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Ferry Accidents: Why Are They so Often Fatal Disasters?

In April of 2014, a large South Korean ferry carrying a group of high school students capsized and sank off the coast of South Korea. The accident left nearly 300 people out of 462 passengers unaccounted for and presumed dead. Human error was blamed for the tragedy. The crew, almost all of whom survived, was accused of abandoning the ship with passengers trapped below deck. The captain was eventually sentenced to 36 years in prison. 

On July 5, 2018, another ferry capsized, this one en route to Phuket Island. Of the 105 passengers to experience the ferry disaster 47 of those people died. As search and rescue operations were in effect the blame was placed on crewmen for disregarding safety laws.

Each year somewhere between 800 and 1000 people die in ferry disasters according to Roberta Weisbrod, the executive director of the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association. 

In the developed world, ferries carrying passengers are relatively safe as we have higher safety standards than the developing world. 

Two of the main problems causing ferry accidents are overcrowding and the boats themselves. Overcrowding affects the balance of the boat; the fact that many of the boats used are older repurposed vessels means they may not be suitable for the waters on which they travel. While search and rescue efforts are made with all of these incidents, the death toll remains high.

In addition to these issues, inadequately trained crewmen and weather events can add to the maritime accident toll. Interferry, an International Maritime Organization that represents the global ferry industry, is currently making efforts to reduce fatalities on ferries including developing a best practices protocol and sponsoring a competition to design safer ferries. 

The Worldwide Ferry Safety Association (WFSA) has compiled data on ferry accidents and fatalities since 2000. They have found that human error is a major cause of ferry accidents and weather events were found to be the cause up to 50% of the time. Addressing these issues with better weather forecasting and increased adherence to safety rules would make a tremendous difference when it comes to saving lives and reducing ferry accidents overall.