Backgrounders

Background and Fact Sheet 2: Safety Concerns

Marine Investigation Report M03N0050
Fire on Vehicle Deck of the Ro-Ro Passenger Ferry
Joseph and Clara Smallwood
8 Nautical Miles South of Port aux Basques,
Newfoundland and Labrador
May 12, 2003

Despite significant action taken as a result of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) investigation, three safety concerns remain. These concerns highlight areas where problems may exist but have not yet revealed themselves to be significant unsafe conditions. The Board will continue to monitor the situation in future investigations to ensure that these concerns are not indicative of wider systemic deficiencies that require immediate attention.

Automatic, Local-Sounding Alarm

The Board is concerned that, without the benefit of an automatic local fire alarm, the delay between the discovery of a fire and warning of passengers and crew may put those in isolated spaces, such as cabins or vehicle decks, at risk.

The current warning system for fire emergencies on many domestic passenger vessels, including the Joseph and Clara Smallwood, is the alarm system. Following a pre-alarm signal and risk assessment, the officer may sound the alarm, or the system will automatically sound the general alarm within a pre-set time. It allows crew to evaluate the developing situation and to deploy before passengers are alerted.

However, without the benefit of an immediate local warning in more isolated spaces, passengers and crew in these areas cannot take immediate action to protect themselves. In this accident, although not allowed to be there, passengers in the vehicle deck areas did not receive any fire warning and some were unable to escape.

Both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the United States and the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) recognize the importance of installing local-sounding smoke alarms in addition to a centrally monitored alarm system in order to improve safety in case of fire.

Inadequate Identification of Crew by Passengers

The Board is concerned that crew members on Canadian passenger vessels are not sufficiently identified by the use of specific clothing and, as a result, in an emergency, passengers are subjected to an unnecessary risk.

Although Marine Atlantic provides reflective clothing, there is no policy in place to ensure that crew members responsible for the immediate safety of passengers wear such clothing in the event of an emergency.

In this accident, off-duty personnel who were not in uniform responded, but they were not always readily identifiable to passengers. This lack of identification may result in passengers being less willing to respond or take direction from someone who is not perceived to be a crew member, increasing the risk to themselves and others.

Passenger Safety Management Training

The Board is concerned that, although steps have been taken to require training in passenger safety management, a potential risk remains regarding passenger and crew safety on passenger vessels in that
  • an interim period exists wherein proposed regulations are ratified and crew members take the required training; and
  • regulations will only apply to vessels having a gross tonnage of 500 or more, such as the Joseph and Clara Smallwood. Vessels with a gross tonnage of under 500 remain at risk.

The public report and other related documents are available on this site.

Report number M03N0050
Communiqué
Background and Fact Sheet 1: Safety Action Taken
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