EDITORIAL | Dramatic reduction in ferry fatalities in 2022

Personnel of Indonesia's Basarnas search and rescue agency lift a body bag containing the remains of an individual who perished when the passenger ferry Cahaya Arafah capsized off North Maluku province on July 18, 2022. The incident left 10 people dead while one other person went missing. (Photo: Basarnas)

Following a very poor year for known ferry fatalities in 2021, the year 2022 saw a big improvement with the known death toll almost halved from 1,378 to 699. However, we should not become over-confident. Already in 2023, more than 200 people died in ferry accidents in the first three weeks of January.

The usual suspects

Given that many more people are travelling in these post-Covid times, the performance is encouraging, though the usual national suspects remain the main offenders. Bangladesh improved from five accidents resulting in 279 fatalities to seven accidents and 163 deaths. Nigeria also improved from three accidents and 225 fatalities to seven accidents and 161 deaths. The DR Congo recorded 570 deaths from four accidents in 2021 followed by two accidents and 110 deaths in 2022. DR Congo data, though, is notoriously unreliable as with the data from Nigeria.

While improving significantly, Indonesia still recorded 52 deaths from five known accidents compared with 35 deaths from two in 2021. And, as usual, the worst offenders remain DR Congo, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Indonesia, and India. Happily, the Philippines and China continue to improve with significantly fewer accidents and deaths than in previous years. Indeed, no accidents or fatalities were recorded in China in 2022.

No good news from Myanmar

Under an increasingly repressive military regime, it is unsurprising that no information is coming out of Myanmar. However, it is probably safe to assume some accidents and fatalities occurred there.

Madagascar, sadly, has crept into the statistics for the second year running. In 2021, it recorded one accident with 88 fatalities, and another accident with 12 deaths occurred in 2022. Others were spread around Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Brazil, Vietnam, and Sudan.

Disappointments in developed countries

Disappointingly, there were several fatal accidents in developed countries. New Zealand experienced two. Japan, Greece, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands had one each with a total of 57 fatalities across those developed countries.

So, in 2021, there were 25 accidents resulting in 1,378 fatalities, while in 2022, there were 41 accidents that resulted in 699 deaths. As always, the causes of the accidents were all ultimately due to human error. Structural and mechanical failures certainly occurred but they did not result in fatalities. Collisions and allisions were the predominant causes of deaths followed in importance by overloading, capsizes, and poor seaworthiness. All those causes should be readily avoidable.

Safety improvements are readily achievable

As China and the Philippines have shown so clearly in recent years, ferry safety can be improved very effectively and quickly if governments develop the will to do so. Realistic regulation that is rigorously enforced is always the best answer.

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.