A reader of Cruise Law News brought to my attention that a crew member disappeared at sea from a ferry operated by Irish Ferries from Rosslare, Ireland to Pembroke, Wales yesterday. A number of newspapers have reported that a a large air and sea search was just suspended after the crew member apparently went overboard into the St. Georges channel from a ferry during the cruise of less than five hours.
The crew member has not been identified but was said to be a member of the catering staff aboard the ferry.
The Western Telegraph newspaper quoted the ferry company as telling the BBC "We just don’t know where he is. Technically speaking it is possible that he walked off in Pembroke . . ."
This rather clueless statement reveals a problem with many ferries throughout Great Britain (Britain, Scotland, Wales and Ireland) and Europe. They have not bothered to invest in closed circuit television on their ships despite a series of overboards over the years.
I have been critical of the U.S.-based cruise industry due to the failure to install automatic man overboard systems which can immediately send a signal to the bridge of the cruise ship whenever someone goes over the railing and also can track the overboard passenger or crew member in the water via thermal imaging and radar which increases the possibility of recovering the overboard person. But many U.K. and European cruise and ferry companies have not only refused to install this state-of-the-art technology, they have refused to even install old-school CCTV systems on their ships.
A spokesperson for the Irish Ferries company, which recently won the Best Ferry Company award by a travel media public relations firm in Ireland, defended the company saying that "this is the first time in my memory for a crewman to go missing."
It seems that the ferry PR person has a poor memory. The disappearance of people from ferries, as well as from cruise ships, is well documented and includes crew members as well as passengers.
Last week (May 21st) marked the three year anniversary of the disappearance of 30 year-old Richard Fearnside from P&O Ferries’ Pride of Kent ferry as it was sailing from Calais back to Dover. His girlfriend said that he was going to the top deck to smoke a cigarette. Richard never returned.
P&O Ferries could offer no explanation to Richard’s parents, Bob and Marianne, regarding what happened to their son. Although P&O Ferries has experienced safety problems before in the past, the ferry company had not bothered to install a single CCTV camera on the decks of its fleet of P&O ships for safety and security purposes.
P&O chose instead to install surveillance cameras only in its duty free shops on the ferries. Jewelry and alcohol, it appears, are more precious to some ferry companies than its customers.
Richard’s mother, Marianne, wrote a letter to P&O Ferries CEO, Helen Deeble, about her son’s disappearance and sought information. P&O sent a boorish response, not from Ms. Deeble, but from a public relations representative at the ferry company. The PR company man told her that installing safety cameras was a silly, impractical idea.
In 2013, I sent an open letter to Ms. Deeble about the absence of CCTV cameras on P&O ferries. There are huge cruise ships in the U.S. that have literally over 1,000 CCTV cameras installed on board. Ms. Deeble chose to ignore my letter just like she initially ignored Marianne’s letter. Marianne started a petition to require P&O Ferries to install CCTV cameras on its passenger decks. The petition resonated with the public. To date, over 99,456 people have signed the petition while making insightful comments explaining why safety cameras are required. You can see the petition here.
The overboard crew member yesterday shows that little has changed with ferries in the U.K. "We don’t know where he is" is reflective of negligence, if not wanton indifference, particularly coming from a ferry called the "best ferry company."
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Photo credit:Bottom photo credit: Canterbury Times