The parents of a 30 year-old passenger who disappeared from a ferry sailing between Calais and Dover are petitioning for legislation requiring ships to install closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras.
Richard Fearnside, son of Marianne and Bob Fearnside, of Whitstable, Kent (U.K.), disappeared from the Pride of Kent ferry last May. He was last seen going to an exterior deck to smoke a cigarette. An alarm was not raised until the ship docked at Dover at the end of the cruise when his girlfriend could not locate him.
The delayed search and rescue efforts, conducted by ships and helicopters, were unsuccessful.
Richard's mother was quoted in a local newspaper stating "we don't know whether Richard slipped, fell, jumped or was pushed - we have no idea what happened to our son. He just vanished."
The ferry company, P&O Ferries, has been indifferent to the family's plight.
Mr. and Ms. Fearnside corresponded with P&O Ferries asking it to install cameras on passenger decks, but the ferry line rebuffed them.
P&O Ferries crisis management spokesman Chris Laming wrote back to the Fearnsides claiming that it would be impossible for the ferry company to:
- "Cover all of the open spaces with CCTV,
- Monitor such cameras 24 hours a day, or
- Make and retain such recordings in perpetuity."
As anyone with a minimum understanding of the affordable technology readily available to the maritime community knows, these statements made on P&O Ferries behalf are patently false and misleading. It is easy to position CCTV cameras to cover all of the public areas, especially in small ferry boats like this. Reputable operators retain the electronic data for 30 days and automatic sensors do not require the cameras to be manned 24 hours.
We have attended over a half-dozen U.S. Congressional hearings about cruise ship safety. There has been extensive debate about the need for CCTV cameras covering the public areas of cruise ships and automatic man-overboard systems to alert the bridge that a person has gone overboard from the ship.
Automatic man-overboard systems exist and are easily installed. It is preposterous to suggest that it is not possible to cover all of the public spaces with CCTV cameras and man-overboard technology. Small ferries have limited open decks and no private balconies (see photo below). Watch this recent video which includes a former Coast Guard engineer who designed such systems.
Norwegian Cruise Line, for examples, has installed literally over a 1,000 cameras on its newest cruise ships. It can track every single inch of its cruise ships.
The only reason that a cruise line or ferry operator would refuse to install such systems is that they do not want to spend the money. They prefer profits over safety. Ironically, companies like P&O Ferries install cameras in their liquor and duty free shops to deter theft (cruise lines always install cameras in casinos to protect their money); however, they will take no steps to use cameras in other public spaces to deter sexual assaults and violence against passengers.
Protecting booze bottles and casino chips seems more important than protecting people on the high seas.
The result of such irresponsibility and greed is delayed rescue attempts of passengers and crew members who go overboard. Just like in Mr. Fearnside's case, the Coast Guard is typically called in late. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer's money is spent to search unnecessarily wide areas of the sea looking for the overboard person. It's like searching for a needle in the haystack.
Maritime operators like P&O Ferries would prefer taxpayers foot the bill rather than spending its own money on CCTV cameras and automatic overboard systems to protect its passengers and crew in the first place.
Cruise Expert Professor Ross Klein has documented 208 persons overboard from cruise ships and ferries since 2000.
The Fearnsides are doing something about this problem. They have started a campaign to require these irresponsible cruise and ferry operators to install CCTV cameras. BBC recently discussed the family's efforts to protect the public. Click on the link here and consider signing the petition.
Also, please join our discussion on our Facebook page. Please share the information with your friends and ask them to support the petition.
February 29 2013 Update: Think that cases of overboard passengers from ferries are rare? Hardly. read: P&O Ferries Plagued By Overboard Passengers & No Safety Systems.
Photo credit (bottom): Wikipedia / Fabian318