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Ferry operations in Bangladesh, Middle East and Black Sea under the spotlight

Ferry operations in Bangladesh, Middle East and Black Sea under the spotlight

Istanbul: Delegates heard updates on the global ferry industry - including the joint project with IMO to try and reduce ferry fatalities in developing countries - at the 34th Interferry annual conference here last week.

In a review of the joint initiative, Interferry project leader Roberta Weisbrod announced tangible progress on the pilot programme in Bangladesh and called for funding support to carry the initiative forward. Ms. Weisbrod, principal of the US-based Partnership for Sustainable Ports, said the crew training element had just been launched with two trial sessions each attended by 50 crew members. The original one-day schedule, using a video format, had been extended to three days following consultation with the Bangladeshi authorities and initial feedback had indicated that the course was well received. A course for 50 people would cost as little as $2,000, which pays for the training staff and compensates crew for loss of wages, she added.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh had been invited to test a prototype satellite-based radio messaging system for relaying weather warnings in remote areas.  The trials would take place as part of a worldwide project organised by an alliance of national meteorological services.  Ms. Weisbrod added that Interferry members were also due to meet Bangladeshi representatives to discuss solutions for overcrowding.

A review of emerging markets in the Middle East and Black Sea outlined tourist growth in Oman, where the National Ferries Company operates the world's fastest diesel-powered passenger ferries ?" two Austal-built vessels capable of more than 50 knots ?" and where port spending represents 19% of the current five-year, $23 billion infrastructure budget.    

Fares Al Balwi, CEO of Riyadh-based operator MACNA, described the vast scale of religious, labour and tourism markets in Saudia Arabia, Sudan and Egypt, where annual 2.5% growth in the combined population of 150 million was among the highest in the world. "The El Salam accident in 2006 was a big wake-up call to the Red Sea market," he admitted.  "Passenger numbers fell by a third due to lack of confidence but they have returned with the introduction of high safety standards, strict Port State Control and a shift from conventional vessels to high speed catamarans.  Now there is a lack of tonnage, so that is a great opportunity for owners and yards."      

Alexander Gevrek, operations chief at the Ukraine's Ukrferry, focused on the potential of Black Sea routes between his country, Turkey, Bulgaria, Russia and Georgia.  "The EU is promoting Motorways of the Sea and we believe this will provide a natural fit for ferries in our region to develop connections with the Mediterranean," he declared.

Meanwhile, he mayor of Istanbul revealed that sea transport had accounted for 60% of the city's budget ?" some $8 billion ?" over the past five years, helping to make conference host company IDO the world's largest ferry carrier with 100 million passengers and seven million cars per year. Delegates heard that, under an IDO contract, Istanbul has become the world's first city to operate a widespread on-demand rather than scheduled water taxi network.  The initial six-strong fleet will rise to 35 vessels capable of handling 200,000 calls per year by the end of 2010 ?" with ultimate plans for 120 craft serving 600 landing stages.

CEO Len Roueche reported that Interferry membership now extended to 215 companies in 30 countries.  Three new board members were elected during the AGM, including Pansy Ho, CEO of Hong Kong-based Turbojet. [26/10/09]