– Poor safety for passengers on ships
Passengers on ships in Norwegian waters are badly protected if the ship has problems and they end up in the sea, according to ErgoPro.
«It is a dilemma that the crew on ships have survival suits, while the passengers only have thermal vests, which only offer minimal protection against the cold,» says Arvid Påsche of ErgoPro. His consulting firm carries out tests that form the basis for certification and approval of maritime rescue equipment.
Should a ferry or cruise ship go down and passengers end up in the sea, they are lucky if they are picked up quickly enough to survive if the water is cold. The crew, on the other hand, who have survival suits available, are better off.
– The temperature in Norwegian waters is closer to four than fifteen degrees most of the year. An encounter with such cold water can lead to thermal shock, freezing and drowning. If the water is below ten degrees, you will freeze to death in a few minutes, says Påsche.
According to Påsche, the international Polar Code regulations should be extended to apply to all shipping in Norwegian waters.
The Polar Code, among other things, imposes requirements for safety equipment aboard all types of vessels traveling in polar regions. It is mandatory to have both immersion suits (survival suits) and life jackets for the both crew and passengers. In Norwegian waters, there is only a requirement for thermal vests for passengers, he adds.
Torbjørn Svensen, at Hansen Protection AS, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of safety at sea equipment, agrees that the regulations should also apply to all ships in Norwegian waters.
– It’s a paradox that there are different rules that apply on either side of the border that defines the Polar Zone. The water is just as cold on both sides, he says.
He believes passengers rely too much on safety on board.
– People feel safe when they travel on a bigger boat or ship. But even if the passenger vessel has an evacuation system with lifeboats, it is not a given that everything will go according to plan if an accident occurs, he says.
According to Svensen, all ships carrying passengers should be equipped with standard survival suits and life jackets for everyone on board.
«Although a thermal vest provides some protection against cold, you get wet. To survive in cold water, it is crucial to stay dry,” says Svensen.
With a good survival suit, a person can stay warm and dry for up to an hour in water around four degrees.
A standard survival suit for passengers can be vacuum packed and takes up little space. Shipowners Hurtigruten and Torghatten Nord have taken the initiative to go ahead with the procurement of such suits, but few passenger ships have such equipment on board.
«The crew usually has both a rescue suit and a survival suit available, which is all very well. It means that they have a 10 to 20 times greater chance of survival in cold water than passengers”, says Svensen.
He hopes that the safety of passengers will be prioritized higher in the future, and that survival suits for all passengers on all ships in Norwegian waters becomes mandatory. A boat carrying more than 12 people in addition to the crew is defined as a passenger vessel.