Safety rules for ferries


More than a year after the ferry Estonia went down in the Baltic Sea, killing 852 people, northern European countries are moving toward adopting more stringent rules on ferry safety.

Johan Franson, the head of Sweden's maritime agency, said recently that his country would require that ferries like the Estonia be able to remain stable even if their vehicle decks take on as much as 19 inches of water. Currently, just a few inches of water sloshing around can be enough to make a ferry list irretrievably.

Britain has indicated that it will follow suit, even if the tougher rules are not adopted by the International Maritime Organization, the worldwide safety body, at a meeting next month to consider the issue. Norway has already come out in favor of tougher standards, and Finland, Denmark and Ireland are expected to do so.

The Estonia was a roll-on, roll-off vessel, meaning cars and trucks could drive on and off large decks around the water line. It sank in September 1994 after its bow door shook loose in heavy seas, allowing water to rush onto the vehicle deck.

To meet the new stability requirements, ferries will probably be fitted with bulkheads on their vehicle decks to contain any water that does get in.

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