Closing ferry visor mid-sea ‘acceptable’
‘Visor does not affect ferry’s watertight bow’
Opening and closing a ferry’s visor while the vessel is on the move is acceptable to Gozo Channel and Transport Malta, even though this runs contrary to international practice.
On July 4, a Gozo Channel ferry left Mġarr Harbour with its visor open, closing it almost halfway through its voyage to Malta. The ferry was due to leave at 7 a.m. but was running nine minutes late.
The Times asked Gozo Channel and Transport Malta for an explanation and both said this procedure was acceptable.
Transport Malta said the watertight integrity of MV Gaudos did not depend on the visor.
“Hence, it is allowed, subject to the discretion of the captain, to open or close the visor while the vessel is not berthed.”
Gozo Channel agreed and said it was safe to close the visor with the vessel in motion after the ramp is closed, since the ramp door is the watertight bulkhead of the vessel. “Only when the bow door is closed can the vessel leave the berth. The bow visor will then be lowered as the vessel casts off and clears the berth. The bow visor does not contribute to the watertight integrity of the vessel.”
According to a resolution by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, before the vessel proceeds on any voyage, masters must note, in the log book, the time the doors were opened and closed.
A maritime industry source who spoke to The Times said leaving the harbour with the visor still open was “a big no-no”, even though the ramp is watertight and built to withstand even large waves for a longer journey.
The problem is that if an accident takes place with the visor open, the company could be legally exposed, even for insurance purposes.
Sources also said the visor is closed automatically once the ramp is shut, meaning there is a chance that the ramp was not fully shut by the time the boat set off on its voyage.
Gozo Channel failed to supply an official log sheet to explain in detail when the ramp and visors were closed, even when it was questioned on whether the ramp was really secure once the vessel had already departed.
One of the possible reasons for the visor being closed so late in the voyage is that the ferry was several minutes late in its departure.
Customers have been complaining about delays especially on the early morning trips.
On July 2, a trip was delayed by 11 minutes because a passenger “instilled fear and panic” among the crew and passengers because some of his family members were refused boarding so as not to delay the ship.
“The decision to reopen the ramp was taken as quickly as possible, engaging in practicality to avoid further delay and also in view that it was impossible to resort to police support without delaying further,” a spokesman for Gozo Channel said, adding that passengers were alerted about the delay on the PA system.
Asked whether criminal action was taken against the person concerned, the spokesman said: “Such behaviour from any passenger who puts passenger or crew safety at risk is considered a criminal act and the company has every right to report matter to police for further investigation.”
Although this one-off incident caused a substantial delay, it is the regular delays that are outraging passengers.
Gozo Channel said it tried to avoid delays of more than five minutes each trip, but things had become somewhat chaotic in recent weeks.
The most affected trips are currently those from Mġarr between 6.30 and 7.30 a.m. with delays of between nine and 12 minutes. The longest was a 35-minute delay, due to a ramp problem.
“We are frequently experiencing heavy traffic at both terminals. Road works at Ċirkewwa are slowing down unloading of vessels also in view that outgoing cars are presently taking the exit lane near the diving site with lanes having parked cars on both sides.”
The company said it was monitoring this situation closely to take whatever remedial measures possible.
Gozo Channel said there has been a six per cent increase in both passenger and vehicle activity from Mġarr since the summer timetable came into operation.
“This increase must be the result of consumer pattern. The fact that the company is now operating with two hoistable decks could have also increased customer confidence to travel more frequently.”
Gozo Channel added that it would continue to monitor this situation daily to improve efficiency and collaboration within its operations but was also keeping in touch with the relevant authorities to improve the flows of traffic at Ċirkewwa “which are no fault of its own”.