Safety of the Ferry Passenger
Tuesday’s ferry accident near the Kurinchankerny Bridge, Kinniya, Trincomalee killed six, according to the Defence Ministry.
It’s unclear whether the responsibility for this tragedy is with the Central Government or the local council in question.
Responsibility of the Eastern Provincial Council for this tragedy is ruled out as Provincial Councils (PCs) in the country stand dissolved with PCs functioning under the respective provincial Governors who in turn are appointed by the President.
This newspaper in its lead article yesterday in respect of this tragedy, to quote excerpts said: “The accident had occurred when the ferry, which had been built connecting two small boats broke into two and sank.”
According to Sri Lanka’s Boats Ordinance, to quote excerpts, “No boat shall be used for carrying goods or passengers for hire from any port or place in Sri Lanka to any other port or place in Sri Lanka, or in any portion of the sea adjacent to Sri Lanka, or in any river, canal, lake, or inland water within the same, unless the owner thereof shall have obtained a licence for the same from the proper authority having jurisdiction within the province or town in which such owner resides or exercises his calling under the provisions of this Ordinance.
“Each licence shall be in force until the thirty-first day of December in the year in and for which the same shall be granted, and no longer.
“The ‘proper authority shall include the Government Agent of any administrative district, the mayor of any municipal council or the chairman of any urban council or town council.
“It shall be lawful for the proper authority to withdraw a licence, after the same shall have been issued, if he has reason to believe that a boat is out of repair and not fit to be used for the purpose for which it was licensed, or if the owner shall commit any breach of the provisions of this Ordinance or the by-laws made thereunder.
“Any one or more of the owners of any licensed boat shall be liable to be sued by his or their name or names only; and no action or suit commenced to recover damages for loss or injury to any parcel, package, or person shall abate for the want of joining any co-proprietor or co-partner in such boat.
“The provisions of this Ordinance shall not apply to boats the property of the State or of urban councils, or town councils, or of village councils.”
At a glance, there are several shortcomings in the Boats Ordinance such as a vessel belonging to the Government or a local council being absolved of any responsibility of contravening the aforesaid law, including such as Tuesday’s tragedy.
For example, Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) operates a number of ferry services in the North. Supposing a tragedy like that which took place on Tuesday happened in the execution of such ferry services operated by the SLN, who’s then culpable, because, according to the Boats Ordinance, as the SLN is an instrument of the State, it cannot be sued. This is a lacuna in the law which needs to be addressed.
Further, though the Boats Ordinance says that that operators other than the State or local councils may be sued, it does not spell out to what extent such damages may be claimed by the aggrieved party.
Fines, if specified, such specific fines in the Ordinance don’t exceed Rs 20, where such penalties cover for late deliveries or non-delivery of goods slated to be delivered, only.
Sri Lanka, recently, has taken pains to ensure the safety of passengers in the proposed inland transport of passengers in the Western Province (WP) via its waterways, but very little or nothing has been done in relation to ensuring the safety of ferry passengers in places such as far away Kinniya.
Sri Lanka needs to overhaul its laws to ensure the safety of all passengers using boat/ferry services, regardless of whether they be, from the WP or from any other province in the island.
Sri Lanka, up to Tuesday’s ferry accident, has been notorious for its road accidents. Therefore, this ferry accident should be an eye opener to the authorities to look beyond roadsafety to other modes of safe transport such as of passengers travelling in ferries and boats to ensure that proper safety standards are observed, islandwide.
‘One Country, One Law’ should also include and cover ferry and boat transport, regardless from which part of the country such services emanate.