Navigation path

Additional tools


Safety of passenger ships

Fitness check

On 16 October 2015, the Commission delivered the results of a fitness check carried out on EU legislation applicable to passenger ship safety. In the report , the Commission assesses whether safety standards for passenger ships sailing in EU waters are effective and efficient and identifies how they could be improved and simplified. The report is a result of several years of consultations and evaluations, driven by the Commission's Regulatory Fitness and Performance (REFIT) Programme.

Follow-up actions

Following the results of the fitness check, the Commission envisages proposing a simplified regulatory framework for EU passenger ship safety. Its aim is to remove outdated, ambiguous or disproportionate requirements, and to further improve the effectiveness of search and rescue operations. Where appropriate, the Commission envisages stepping up the efforts to upgrade standards at the level of the International Maritime Organization . This concerns in particular rules concerning the stability of passenger ships when their hull is damaged.

The European Commission will further assess safety concerns raised by industry professionals, Member States' experts or passenger associations. For this purpose, it intends to put in place a framework for the exchange of views and best practices.

Finally, the European Commission envisages stepping up the enforcement of existing requirements and invites national administrations to join in these efforts. The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)  stands ready to monitor better implementation.

EU passenger ship safety legislation

In 1994, the casualty of the ferry « Estonia » in the Baltic Sea raised particular concern in the Union about the operational conditions of passenger vessels. The Community has since adopted different measures addressing this problem.

In March 1998, Directive 98/18/EC was adopted to introduce a uniform level of safety for new and existing passenger ships and high speed passenger craft engaged on domestic voyages by harmonising safety standards. It incorporated the provisions of IMO's SOLAS convention for the Safety of Life at Sea by establishing detailed technical requirements which focus on vessel construction, stability, fire protection and life-saving equipment. It has been modified several times to reflect developments in the SOLAS Convention and to include specific access and public information requirements for persons with reduced mobility or disabilities. The original Directive and its modifications were consolidated and codified in Directive 2009/45/EC , which has since been updated by Commission Directive 2010/36/EC .

Also in 1998, Directive 98/41/EC on the registration of persons on board passenger ships was adopted, requiring the registration of particular information on the number of persons travelling on board passenger ships. The shipping company is required to record the number of passengers and crew before departure for any voyage of 20 miles or more and basic information on name, age and, if volunteered, any special care required in emergency situations. This information has to be passed on to the master as well as to a designated person ashore. In case of accident at sea, search and rescue centres will immediately be provided with relevant information on the persons on board and this helps make search and rescue operations more effective and facilitates proper management of the consequences of any accident (medical care, insurance, etc.).

In April 1999, the Council adopted Directive 1999/35/EC establishing a system of mandatory surveys for ro-ro passenger ships and high-speed craft operating on regular international or domestic service to or from EU ports, regardless of their flag. Its aim is to ensure that these vessels comply with international safety rules as prescribed by the IMO. This Directive introduces a new role for Member States which, as host countries, must now check that the safety of these vessels is indeed as stated in the safety certificates issued by the flag State. Member States will also be provided with the right to conduct, participate in or co-operate with any investigation of maritime casualties or incidents implying these services.

One issue raised following the Estonia tragedy was to ensure that ro-ro passenger ships had sufficient stability following damage. The Stockholm Agreement of 1996, a regional intergovernmental agreement involving seven Member States and Norway, required additional measures for new and existing ro-ro passenger ships to address the destabilizing effects of the accumulation of water on the vehicle deck. Directive 2003/25/EC and Directive 2003/24/EC , adopted on 14 April 2003, applied these measures to all such vessels throughout the Union engaged on both international and domestic voyages. The measures were later extended by Commission Directive 2005/12/EC to include a new model test method as defined in the IMO Resolution MSC 141 (76) on 5 December 2002.

Regulation (EC) 3051/95 on the safety management of roll-on/roll-of (ro-ro) passenger ferries was adopted in December 1995. Its aim was to enhance the safety management and safe operation of ships as well as the prevention of pollution. It resulted in an early application of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code from 1 July 1996 onwards by all companies operating regular ro-ro passenger ferry services in the EU, in advance of the official international implementation date of 1998. The scope was subsequently widened through Regulation (EC) 336/2006 to include all passenger and cargo ships operating internationally under a Member State flag or under any flag if operating domestically or using a Member State port for a regular service.


If you have any questions about the EU legislation on passenger ship safety, please send an email to the Passenger Ship Safety Mailbox.