The incident

The harbour ferry, operating in smooth water, was fitted with hydraulic ramps designed for passenger embarkation or disembarkation.

The ramps had been lowered to enable passengers to board the vessel and having been positioned, the hydraulics were ‘locked’.

Shortly after passengers started to board, another vessel backed into an adjacent wharf, creating some wash.

The combination of that wash and wave actions in the harbour caused the ferry to surge and roll.

The movement resulted in the hydraulic ramp fitted to the ferry rising a few inches up off the connecting hydraulic ramp fitted to the jetty.

When the vessel rolled back, a passenger’s foot was trapped between the ramps.

 

Findings

Surprisingly, the claimant’s lawyers did not argue that the ramp was unsafe because it did not hinge.

Instead they concentrated on the fact that the crew man on duty had been preoccupied with tying up another vessel when the accident occurred and that the ramp was unattended.

The plaintiff’s lawyers alleged that, had the crew man been at his place of duty, he could have warned passengers of the danger and prevented them from boarding until it was safe to do so.

There were considerable doubts about whether the presence of a company employee would have had any material effect on the incident, the Club noted.

However, our lawyers advised that the simple fact that the Member did not have an employee on the spot overseeing the boarding process would almost certainly have led the courts to the conclusion that our Member had not discharged their duty of care to the passenger. This illustrates the high standards that are expected from the operators of passenger vessels carrying the general public, and the levels of care that vessels are expected to maintain.