Safety rules in wake of the Costa Concordia tragedy

Safety rules in wake of the Costa Concordia tragedy

Maritime safety measures come under the spotlight when a disaster occurs. Last January 13, the cameras turned on Giglio island, where the Costa Concordia was grounded and capsized off the coast with more than 4,000 passengers on board. At least 30 people died.

New rules must take into account lessons from the Costa Concordia tragedy- Geraldine Baldacchino

This incident prompted the enhancement of safety measures for European Union-based passenger ships. Even before, the Commission was discussing the possible revision of Directive 2009/45/EC which deals with safety rules and standards for liners. However, the Costa Concordia disaster pressured the EU to expedite the process for immediate action to be taken on the revision on passenger safety rules.

The current regulatory framework of safety of cruise liners is regulated at three levels: the international conventions to which member states are party, national law, and the EU acquis communitaire.

Directive 2009/45/EC sets safety standards for all passenger ships made of steel and engaged in domestic voyages. While there are different levels of safety requirements dependent on the sea area within which the ship operates, the Directive’s standards, derived from international standards, might not be suitable for smaller ships. The majority of ships operating in domestic waters are made of materials other than steel, such as glass reinforced plastic. There is no common regulatory framework, covering certain categories of ships like cruise ship tenders, sailing ships, vessels carrying offshore workers and historic vessels.

As European Commissioner for Transport Siim Kallas pointed out, the work carried out in the past on the review of the passenger ship safety rules and regulations must now take into account any lessons learned from the Costa Concordia tragedy.

The consultation period on the review took place between April 13 and July 5, and was open to all citizens and organisations like ship owners, ship builders, classification societies, seafarers, regulators at international, national, regional and local level, and cruise industry representatives.

Further consultation took place between all member state maritime administrations and a targeted consultation of all stakeholders in six member states, including Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Sweden and the UK. The review focused on the stability of vessels. Here, the question was: “Do the current stability rules on passenger ships need further updating?” In particular, in relation to ships damaged andexposed to bad weather conditions.

The question surrounding the design of ships and technical evolution was: “Do safety standards need adaptation in line with new technical developments in this sector, new materials used, recent evolution in the design of passenger ships, types of engines used?”

The question on evacuation was: “How can one ensure that passenger lists are accurate and up to date, in line with existing rules? How can new technologies or equipment reinforce plans and procedures for evacuation? Can the EU build on or support further the work being done at international level by the International Maritime Organisation in this area?”

Another question was “Should the scope of existing EU passenger ship safety provisions be extended to cover more types of ships for domestic voyages?” There was also a question centred on qualifications and training of crew: “Is there more that can be done, for example, in terms of communication of crew with passengers, rescue services and with each other?”

As the EU has invested so much energy in revising the passenger safety rules, amended rules in this field will come into force very soon.

Geraldine Baldacchino is an associate in Fenech Farrugia Fiott Legal’s Shipping and Aviation Department.

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