Safety of ferry boat operations needs improvements - Grounding of the Palva ferry boat in Velkua on 28 December 2018

Published 3.12.2019

The Safety Investigation Authority has completed its investigation of the grounding of the Palva ferry boat in Velkua on 28 December 2018.

In the evening of 28 December, the Palva ferry boat was en route from Palva in Southwest Finland to Teersalo, when roughly at the half-way point, the ferry boat pilot noticed that the boat had drifted to the left of the route. The ferry boat between Palva and Teersalo normally runs attached to a guide cable. At the time of the accident, the guide cable had been temporarily removed. For this reason, there was no guide cable to show the pilot the location of the ferry route or the direction into which he should steer. Despite several attempts, the pilot was unable to correct the ferry boat’s course back to its route, and the ferry boat ran aground to the east of the Rännit island. No personal or environmental damage was caused by the grounding.

The grounding was caused by several factors: The ferry boat had been run without a guide cable since August 2018 due to repair work on the ground supports of the ferry wharf, which made it difficult to estimate the ferry boat’s location relative to the route. The weather conditions were poor – due to thick fog and darkness, visibility was poor, making visual observations challenging. The pilot’s training and professional skills also had room for improvement – the map plotter (navigation equipment used in water transport) had a technical malfunction, and the pilot did not have the skill to navigate using a radar.

The ferry boat pilot handled the rescue operations after the grounding professionally.

As a result of the grounding, the Safety Investigation Authority issues three recommendations for improving the safety of ferry boats.

The Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Ministry of Transport and Communications prepare an amendment, defining ferry boats as vessels.

On its own decision, an operator can begin operating a ferry boat temporarily without a guide cable for up to twelve months. A ferry boat is not deemed to be a vessel even if it is operated temporarily without a guide cable. However, it is deemed to be a vessel during a transport run without a cable, passengers and cargo, for example to a dock. The qualification requirements for ferry vessel captains and ferry boat pilots differ from each other despite the similarities in their operation. This issue must be addressed. If a ferry boat is being run without a guide cable, it must be classified as a vessel, at which point its pilot must also have the sufficient qualifications for piloting the vessel, emphasises professor Veli-Pekka Nurmi, Executive Director of the Safety Investigation Authority.

Secondly, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency define the navigation qualification requirements for ferry boat pilots and the minimum manning of ferry boats.

Piloting a ferry boat is not considered to require navigation experience or particular navigation skills. The experience and navigation skills of ferry boat pilots vary and do not necessarily meet the requirements set by adverse conditions when running without a guide cable. Ensuring the qualifications, training and familiarisation of ferry boat pilots are the responsibility of the operators, states Nurmi.

In an accident, the ferry boat pilot is burdened with all of the tasks related to the safety of the passengers, cargo and the boat, which impacts general safety, Nurmi adds.

Thirdly, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the ELY Centre (service customer) include navigation qualification requirements for ferry boat pilots and the manning requirements of the ferry boats in its service description.

The navigation training and familiarisation of ferry boat pilots are the responsibility of the operator, covered by self-monitoring. If necessary, the ELY Centre may decide on the manning of ferry boats. Manning requirements can be used to affect the navigational and passenger safety of ferry boats. Ferry boat pilots must be able to operate also in demanding conditions when running without a guide cable, adds Investigator-in-charge Risto Haimila.

Further information:

Risto Haimila, Investigator-in-charge tel. +358 2951 50730

Veli-Pekka Nurmi, Director, professor tel. +358 2951 50701