Safety standards triggered by Marchioness tragedy set to apply to old boats

New safety regulations triggered by the Marchioness tragedy in 1989 are set to be applied to old boats.

It has been 33 years since 51 people died after a collision between the Marchioness pleasure steamer and the Bowbelle dredger in the River Thames.

The incident provoked swathes of new safety measures including boat masters’ licenses and qualifications, bridge visibility standards and the characterisation of waters according to risk.

However, many of the requirements for domestic passenger ships, including those around life jackets, life rafts, fire detection and extinguishing equipment, and stability standards or “survivability”, only applied to those built after the regulations came in in 1992 and 2010.

This means many older boats are still operating on outdated safety requirements.

Marchioness Raised
The Thames pleasure cruiser Marchioness is raised from the river (Archive/PA)

Transport minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton told the House of Lords: “We believe that the assumption of passengers is that there are enough life jackets for everyone on board and likewise enough space on life rafts for all, but this is currently not the case for many vessels.”

She added: “Every person, whether or native or tourist, using passenger transport in the UK has the right to expect, and I believe does expect, that whichever vessel they choose to carry them will meet consistent standards fit for the 21st century.”

The new regulations are set to compel 600 vessels to make changes to their fire protection equipment, 285 will be affected by life raft requirements and 86 by life jacket requirements.

Labour peer Lord Berkeley said he found it “astonishing” that these requirements are not already in place.

He said: “It’s over 30 years since the Marchioness accident, even at this late stage, there is still the sister ship of the Marchioness sailing around.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Randerson said: “It is to my mind a source of national disgrace that it has taken this long to get to this point…

“We are at last getting to the end of this horrendous saga.”

The new regulations were approved by the House of Lords, although several peers expressed concern that there will be further delay before the regulations are implemented.