Ferry Safety

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15 January 1996.

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Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover 12:00, 15 January 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the current United Kingdom policy on ferry safety. [7448]

Photo of George Young George Young Secretary of State for Transport

The Government are committed to the highest practicable standards of ferry safety. Strong pressure from the United Kingdom and other north European countries at the November International Maritime Organisation meeting led to the adoption of a resolution authorising countries who wish to do so to apply a higher stability standard to roll-on roll-off ferries using their ports. We shall continue to press for agreement on higher stability standards in north-west Europe and the Baltic.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

Last Saturday I witnessed Dover score yet another first when we carried out the first major evacuation exercise on a ferry ship in Dover port. The 842 people on board were evacuated safely and carefully without injury. I believe that that is the largest number ever evacuated from a ferry in Europe or in the rest of the world. Will my hon. Friend congratulate all 842 volunteers who took part in that very important exercise, which showed that Dover's ferries are immensely safe and are suitable for everyone to travel in and enjoy a jolly good holiday?

Photo of George Young George Young Secretary of State for Transport

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for spending time on Saturday witnessing the largest evacuation exercise ever undertaken on a ferry. I join him in complimenting the Marine Safety Agency and the crew and the owners of the Stena Invicta on that exercise.

My hon. Friend is correct in saying that there was an effective passenger muster and a successful launch of lifeboats, deployment of escape chutes and inflation of the first life rafts. An analysis of the exercise will be published in due course. I think that it is best to await that full analysis before coming to any final conclusions.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

As virtually every ferry disaster has occurred in mid-ocean with the ship on fire, sometimes listing or on its side and always carrying a broad spectrum of humanity—including the elderly and the young—how realistic was it to conduct Saturday's exercise in broad daylight, with entirely able-bodied adults and with the ship tied to the quay? Even in those totally unrealistic circumstances, only 350 people were evacuated from the ship within the time in which the Government said that 2,000 people could be evacuated. The weekend's trial has proved one thing—that roll-on roll-over ferries are the most dangerous form of passenger transport and that their systems are not fail-safe but fail-lethal.

Photo of George Young George Young Secretary of State for Transport

If roll-on roll-off ferries are operated and maintained properly there is no risk of the type that the hon. Gentleman has described.

As to the exercise, it is important to inject a degree of realism. We were dealing with volunteers who would clearly have been put at great risk if we had replicated the very dangerous circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has described. One of the reasons why it took some 65 minutes to evacuate all 842 people was that the passengers were over-cautious in going down the chutes, and were encouraged to be so by the master and crew. In a real emergency, I think that the hon. Gentleman would find that they would exhibit less caution.