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Scandinavian Star survivor criticises reporting failures

16 June 2021

A Norwegian support group for survivors of the Scandinavian Star ferry disaster, in which 159 people died because of suspected arson on board, has criticised the lack of reporting with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as a failure to learn from the tragedy.

All serious and very serious marine casualties and incidents are required to be registered with the IMO's public Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS) database. Responsibility for reporting incidents to the database rests with the flag state.

The Scandinavian Star is not listed under Marine Casualties and Incidents. The vessel was registered in the Bahamas and caught fire en route from Denmark to Norway. Several fruitless investigations have been carried out over the years into what happened and why, who was responsible and lessons to be learnt.

The Danish Maritime Accident Investigation Board said that, as the fire was not an accident, it does not need to be reported to GISIS, according to the Danish Maritime Authority (DMA). 'Conscious, criminal actions such as arson or terror are not regarded as being covered by the definition of accidents,' it said in a statement.

GISIS was set up in 2005, 15 years after the Scandinavian Star disaster. However, that does not prevent reports of earlier incidents being made by various sources, the DMA said.

Jan Halvor Horsem, who runs a Norwegian support group for survivors and relatives of the disaster, said he believes the incident should have been reported to IMO.

Mr Horsem, whose pregnant wife died in the fire while he and their 18-month baby managed to escape, said if an incident is not reported, it cannot be investigated, analysed or conclusions be drawn. He is particularly interested in operational standards.

'When you do an investigative report, there are at least 30 recommendations. It's very interesting to have this report registered in a systematic way so the recommendations can be compared to other reports to see what it shows as the priority in preventing accidents and arson from being a disaster. You can't say you'll pass because it's arson and you don't have to register.'

Bahamas Maritime Authority deputy director Tom Jenkins said a joint investigation committee was established immediately after the incident comprising representatives from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and a representative at the request of the Bahamas. He told Nautilus there was no requirement to upload reports prior to GISIS inception. He did not respond to explain whether the Bahamas as flag state had carried out any investigation of its own.