The ferry Herald of Free Enterprise in Dover docks in 1984.
Post-Zeebrugge ferry regulations to be scrapped
In March 1987 the P&O ferry Herald of Free Enterprise sank outside Zeebrugge resulting in 188 deaths. An inquiry was held which led to a considerable number of safety improvements. Now, in another outbreak of deregulatory zeal, the Government want to remove some of these regulations.
It is not because this type of ferry no longer operates. There are 84 similar ferries flying the British flag. Nor is it because designs mean that the regulations are no longer needed, after all the regulations are not about ferry design but safety measures.
It is because the requirements are seen as being “red-tape” and a cost to business. As the regulations do not apply to ships operating in other countries, UK ships and those operating from UK ports have, in the words of the consultation document, “additional requirements” “which may be seen as gold-plating”. I honestly could not believe it when I saw this. Their justification for removing safety rules brought in after the Zeebrugge disaster is that they go beyond the requirements for ships operating in countries like the Philippines or Bangladesh.
So what are these requirements that they are trying to get rid of? One is that ships need watertight emergency lockers on the open deck that can be accessed if the ship capsizes. This is for things like axes, ladders etc. They do not claim that they are no longer of use, but are now “less likely” to be because “even if a situation occurred where the equipment could be used, it is unlikely that he degree of crew organisation necessary to make use of it could be maintained in the face of a catastrophic capsize”. They go on to say that they have been advised that a ship may sink too fast to use the equipment. This is honestly in their consultation document!
The other requirement is around weighing of cargo to make sure a ship is not over-loaded. Again the rational for getting rid of this is because it only applies to UK ships. Not because it is not a good idea.
In one of the most revealing parts of the consultation document it states that removing the regulations “does not mean that the emergency equipment lockers and the weighbridge facilities are never necessary, rather that it is believed that with the introduction of the later regulations that it should now be for the shipping companies, ports etc. to identify what they need rather than impose requirements through legislation.” So just leave it to the owners then. I am sure that makes us all feel safe.
Of all the pieces of stupid, dangerous, ideologically-driven, anti-regulatory, claptrap, this is up there along with the proposals to exempt the self-employed from the Health and Safety at Work Act.
To say that you want to remove safety regulations solely because other countries do not have them is just part of the dangerous and reckless race to the bottom that this government has excelled in. Instead it should be demanding that other countries introduce these standards and raise international requirements so we can prevent the huge toll of deaths from ferry disasters world-wide.