The MAIB (Marine Accident Investigation Branch) recently investigated the movement of freight vehicles onboard the ferry 'European Causeway'. This occurred during bad weather conditions on passage from Larne, Northern Ireland to Cairnryan, Scotland.
International regulations and industry best practice outline the laws that ferry operators need to be in accordance with. One of these is that passengers are not permitted to remain on the ro-ro decks when at sea.
During the Larne - Cairnryan crossing, at least six drivers had remained in their vehicle, despite being instructed by the ship's crew to leave the deck once they had finished parking and securing their vehicles. Four drivers were found in vehicles that had toppled over and one driver was found trapped underneath a vehicle and had to remain there until they could be freed by the emergency services waiting at Cairnryan. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the incident. Staying in vehicles has been found to not be unique to this route and is a common problem.
A ferry's vehicle deck is a hazardous and potentially life-threatening environment. Whilst at sea, decks are required to only be occupied by people trained to do so, who are there to undertake safety and security patrols. A driver who chooses to remain on deck when asked to leave are a danger to themselves and can cause delay to the emergency response, notably in the event of a fire. Delays to the activation of fire suppression systems on the vehicle deck due to the need to undertake a headcount of all persons onboard and a number being absent, could have catastrophic consequences to the whole vessel, its passengers and the environment.
Furthermore, drivers who have remained in their vehicle cabs could be in danger of asphyxiation by the fire, or as a result of the fire suppression systems.
The MAIB has called on the Road Haulage Association to encourage its members to take
"robust action to improve and assure driver safety by helping ferry operators eliminate the issue of drivers remaining in the cabs of freight vehicles on ro-ro decks".
It is important to remember that when you disobey rules regarding staying in your cab aboard a ferry, you don't just put your own life at risk but everyone else's on board.