Throwing a lifeline

The death toll in the Egyptian ferry ship disaster in the Red Sea last Friday is appalling. The ship seems to have been modified in the Eighties to increase its capacity.

india Updated: Feb 06, 2006 01:39 IST
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The death toll in the Egyptian ferry ship disaster in the Red Sea last Friday is appalling. The ship seems to have been modified in the Eighties to increase its capacity. This makes it possible that its changed profile added to the risk of flooding. Only a thorough investigation will tell what actually happened, and explain the fire that survivors say had raged on board the ship for hours before it sank.

Whatever be the technical lapses, maritime authorities across the world would do well to take a closer look at existing laws, treaties and traditions that supposedly regulate sea traffic to prevent such disasters. There are, for instance, no exclusive international laws applicable to the sea, unlike the comprehensively regulated commercial air traffic worldwide. As a result, the best efforts of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to monitor sea-lanes prove ineffective. At any given time, the watery seven-tenths of the planet are dotted with some 150,000 ships. With the IMO helpless in enforcing individual seaworthiness of vessels flying the flags of different countries, the odds against preventing launch mishaps like last Friday’s inevitably go up.

It’s an open secret that many dangerous rustbuckets that pass off as ‘ships’ routinely sail at will, nearly all of them undermanned. The cost-conscious owners of these vessels often hide behind shell companies that merely move the decimal a few places in their statistics book every time an accident happens. It’s time the IMO mobilised mandatory programmes to enable technical cooperation between countries in shipping safety and staff training. This would prompt maritime agencies to tighten safety rules — be it more stringent checks on every launch or equipping it with enough life-jackets.

First Published: Feb 06, 2006 01:39 IST