P&O Ferries crisis management spokesperson Chris Laming recently responded to the disappearance of passenger Richard Fearnside.
He stated that P&O Ferries refuses to consider installing CCTV cameras on the Pride of Kent ferry.
He told a newspaper in Kent, U.K.:
"It is so rare. It is just not practical to consider doing this."
That's cruel, and it's hardly true.
Last December, a 43 year-old mother of twin girls disappeared from another P&O Ferries ship, the Pride of Rotterdam. Teresa Cowley (right) fell overboard following a night of drinking on board the P&O ferry as it sailed from Hull to Rotterdam in the early hours of December 31, 2012.
The sale of alcohol is a major money maker for cruise lines and ferry operators. Excessive alcohol sales increase the likelihood of passengers going overboard and require effective safety protocols and systems.
The Daily Mail in the U.K. covered the story in an article: "British Mother of Twin Girls Feared Drowned After Flling Off Ferry During Night Drinking With Husband On Holland-Bound Ship."
The newspaper article states that an after-the-fact review of "CCTV cameras on board the ship show Teresa staggering alone on deck shortly after 1 AM." But like Richard Fearnside's case, there was no CCTV showing the passenger going overboard, and apparently the P&O ship had no automatic overboard system signalling the bridge of the emergency.
Five months later, Mr. Fearnside also disappeared. Two overboard, dead P&O passengers in just 5 months. Are man-overboard cases really "so rare" as P&O claims?
In August of this year, a passenger went overboard from the P&O Pride of Burgandy.
In January 2011, P&O Ferries notified the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency of a passenger missing from the P&O European Highlander ferry sailing from Larne to Cairnryan. The newspaper stated this was "standard procedure" when people go overboard from a P&O ferry. "A major air and sea search" was launched due to the emergency. Again, there were no CCTV images of the apparent overboard nor any type of automatic man overboard system on the ship. Eventually the expensive search & rescue operation was called off after the ferry company couldn't determine whether the passenger went overboard or was simply unaccounted for.
A similar incident occurred in 2006 aboard the Pride of Kent when P&O Ferries alerted authorities of the disappearance of a young couple leading to an early morning, 7 hour, international air and sea search involving four lifeboats, a rescue tug, two French helicopters and one coastguard search plane. After this massive and expensive undertaking, it turns out that the two passengers has disembarked the ferry and were located in Belgium. All of this could have been avoided by the installation of CCTV and overboard systems.
The absence of safety systems presents a danger for crew members as well as passengers. In 2008, a crew member aboard the P&O ferry Pride of Rotterdam disappeared 20 miles out at sea. Seven lifeboats and two search and rescue helicopters subsequently tried to find the man; however, a Royal Navy spokesperson told the BBC that the water was "very cold" and the man's chances of survival were considered "very slim."
For U.S. based cruise lines, the use of CCTV cameras is standard operating procedure. As I mentioned in a previous article, cruise lines like Norwegian Cruise Line have over 1,000 CCTV cameras in operation on a single ship. Some cruise ships, although not many, have state-of-the art automatic man overboard systems. But the U.K.'s P&O Ferries appears to be decades behind in terms of basic safety and security systems.
CCTV systems play an important part of a vessel's safety and security system. A CCTV system with automatic alarms is essential to the timely search and rescue of passengers going overboard. Contrary to what many think, overboard passengers can be saved if the bridge is notified promptly of the emergency. A passenger who fell off of the P&O Express ferry was rescued in 2009 because other passengers immediately notified the ship's crew. Another passenger from the P&O ferry Pride of Calais was promptly rescued in 2010. Similar success was not obtained when a passenger went overboard from the P&O ferry, the Pride of Burgundy, in October 2010.
But many overboards occur in the dark late at night when no other passengers are around which make the need for CCTV systems even more important. A sound vessel safety program should integrate state-of-the-art technologies and not rely on the customers to report emergencies when things go wrong.
You can see a successful rescue of a passenger from a different ferry company here. The woman reportedly fell from an upper deck after trying to light her cigarette.
CCTV is also effective in monitoring whether criminals or terrorists come onto a ship or whether customers go off the ship due to foul play or preventable accidents. They act as a deterrent to crime and have a wide range of safety applications. They can assist the operators in determining whether the passengers are in a state of intoxication which often leads to horse-play and accidents.
In April last year, around 200 students in an intoxicated rampage from Manchester trashed a P&O ferry sailing from Dover to Calais ferry and frightened fellow passengers. CCTV cameras would have been effective in documenting the unsafe and reckless behavior and aiding in the prosecution of those involved in the drunken shipboard brawl.
There's no justification for not installing CCTV cameras on a commercial passenger ship. The costs are inexpensive and the cargo is precious.
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Call for help: The Fearnside family has started a campaign to require ferry operators to install CCTV cameras on their vessels. Please click here and sign the petition.
Photo Credit: Newsteam via Daily Mail