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Safety and accessibility at sea: Concerns from the BC Coastal Transportation Society

I received the following message from Captain William Cursiter, President of the British Columbia Coastal Transportation Society. In it, he raises concerns about the safety protocols used aboard ferries (in BC and elsewhere) and the potential problems that this presents for people with disabilities in an emergency situation.

We're accustomed to worrying about accessibility on busses; on trains; on planes; and on the road, but let's not forget that there are also thousands of people who rely on ferries (in one form or another) to get around, too.

This presentation seems to have been made in response to the following Transport Canada document: Ship Safety Bulletin 06/2007 - Information on Persons on Board, Counting, Recording, and Special Needs.

Do you have any thoughts on the topic?


We are sending you this email to advise you that our group has presented the following concerns at the Canadian Marine Advisory Council in Ottawa on November 6th 2013. This presentation is regarding what the BCCTS considers to be deficiencies in the manner special needs passengers are dealt with on domestic passenger vessels in Canada.

The reason we are contacting you is we are very limited in how we can have these concerns dealt with without some input and support from special needs organisations themselves. We have concerns about vessels that may not have proper equipment to evacuate special needs passengers off a ship in an emergency, crew not having the proper training to assist these passengers, the requirement to self declare the need for assistance by the passengers and the minimal level of care and understanding on the part of the Shipping Companies involved.

Evacuation Equipment

Examples of evacuation equipment not suitable for special needs passengers include evacuation chutes the company won't allow ships crew to use during training drills due to the likelihood of injury and then expecting all passengers to use this equipment in an emergency. Other vessels evacuation equipment requiring all passengers to evacuate using steel ladders or scramble nets.

Elevators

On all ships in an emergency it is normal to turn off the power to elevators as there is the possibility of it becoming stuck between floors if the vessel develops a list or loses power to operate it. Our concern then is a large number of people not being able to use stairs without assistance being in their cars and having to go up 2, 3 or 4 decks to get to the evacuation stations.

Crew Training

We feel that crew training should include disability awareness training of appropriate responses to different disabilities, being able to communicate appropriately, boarding and de-boarding, assistance that safeguards their safety and dignity, escorting techniques of visually and hearing impaired persons, being able to transfer a person in and out of a wheelchair and awareness of feelings of vulnerability because of dependence for assistance.

Self-identification

We are concerned that the current regulations for carriage of special needs passengers rely solely upon self-identification. Many ship owners may over-rely on their websites for self-identification, a concept that relies on all passengers being aware of the policy and having access to the internet.

The British Columbia Coastal Transportation Society is a non-profit organization and we are a group of volunteers who want to see safe and affordable transportation for all passengers and employees.

SSB # 06/2007 (Information on Persons on Board, Counting, Recording and Special Needs)
Capt. Willie Cursiter, BC Coastal Transportation Society

We appreciate the spirit and intent of Ships' Safety Bulletin 06/2007 and the subsequent regulations that have been drafted in response to TSB recommendations regarding adequate accounting of passengers on Canadian vessels. However we are concerned they may not have gone far enough in providing guidance for ship owners and operators, given the complexity of the issue. We raise the following concerns for discussion, with the understanding that we believe this is not a local or isolated issue regarding one specific ship-owner but rather a national issue speaking to a significant number of special needs passengers. This demographic is increasing as the population ages and an important group traveling on passenger ferries in Canada.

SSB #06/2007 and the subsequent regulations contained in Fire and Boat Drill Regulations do not specify requirements for implementation of systems that would ensure that all passengers who may need assistance are identified, nor are there means specified for notifying the Master or crew of the presence of all passengers requiring assistance that are onboard any given sailing. The regulations rely solely upon self-identification. Is the method of self-identification an adequate system given the broad spectrum of physical and mental challenges some passengers live with?

Furthermore operators may over-rely on websites for self-identification, a concept that relies on all passengers being aware of the policy and having access to the internet. We suggest identification of passengers who may need assistance be included in a more substantial way in the Passenger Safety Management training certification, as well as through recognized systems for passenger accounting that may be available to ship owners.

We are also asking how this important regulation is enforced and audited, including the means to communicate the policy to Masters and crew responsible for these passengers once they are aboard the vessel.

We support the recommendation put forward by the International Transport Workers' Federation that a certificate be issued to a vessel stating the number of special needs passengers that can be carried as well as the number of seafarers specially trained to deal with these passengers.

2010 EU regulations suggest training of ships' crew should include disability awareness training of appropriate responses to different disabilities, being able to communicate appropriately, boarding and de-boarding assistance that safeguards their safety and dignity, escorting techniques of visually and hearing impaired persons, being able to transfer a person in and out of a wheelchair and awareness of feelings of vulnerability because of dependence for assistance. We understand that at least one ship owner on the east coast has taken this more extensive approach; however they are still reliant upon the self-identification process.

We would also suggest that a national policy be developed making the Canadian Transportation Act applicable to all domestic passenger vessels in Canada in order to have all passenger vessels on par and create consistent standards for all special needs passengers regardless of what part of the country they live in or whether the ferries they ride on are vessels regulated federally or provincially.

We are also concerned the regulations do not specifically address what the evacuation equipment and arrangements for this group of passengers and the Domestic Fleet should be and we request a comment on when or whether they will.

We believe the design of new vessels should include not only accessible areas in accommodations but should address improved access to evacuation equipment for passengers requiring special care or assistance. Vessels in the domestic fleet have used a wide variety of systems, including slides, chutes and scramble nets for the evacuation of passengers and we suggest that a standardized system be explored for these passengers to assist ships' crews to evacuate them.

Finally at least one large passenger ferry operator permits free access to vehicle decks during the voyage on most of its routes which may complicate the crews' ability to respond effectively to an emergency and, more specifically, to assist special needs passengers. This also makes assessing the numbers of special needs passengers who have not self-identified problematic and may hamper what could already be a difficult emergency scenario. The practice of using a 2% buffer for counting passengers could also skew the data regarding accounting for all passengers including special needs.

We are also concerned about the policy of enlisting the assistance of untrained and unqualified albeit able bodied or 'responsible' passengers to supplement the crew during emergencies on some vessels in the domestic fleet, something that is reflected in some evacuation plans.

Captain Cursiter and the BCCTS respectfully request copies of risk assessments that may have been undertaken with regards to these issues, in particular the practice of permitting passengers on car decks during voyages and the ongoing use of a self-identification process for special needs passengers.

We also ask for verification of how the inspection and enforcement regimes work for these particular areas of concern.

For more information

As there is quite a lot of information on our website we have enclosed links to our Authority to Enforce series that relates to this subject.

http://bccoastaltransportation.ca/authority-to-enforce/
http://bccoastaltransportation.ca/authority-to-enforce/authority-to-enforce-part-2/
http://bccoastaltransportation.ca/authority-to-enforce/authority-to-enforce-part-3/

Regards
Captain William Cursiter
President BCCTS
bccts.wjsc@gmail.com
250-334-3711
http://bccoastaltransportation.ca/
https://www.facebook.com/BCCoastalTransportationSociety

Disclaimer:

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and fundraising partners.

Comments

I have just done a first read of Captain Cursiter's concerns. He is very thorough and while I very much respect his sincere concern and the complexity of the issue, I am also concerned by a degree of the traditional "paternalism" which so often affects those of us with some form of physical or mental condition. The one issue on which I completely agree, is the need for transparent risk assessments. We all know that people are not created equal nor are the crews and ships of the coastal fleets serving this diverse country. I know nothing of the problems of the Great Lakes o East Coast but I agree with short staffing the BC Ferry crews are not equipped to deal with an emergency on the busy southern routes. Better training and just possibly an open admission that, "yes, accidents can happen." and "Yes, we all need to think about what to do in an emergency." I do not represent the blind community and do not presume to respond but I do hope the Board will at least write to the Captain expressing interest and support. Regards.

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