EU Shipping Law

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Maritime safety: ferries and ro-ro vessels

A. Introduction

34.001 This chapter examines selected aspects of European Union (“EU”) shipping law as they relate to the safety of ferries and roll-on/roll-off (“ro-ro”) vessels.1 34.002 Ferry traffic is of enormous significance in the EU. It is believed that more than 400 million people sail in, or out of, EU ports annually with around 280 million passengers being on international voyages and around 120 million passengers sailing on cabotage voyages between ports of the same Member State.2 34.003 As the EU needs support from its citizens, it is imperative that citizens see the EU doing enough to protect them and their families when they travel on ferries and other passenger vessels. Equally, citizens want to see ferries being safe for passengers, cars and freight as well as their crews. Therefore it is not surprising that the EU has adopted various measures to ensure such protection. 34.004 At the outset, these measures were non-legally binding resolutions but have since been in the nature of legally binding measures. Therefore, there has been an evolution of measures. Some of these measures have been adopted in the aftermath of various events (for example, incidents such as the Herald of Free Enterprise,3 the Scandinavian Star,4 the Estonia,5 the Costa Concordia 6 (though this was a cruise liner) and the Norman Atlantic 7) while others have been influenced by policy, experience, lessons learned from casualties and technology developments as well as reflection on how safety could be improved. 34.005 The EU measures are not a complete code of laws in their own right but form part of a body of national and international rules on ferry safety. 34.006 This chapter has to be read in conjunction with the other chapters in the book on safety because the general rules relating to maritime safety apply equally to ferries.

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B. Resolution of the Council and of the representatives of the governments of the Member States, meeting within the Council of 19 June 1990 on improving passenger ferry safety

34.007 The 19 June 1990 saw the adoption of a Resolution of the Council and of the representatives of the governments of the Member States, meeting within the Council of 19 June 1990 on improving passenger ferry safety.8 The resolution recognised an awareness of: the large number of passengers who travel by passenger ferries in European waters; the essentially international nature of such operations; the necessity of crews being able to function in a satisfactory manner in the event of an emergency; the dangers which can arise from management and communication failures; the potentially large-scale intervention which could be required in the event of an accident involving a passenger ferry; the fact that the transport of passengers in European waters is carried out by vessels registered both inside and outside the EU, thus requiring any necessary improvement of passenger ferry safety, including the question of crewing, to take place in a broad international context; and a wish to improve the safety of passenger ferries. 34.008 The resolution calls on the Member States and the Commission, in their capacity as members or as observer of: (a) the International Maritime Organization of the United Nations; (b) the memorandum of understanding on port State control “to press for the urgent identification, elaboration, adoption and implementation of measures which will improve safety of passenger ferries on an international basis in the framework of the aforementioned fora”.

C. Council Resolution of 22 December 1994 on the safety of roll-on/roll-off passenger ferries

34.009 On 22 December 1994, the Council adopted a resolution on the safety of ro-ro passenger ferries (i.e. Resolution 94/C 379/05).9 It recalled the Commission’s communication on “A common policy on safe seas” and the related Council resolution of 8 June 1993.10 It expressed deep concern about the incident involving the ro-ro passenger ferry Estonia which capsized on a voyage from Tallinn to Stockholm on 28 September 1994 with the tragic loss of more than 900 lives. The Council indicated that it was “aware of the fact that similar accidents with roll-on/roll-off passenger ferries have occurred in European waters in recent years” and it was convinced

“that in the light of these casualties the operation of roll-on/roll-off passenger ferries in European waters and, in particular, the design and equipment, the quality of the crews and the responsibility of the owners and operators of this type of ship, must be reviewed and improved.”

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