities, giving them each 12 per cent of the total.

Haiti, Nigeria, Thailand and Indonesia remained on the list of the worst ten countries for ferry fatalities. Impressively, China recorded no fatalities and the Philippines, only two accidents resulting in seven fatalities. Both those Philippine accidents involved the notorious wooden motor bancas that are currently being phased out. They are effectively “outlaw” vessels.

A careful analysis of the accident causes show no real deviation from past patterns. All were clearly due to human error or, in other words, behavioural causes. None even claimed non-human related mechanical or structural failures.

The BMPVA analysis concludes that nine of the nineteen accidents were due to the disintegration or capsize of unseaworthy vessels. That is disgraceful negligence. Four were clearly due to poor lookout and four were caused by overloading. Poor seamanship was responsible for two accidents and general negligence for one.

Although 2020 was a good year for fatalities, the global ferry industry can still do much better with respect to safety. That is particularly so with domestic ferries in developing countries.

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.