UK READY TO ADOPT ITS OWN STANDARDS FOR ROLL-ON FERRIES

UK READY TO ADOPT ITS OWN STANDARDS FOR ROLL-ON FERRIES

U.K. Transport Secretary George Young warned the International Maritime Organization last week that the United Kingdom would be prepared to take unilateral action to ensure tougher safety standards for roll-on, roll-off ferries if agreement cannot be reached at a meeting in November.

The secretary was reiterating a position made clear by the United Kingdom in July this year.The comments come in the wake of the Stena Challenger ferry grounding off Calais last week.

The secretary said the United Kingdom strongly supports proposals made by the IMO's Panel of Experts, which was set up after the sinking of the Estonia in September 1994. The panel drew up draft regulations which take account of water on the vessel's vehicle deck when calculating a vessel's required stability.

The proposals are due to be discussed at a special conference on amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention 1990 to be held between Nov. 20-29. If accepted they would entail roll-on vessels undergoing major design and operational, including the fitting of transverse bulkheads, which could force some vessels out of service.

The United Kingdom is aware that it faces major opposition to the proposals at the November meeting, particularly from southern European nations, Japan and the Far East. Some argue that their operations and conditions do not warrant such measures, or that they would prove too expensive.

If the proposals are passed at the November meeting then it would be up to each member state to decide whether they adopt the improved standards or choose to opt out. At present the most likely resolution appears to be an agreement among the northern European states and Scandinavian nations to adopt the improved standards.

The secretary said it is important to set the shortest possible timetable for their introduction. "We want these demanding requirements to be agreed internationally. But if agreement cannot be reached in the IMO this autumn, then I shall want to go ahead in any case with our European neighbors," he said.

There are currently some 95 roll-on vessels operating into U.K. ports, of which around half are U.K.-flagged. Only one is fitted with bulkheads and this vessel would require further modifications if the proposed amendment is agreed in November.