Irish to check sewage safety on all ferries

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SURVEYORS from the Department of the Marine in Dublin are to examine the safety of sewage disposal systems on all ferries operating in Irish waters.

This follows criticism of standards of official supervision of ferries by opposition parties and by Garry Tomlins, the father of the two children killed by a build-up of sewage gas on the Swansea to Cork ferry, Celtic Pride, last week.

Yesterday's move came after talks between all ferry companies operating in Irish waters and Michael Woods, Dublin's Minister for the Marine. They were attending a meeting of the national ferry safety committee, a monitoring group of government and ferry operators set up after the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster at Zeebrugge, in 1987.

At the meeting, called by Mr Woods after last week's accident to review and consider possible improvements in ferry sewage systems, the companies confirmed they had carried out their own checks of their vessels and found them to be safe.

The minister also indicated he will raise the issue at EC level and press the International Maritime Organisation to set its own parallel standards and procedures for safe operation of sewage systems.

Yesterday's meeting also announced a new Ferry Users' Forum to include representatives from passengers, the marine department and the ferry companies. Mr Woods said its effect would be to make the companies answerable to the public, and ensure all complaints were answered. He said it was necessary to maintain customer confidence.

The creation of the new watchdog follows assertions from former passengers on the Celtic Pride that complaints about powerful sewage smells on the ship that forced some to move cabins had gone largely unheeded.

The minister also asked companies for details of their crews' training in gas detection and on-board monitoring systems. Vessels without such systems should have them installed, he said.

At the weekend, he promised that if anything in his official investigator's report, now being prepared, indicated criminal negligence it would be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. He said the inquiry would be 'exhaustive and thorough'.

Mr Tomlins has said the department as well as the operators of the Celtic Pride had to bear responsibility for the deaths of his children, Catherine, 15 and James, 12, 'because they are the people who set the standards by which ferries operate'. He urged that ferry safety standards should match those applying to airlines.