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International lawyer praises Malta on cruise liner tragedy

Internationally renowned maritime lawyer and cruise safety advocate Jim Walker was full of praise for Malta’s commitment to upholding maritime regulations following the Thomson Majesty tragedy on Sunday.

Internationally renowned maritime lawyer and cruise safety advocate Jim Walker was full of praise for Malta’s commitment to upholding maritime regulations following the Thomson Majesty tragedy on Sunday.

Malta was praised by a top US maritime lawyer for “standing up to the cruise industry” following Sunday’s tragedy onboard the Malta-registered Thomson Majesty.

Jim Walker, who regularly discusses cruise safety issues on US TV news networks, said Malta had shown “professionalism and integrity in enforcing International Maritime Organisation regulations” since the accident.

Five crew members died and three were injured on Sunday during a routine lifeboat drill in the Canary Island port of La Palma.

The accident occurred on the third day of what should have been a seven-night cruise.

British newspaper The Telegraph reported that the liner was given permission by a judge to depart at 3pm on Monday after Civil Guard officers completed their investigations. However, the ship was delayed further pending safety approval from the flag State Malta because it was short of one lifeboat, according to The Telegraph.

Thomson officially cancelled the cruise on Tuesday, citing the “absence of a guaranteed departure time” despite ongoing discussions with the “relevant authorities”.

The Thomson Majesty was still berthed at Santa Cruz de la Palma yesterday while “the integrity of all the other lifeboats and launching systems are thoroughly assessed,” Transport Malta said.

It said a member of the Maltese Marine Safety Investigation Unit had been on board the ship since Monday evening.

Transport Malta’s Merchant Shipping Directorate had also deployed a flag State inspector to the ship.

Mr Walker said this was commendable because many flag States ignored their obligations and did not bother to send representatives when a deadly incident happened onboard a ship.

He explained that cruise ships should comply with rules of the UN’s IMO, as explained in its Safety of Life at Sea.

These do not permit vessels to sail with an insufficient number of lifeboats or unsafe lifeboats. There should also be an equal number of lifeboats on both sides.

Enforcement of regulations is left to flag States.

Mr Walker, who runs the Cruise Law News website and has attended seven Congressional hearings on cruise safety, said many popular flag States had a reputation for being deferential to the big liners.

Most Miami and UK-based liners flew the flags of countries such as Liberia, Bermuda, the Bahamas or Panama “because they know these countries will not bother them”, Mr Walker said.

Liberia, the Bahamas and Panama have “dreadful reputations for being indifferent to unsafe working conditions and dangerous operating procedures”.

But Malta did not have a similar reputation, Mr Walker said, attributing this to the island’s centuries-old maritime tradition. His praise contrasted sharply with criticism in 1999, when the island was branded a “flag of convenience” after the Malta-flagged tanker Erika caused a devastating oil slick off the coast of northwest France.

pcooke@timesofmalta.com

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