UK Suspends 'Titanic Laws' to Bring Stranded Travellers Home

By Lloyds List, PRNE
Monday, April 19, 2010

LONDON, April 20, 2010 - Lloyd's List - the leading news and information service for the global
shipping industry - has learned that the UK Department for Transport is
allowing Dover ferry operators to carry passengers in numbers that would
normally be illegal under rules against overloading, in a bid to repatriate
travellers stranded by the aviation crisis.

French authorities are understood to have made similar provisions for
French concerns.

SeaFrance confirmed that it had taken advantage of the one-off bilateral
derogation, which expires at the end of the week, although P&O Ferries said
yesterday that it would not do so, largely because of constraints on the
availability of seafarers with the right skills in the off-peak period.

"The UK move suspends whole chunks of the Safety of Life at Sea
Convention, introduced after the Titanic disaster of 1912, so that vessels
can take 10% more people than the maximum shown on the passenger
certificate," says David Osler, reporter for Lloyd's List.

"Ratios enforcing the provision of lifeboats for 30% of those on board
and additional liferafts for 25% of those on board have also been lifted for
the time being. Both moves are unprecedented, at least in recent times,"
continued Osler.

But a spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency denied that the
radical step put the public at risk, despite the huge annual death toll from
overloaded ferries in the third world.

Under the deal, all voyages must be completed in daylight and in
favourable weather and must take on additional crew if needed for passenger
control, he stressed. Moreover, modern vessels typically have lifeboat
capacity above the permissible minimum.

The decision was made necessary by last week's eruption of a volcano in
Iceland, forcing the cancellation of the vast majority of airline flights
across Europe because it is unsafe to allow jet engines to take in the
resultant dust.

Tens of thousands of Britons from all over the world have made their way
to France to use ferry services to get home, with operators reporting summer
peak levels of demand.

In legal terms, the MCA, acting in the name of transport secretary Lord
Adonis, has invoked powers under s.294 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 to
exempt UK flag vessels operating from Dover, and within 20 miles of a coast,
from two sets of requirements.

The first is regulation 23 of the Merchant Shipping (Survey and
Certification) Regulations 1995, which prohibits a vessel sailing with more
passengers than stated on its passenger certificate.

The second is regulations 9, 43, 64 and 74 of the Merchant Shipping
(Life-Saving Appliances for Ships Other Than Ships of Classes III to VI(A))
Regulations 1999. These lay down specifications for the ratio of lifesaving
equipment to numbers on board, and the total time for evacuations.

A number of caveats are made, but essentially the exemption has been
designed to make it as easy as possible for ferries to carry as many
passengers as is viable.

All this is possible under a get-out clause in chapter III of Solas,
which states: "[An] administration may, if it considers that the sheltered
nature and conditions of the voyage are such as to render the application of
any specific requirements of this chapter unreasonable or unnecessary, exempt
from those requirements individual ships or classes of ships which, in the
course of their voyage, do not proceed more than 20 miles from the nearest

Philip Roche, a partner at law firm Norton Rose, was in no doubt that the
dispensation was allowable in international law. "It is not unsafe, I would
say, so long as it is limited to this one particular route for the time it is
needed," he said.

However, a P&O source commented: "This might be very relevant for some
operators. But we have got no scope to go beyond the certification we have
already got, for all sorts of practical reasons, especially the level of
crewing on the ships at this time of year. We need people with the right
qualifications and experience to make it work, and we have gone as far as we

For further information please visit:

To arrange an interview with David Osler, please contact: Kirstin Stocker on kirstin.stocker at or +44(0)7716-756453 Or David Osler on david.osler at or +44(0)207-017-4628

May 30, 2010: 2:51 pm

It reminded me of Titanic disaster back on 1912. The disaster and the mythology that has surrounded it have continued to fascinate millions.

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