Blocking vessels' stairways a safety issue: Leiataua

Safety issues such as passengers blocking the stairways and walkways on ferries serving the Upolu–Savai’i route are hurdles that are yet to be overcome.

Samoa Shipping Corporation General Manager, Leiataua Samuel Decca Phineas, told the Samoa Observer in an interview that passengers sitting or lying down on the vessels’ stairways and walkways has been a safety issue for a long time.

He said the history of such behaviour by passengers, which can compromise passenger and crew safety, dates back to the corporation’s early days and pointed to a picture of a ship taken in 1975.

Often it is the elderly and those who get seasick during the voyage who need space to lie down, he added. There are times during travel between Mulifanua and Salelologa, when the ferry’s cabins are not filled to capacity, though Leiataua said some passengers wanted fresh air or didn’t like heights hence they chose to stay outside.

According to the G.M., a representative of the Ministry of Works, Transport and Infrastructure has oversight on the operation of their vessels and can enforce maritime law in relation to the use of life jackets, lifeboats as well as a ferry’s passenger capacity.

"That is why there is authority which is called authority on the wharf is a person from the [Ministry of Work Transport and Infrastructure] who authorises the vessel to go," he said.

Leiataua said if a ferry exceeds the passenger or cargo limit including vehicles not being loaded properly, the Ministry’s representative can stop the vessel. 

When asked to clarify rules surrounding vehicles being ferried and if their drivers can sit in the trucks during the journey, he said no one should be on the vehicle deck.

The safety of the passengers including those who boarded with their vehicles is paramount to the corporation, added Leiataua as the passengers could find it difficult to get out of their vehicles if the ferry sank.

However, the corporation can be flexible and will look at each issue on its merit, said the GM who then made reference to the sick or the elderly.

Leiataua added that the captain would also look at the weather conditions such as calm seas and be flexible, though vehicle drivers are only allowed to head back downstairs. But for safety reasons no one can stay on the vehicle deck.

The passenger capacity for the MV Lady Samoa III is 840 with over 30 cars of standard size but below 30 if it includes delivery trucks. MV Fotu o Samoa II has a passenger capacity of 120 while S.S.C Fasefulu can take 60 passengers with both vessels having the ability to transport 6-8 delivery cars with four or six small cars to fill up the boat or in the case of only transporting small vehicles they can take 16.

Leiataua emphasised that the corporation is working on ways to solve these issues as it could affect lives when there are any disasters or accidents. 

He added that the  people inside the cabins cannot rush outside if people are lying down in the walkways.

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