A safety survey has found that three of the four worst performing ferries in Europe sail from British ports. The survey of 26 ferries by European motoring organizations gave the lowest rating to P&O European Ferries' "Pride of Rathlin", which sails from Cairnryan in Scotland to Larne in Northern Ireland.
P&O Portsmouth's "Pride of Hampshire", which connects Portsmouth and Cherbourg, and SeaFrance's "SeaFrance Monet", which sails from Dover to Calais, were also judged to have "poor" safety standards.
The "Oglasa" ferry that connects Piombino and Portoferraio in Italy and is operated by Toremar, a subsidiary of Italian state-owned Tirrenia di Navigazione, was the fourth boat to be given a "poor" rating by the survey.
The survey was carried out by independent marine safety experts, who judged the ferries on criteria including emergency drills, cargo handling, fire equipment, lifejackets and lifeboats, bow door condition, construction and navigation systems.
Among the problems they routinely found were poor safety information for passengers, no keys for lockers containing lifebelts, locked safety doors and corroded and worn-out fire-fighting gear, the report said.
"We were very disappointed that three British ferries failed," said Bert Morris, motoring policy manager at Britain's Automobile Association. "You can argue that it's a subjective judgment, but our inspector found things like lifejackets locked away, and lifejackets must be readily available," he said.
A spokesman for P&O slammed the report as "alarmist" and full of holes, saying safety was paramount on board P&O ships. He questioned the quality of the inspections, which were carried out by safety experts who went on board as fare-paying passengers and then spoke to the crew about their findings.
"The report says ferries were judged on a number of factors including emergency drills, but no emergency drills were carried out on our vessels, and no access was given to the car deck," the P&O spokesman said.
Morris said if an inspector was refused access to an area, he either obtained information from the captain or followed it up later with the ferry operator. "We're not saying ferries are inherently dangerous," he said. "We're just asking the ferry companies to look at their boats and check the procedures."
It wasn't all bad news for British ferries - five of the ten inspected were ranked "acceptable," and P&O North Sea Ferries
' "Norsun," which sails from Hull to Rotterdam, was given a "good" rating. Stena Line's "Stena Discovery," which connects Harwich with the Hook of Holland, went one better, winning a "very good" result. - (Reuters)