Passenger ships on course to greater safety
Technological and scientific developments made it possible to double the size of cruise ships every decade since the 1970s . Today, the largest vessels can carry up to 8,500 passengers . Yet, while the expansion of ships has been racing ahead, their safety regulations have stayed virtually unchanged.
“Passenger ship safety regulations have to catch up with approximately twenty years of ship-building development,” says Apostolos Papanikolaou, director of the ship design laboratory at the National Technical University of Athens, Greece. To this end, the European Union (EU) - funded GOALDS project submitted recommendations for revising passenger ferry and cruise ships’ safety framework to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in December 2012.
According to Papanikolaou, project coordinator of GOALDS, the recommendations submitted by the GOALDS team – which are currently under consideration by the IMO – were long overdue.
“The last time the IMO updated its safety regulations was in 2009, and even then the rules adopted were practically equivalent to those from 1990,” explains Papanikolaou. To draft their proposal for the IMO, the GOALDS team carried out extensive collision and grounding simulations. Furthermore, the project team devised a new cost-benefit analysis for the risk control of passenger ships, similar to the risk assessment used in the aircraft and nuclear industry. “Building safer ships is more expensive. However, if we reduce the risk of losing lives in the event of a collision – and assume that every life has an imaginary cost to society – then this increased cost is justified,” adds Papanikolaou.
Building virtually unsinkable ships is theoretically possible. However, because such vessels cannot have large, open spaces (used for decks, dining halls or lounges), they would lose their practicality as passenger ships. GOALDS team’ recommendations to the IMO thus had to strike a balance between functionality and safety.
“The project was a challenge, but also an important contribution to Europe’s position on the international market,” says Papanikolaou. While the world’s main ship-making countries are Korea, China and Japan, the domain of passenger ships belongs to Europe . All large cruise ships are designed and built within its borders. “This is also where the leaders in the field are found,” says Papanikolaou, “and it is in Europe’s interest to keep it that way,” he adds.
The goal of the project, however, was not only to benefit Europe’s shipbuilding industry, but to increase citizens’ safety as well. “It will be another two to three years before the IMO has processed the project’s recommendations and decided how to revise safety regulations,” explains Papanikolaou. Although he cannot yet say exactly how the rules will be changed, he is confident the amendments will lead to greater safety and that greater safety is necessary.