Passenger Ship Disasters - Part 12

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This series of articles provides a listing of all major passenger ships that have been lost in service. For comparison, there are also articles covering some the most significant losses of smaller passenger vessels and ferries. The articles also provide commentary on some of the most significant incidents.

For practical and technical reasons, the Articles are presented in the following parts: -

  • Part 1. Definitions and the Development of International Passenger Ship Regulations
  • Part 2. Fire
  • Part 3. Collision,
  • Part 4. Other Navigational Error
  • Part 5. Structural Failure and Foundered
  • Part 6. Hostilities – World War 1 and the Spanish Civil War
  • Part 7. Hostilities – World War 2
  • Part 8. Ship Safety Analysis – Passenger vessels over 10,000 GRT
  • Part 9. Some smaller passenger vessel losses
  • Part 10. Some losses of ferries below 10,000 GRT in European Waters
  • Part 11. Some losses of ferries below 10,000 GRT in USA, Canada & Australasia
  • Part 12. Some losses of ferries below 10,000 GRT in South East Asia & Africa

This article covers some of the ferries below 10,000 GRT that have been lost in South East Asian & African waters in peacetime.

Smaller Ferries

The earlier parts of these articles set out to provide a comprehensive record of all passenger vessels above 10,000 GRT that have been lost. Excluding the effects of hostilities, the world passenger ship fleet has suffered a total of 110 ship losses in the 120 years since the first ship over 10,000 GRT entered service. Of these, 42 ships were lost to fire while in port (at a cost of 5 lives) and 68 at sea for all other reasons (7,140 lives). This vessel size was selected for the earlier articles for practical reasons. Many ferries are now over 10,000 GRT and sadly the list of larger passenger ships lost over the past 40 years includes 11 ferries (3,075 lives). A far greater number of smaller ferries have been lost however, especially those being operated in the national waters of developing countries.

Ferries are defined as passenger carrying vessels engaged on regular, relatively short distance routes. This definition includes inland waterway craft, excursion, coastal and sea-going vessels including ships providing passengers with sleeping accommodation for one or two nights. The ferry industry has in the past 40 years also become increasingly devoted to the carriage of motor vehicles using ro-ro technology.

The trade publisher ShipPax Information calculates that on 1 January 2009 there were 1,188 ferries over 1,000 GRT, carrying vehicles and passengers below decks, in service throughout the world. Of these 468 were over 10,000 GRT. It also calculates that this ferry fleet carried 2.081 billion passengers; 256 million cars; 690 thousand buses and 34 million trailers on 6.782 million trips in 2008.

The sheer volume of this traffic has led SOLAS to devote special attention to the safety problems that have arisen during the development of ro-ro ship designs. Those involving ships over 10,000 GRT have been covered in earlier articles; this article will address some of the disasters that befell smaller ferries in South East Asian and African waters.

There are of course many ferries in service today that are below 10,000 GRT and in the Third World many are not vehicle carriers. These vessels usually operate domestic services and their design, build standards and maintenance regimes are not required to conform to SOLAS standards. Serious overloading is major concern in many areas. Nevertheless, SOLAS has begun a pilot study for the introduction of appropriate safety standards in Bangladesh. This is however making very slow progress. Bangladesh ferries carried some 90 million passengers in 2008; a figure that is not included in the ShipPax Information totals quoted above.

It is in the nature of ferry services that the ships are required to operate in confined and crowded waters, in all but the most severe weathers. These factors have been significant contributors to many of the disasters recorded in this article.

Some ferry disasters in Japan and South Korea

Many of the Japanese and South Korean ferry disasters have happened when ships have been caught in the severe storms, which in the North West Pacific are called Typhoons. The post-war Japanese response to these disasters has been to devote considerable economic resources to the construction of major bridges and tunnels, to reduce or eliminate the need for ferry services. The author has been unable to obtain details of most of the vessels in the following table. Early casualty figures are approximate.

Sample Losses of Japanese & Korean Ferries

Lost Name Owner Cause Built GRT Deaths
1912 Kiche Maru Japanese Foundered ? ? 1,000
1944 Taramizu Maru No6 Japanese Foundered ? ? 400
1945 Sekirei Maru Japanese Foundered ? ? 304
1949 Aoba Maru Japanese Foundered ? ? 133
1953 Chang Tyong-ho South Korean Foundered ? ? 249
1954 Toya Maru Japanese National Railways Foundered 1947 3,898 1,153
1955 Shiun Maru Japanese National Railways Collision ? ? 168
1957 Kitagawa Maru No 5 Japanese Collision ? ? 113
1958 Nankai Maru Japanese Foundered ? ? 167
1958 Tokiwa Maru Japanese Collision ? ? 47
1970 Nyamyong-ho South Korean Foundered ? ? 323
1993 Seo Hae South Korean Foundered ? ? 285

Toya Maru

The Japanese National Railways vehicle ferry Toya Maru was launched by Mitsubish,i at Kobe on 21 November 1947, for use in the Tsugaru Strait service, operating between Aomori and Hakodate. She was 3,898 GRT; 373 feet long (bp), 52 feet beam; twin screw with steam turbine machinery. She was authorised to accommodate 1,128 passengers and 120 crew.

Typhoon Marie was travelling northeast across Japan on 26 September 1954 and was predicted to reach the Tsugaru Strait at around 17:00. At 11:00 Toya Maru arrived at Hakodate after its first journey of the day from Aomori. She was scheduled to return at 14:40, to arrive at Aomori just before Typhoon Marie. However, due to the expected storm, another ferry the Dai 11 Seikan Maru, was unable to take its scheduled journey to Hakodate, resulting in the transfer of its passengers and vehicles to Toya Maru; delaying her departure.

At 15:10 Toya Maru had still not sailed and her captain decided to cancel the journey because of the rising wind and heavy rainfall in Hakodate, but at 17:00 the weather cleared and the outlook improved. The captain presumed that the Typhoon had now passed, as predicted and decided to proceed with the journey for Aomori. In reality however the Typhoon had slowed and was gaining strength over the Sea of Japan.

At 18:39 Toya Maru departed from Hakodate, with approximately 1,300 passengers aboard. The exact number is unknown. Immediately after the ferry cleared the port the wind picked up, coming from a SSE direction and the Captain decided not to continue the voyage. At 19:01, Toya Maru anchored just outside Hakodate Port to wait for the weather to improve, however due to the high winds, the anchor did not hold. Water entered the vehicle decks and began to reach the engine room and the ship became uncontrollable. The ferry was blown sideways onto Nanae Beach, in the outskirts of Hakodate City at 22:26 and an SOS call was made. The waves were so strong that the ship rolled over and at around 22:43 capsized and sank several hundred meters off the shore. Only 150 people survived and it was officially believed that 1,159 died. Four other ferries sank in the same typhoon with a total loss of life of 1,430

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Photo 1: The wreck of Toya Maru

Indonesia and Philippines

Indonesia and the Philippines are two major island nations. Indonesia consists of 17,508 islands and has a population of 206 million; the Philippines consist of 7,107 islands with a population of 92 million. Ferry services are essential to both nations are heavily used, with the result that if any ferry is involved in an accident it is likely to be carrying a large number of people.

The leading Indonesian ferry operator is the national shipping company P. T. Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia, known throughout the country as Pelni. Since 1983 the German shipbuilder Meyer Werft in co-operation with local shipbuilder PT.PAL have delivered a fleet of modern, but very basic ferries for the Pelni services. In addition there are a large number of private operators (some unlicensed) using second hand vessels.

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Photo 2: The Meyer Werft built KM Awa, operated by Pelni, represents the highest standard of Indonesian ferry

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Photo 3: Economy Class accommodation on KM Awa. Many more passengers sleep on the deck

The Philippine services are dependent upon second hand ferries, often acquired from Japan. The following table may give the impression that ferry safety has improved in the Philippines. Sadly this is not the case. Philippine ferries have grown in size and are now often over 10,000 GRT. Losses suffered by the Philippine company Sulpicio feature prominently in the earlier parts of these articles covering larger vessels.

Some Losses of Indonesian & Philippine Ferries

Lost Name Owner Cause Built GRT Deaths
1963 Djandji Radja Indonesian Fire ? ? 105
1987 Dona Paz Sulpicio (Philippine) Collision 1963 2,602 4,314
1988 Dona Marilyn Sulpicio (Philippine) Foundered 1966 2,991 389
1996 Cebu City William (Philippine) Collision 1972 2,452 140
1996 Gurita Indonesian Foundered ? ? 338
1999 Harta Rimba Indonesian Foundered ? ? 325
1999 KM Bismas Raya 2 Indonesian Fire ? ? 361
2002 KM Palau Muda Indonesian Foundered ? ? 23
2002 Masori Star Indonesian Foundered ? ? 77
2005 KPM Digul Indonesian Foundered ? ? 200
2006 KM Surya Makumur Indah Indonesian Foundered ? ? 35
2007 Acita 3 Indonesian Foundered ? ? 66
2007 Lavinia 1 PT Praga Jaya Sentosa (Indonesia) Fire 1980 2,000 55