OPINION: Shameless! WSF’s sale of ancient Ro-Pax ferry

Photo: Wikipedia/Compdude123

Given its experience with another of its surplus vessels Skagit only five years ago, you would think that America’s Washington State Ferries (WSF) would be wary of selling its old or unsatisfactory ferries to developing countries.

After being sold, via a Canadian intermediary, to Tanzania in 2009, Skagit capsized and sank near Zanzibar in 2012 killing at least 146 people in the process. Designed for the benign, sheltered waters of Puget Sound, Skagit was obviously unstable in the open sea, especially when overloaded as facilitated by its particular design. Despite its age, 22 years, it apparently had been little used by WSF. It should certainly not have been so opportunistically sold, or even permitted to be sold, for use in the oceanic waters off the East African coast. Nor should it have been sold to a poor country where negligence and bad maintenance are facts of life.

Now, the WSF website boasts that the utility has sold a 63-year-old Ro-Pax ferry, the Evergreen State, for US$300,000 to another poorish country, Grenada, that experiences similar strong winds and big waves to those of Tanzania. The Evergreen State sale is akin to giving an AK 47 to an eight year old. Has WSF no shame?

Over the 16 years to December 2015 some 32 per cent of the world’s ferry fatalities have been the result of Ro-Pax ferry accidents. Most of those, especially recently, have involved poorly maintained and operated, elderly ships that have been happily sold by North European and Japanese owners to developing countries. Ro-Pax ships, particularly elderly ones, are disproportionately dangerous.

It is incomprehensible that Washington State, that prides itself on its clean, green and caring image, should allow its ferry utility to irresponsibly sell such an old and inappropriate ship to a developing country. That the sale was made for a miserable $300,000 is pathetic.

The sale should be cancelled and the vessel scrapped. The $300,000 so lost should be deducted from the salaries and fees of the WSF directors and senior management. That might, just might, remind them of the tragic folly of their earlier sale of the Skagit and punish their irresponsibility in this case.

Meanwhile, noting the appalling safety record of elderly monohull Ro-Pax ferries, it is high time that IMO banned their sale or on-sale to owners in developing countries. Rich country ship owners, too, have a responsibility to ensure that their surplus vessels do not fall into the wrong hands.

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.