Review of ferry safety urged

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The Independent Online
Cross-Channel ferry companies are facing calls for a major overhaul of safety after claims that millions of passengers are still at risk of a capsize disaster.

The Commons transport select committee is expected to warn later this week that 70 per cent of ferries using United Kingdom ports fail to meet current international safety requirements. The MPs were told that three- quarters of the "roll-on, roll-off" ferries operating out of the UK would capsize rapidly if uncontrollable flooding of the car deck took place.

Their report, due out on Friday, is expected to call for major changes in the design of "ro-ro" vessels as well as an urgent review of evacuation procedures. In particular, the MPs are critical of the lack of buoyancy aids on vessels and worried about the difficulties in lowering lifeboats from listing ferries.

Their report, which will highlight 36 "significant" collisions involving ferries in the Channel since 1991, is expected to call for a list to be published of Channel ferries which fail to meet safety standards. The Government said yesterday that there was no question of compromise on ferry safety and the two main British operators, Stena Sealink and P&O European Ferries, insisted that their vessels met current legal requirements.

Ferry safety was tragically highlighted by the capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise at Zeebrugge in 1987, when 193 people died, and the sinking of the Estonia in the Baltic last September, with the loss of more than 900 lives.

Both disasters were caused after water burst through the bow doors and flooded the car decks. It is thought the report will confirm the theory that once water enters the car decks, the rolling action of a ferry in bad weather can cause it to overturn in minutes.

The Department of Transport said: "We will have to study the recommendations when the report is published. If there are further steps the committee is recommending we will of course look at them very seriously."