On 21 October 2022, a collision with fatal consequences occurred between the water taxi Stormloper and the fast ferry Tiger off the Schuitengat near Terschelling. In its investigation report, the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) recommends that the competent authorities and entrepreneurs together make concrete and verifiable agreements on sailing behaviour, rules and communication.
In the accident, four people were injured, three died and a fourth crew member went missing. The Dutch Safety Board’s investigation has shown that the water taxi and speedboat involved were both sailing too fast, communicated unclearly among themselves and did not behave according to the applicable regulations.
The accident made a deep impression on all parties involved. The Dutch Safety Board therefore recommends using and strengthening the existing sense of community to increase the safety of shipping traffic on the Wadden Sea. The parties involved can use each other’s expertise and jointly develop activities such as practising scenarios, simulator training and training activities on the Wadden Sea. Meanwhile, the shipping company and the water taxi company involved have indicated that various improvement actions have started.
Safety of shipping traffic on Wadden Sea must and can be improved
Better sailing behaviour and clear laws and regulations can improve the safety of shipping traffic on the Wadden Sea. Islanders and other passengers depend on transport between the islands and the mainland and must be able to rely on it being done safely.
The competent authority and operators have a joint responsibility in this regard. The actions already initiated and the recommendations formulated in the DSB report can contribute to increasing safety. This will be strengthened if the parties together give concrete form and substance to them.
The Dutch Safety Board concludes that, at the moment, there is no specific legal definition of the term water taxi. Because of the lack of clarity in the laws and regulations, entrepreneurs and implementing agencies work with their own interpretation, as a result of which the safety of paying passengers now depends solely on the entrepreneur’s own responsibility. That is why the DSB recommends the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management to come up with unambiguous rules around commercial transport of twelve persons or less and to adapt laws and regulations around enforcement.
Both the shipping company and the water taxi company were aware that there is a speed limit in the Schuitengat. Yet, both companies structurally exceeded this speed limit. Enforcement of vessel speed by Rijkswaterstaat is a difficult task in practice. Because of the visibility of patrol vessels, ships adjust their speed. Users know when the patrol vessels are sailing. This unintentionally gives shipping a lot of room to sail faster than allowed. Sufficient information (e.g. AIS) is available to determine sailing speeds, however, current legislation does not allow the use of this data in the enforcement process.
Actions already initiated
Shortly after the incident, both the shipping company and the water taxi company resumed their operations. At the same time, they took or initiated measures as a result of the incident and pending the ongoing investigations by the various authorities. They also indicate that communication and supervision from traffic control has increased.
Rederij Doeksen stated nine months after the incident that the following measures have been taken:
- A new express service simulator has been commissioned (this was already planned) and more practice is being done on how to deal with special incidents. All captains and mates are required to practice with this.
- The speed of ferries is monitored by the shipping company using Marine Traffic.
- When ferries pass through the Schuitengat, it is ensured that a maximum speed of 20 km/h is maintained there.
- For sailing with Doeksen’s water taxi, the shipping company follows the ILT’s transitional regulations; the skipper must be in possession of a small sailing licence plus theory of the large sailing licence.
- In addition to the above measures and activities, the shipping company plans to install a camera on the bridge of the ferries as well as a Voyage Data Recorder (VDR). Consultations are being held with the Works Council on this.
The owner of Watertaxi De Bazuin stated that nine months after the incident, the following things have changed:
- No more “fast” trips are sailed in the dark. No longer sailing faster than 20 km/h in the dark means a sharp decline in the number of water taxi trips, the crossing then takes two hours, which is no longer profitable.
- On request, night trips are still sporadically sailed at 20 km/h and always with two crew members, due to risk of fatigue.
- For sailing with the water taxis, the company follows the ILT’s transitional regulations, the skipper must hold a small boat licence plus theory of the large boat licence.
To sum it all up, the Dutch Safety Board makes the following recommendations:
To Rijkswaterstaat, Rederij Doeksen, Watertaxi de Bazuin, ILT:
- Organise a joint, regular consultation to make concrete and verifiable agreements to make sailing on the Wadden Sea safer, paying attention to at least the following: sailing behaviour, legislation and regulations, (marine telephone) communication, and approachability.
- Use and strengthen the already existing community spirit. If necessary, involve other waterway users. Use each other’s expertise and develop joint activities such as practising scenarios, simulator training, and training days on the Wadden Sea.
- Make clear to the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management that being able to use data, such as AIS and radar data, is necessary to better enforce speed and sailing behaviour.
To the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management:
- Provide unambiguous laws and regulations for the commercial transport of up to twelve passengers on water.
- Adjust the relevant laws and regulations so that Rijkswaterstaat can better carry out its enforcement task.
Picture: The Schuitengat near Terschelling (by Rijkswaterstaat).