B2 Reading Gapped Text Exam 4
Catastrophes or disasters can be natural or man-made, but either way they bring pain and misery to everyone they touch. The first question anyone who comes into contact with the aftermath of a catastrophe asks, is 'why?'
Why do pyromaniacs light fires, as in the case of the ferry, Scandinavian Star, sailing from Norway to Denmark? Cases such as these are often repeated, either by copycats or by coincidence. For example, in the week following that tragedy, there were two other cases of fires on board ferries, one on a ferry between Wales and Ireland, and another between Portsmouth and Cherbourg. Both cases resulted in death. Of course fire is a commonplace hazard, and very dangerous, especially at sea. Once the Scandinavian Star had been towed into the small port of Lysekil, a Swedish police spokesman reported that the death toll had been very high.
Many people, including a lot of children, tried to save themselves in the cabins, and they were found lying in big piles, making it difficult to judge how many there were.
Safety is not as much of a priority as it should be on these vessels. For example, on board the Scandinavian Star, a fireman said the ferry had only one system to pump and spray water on to the flames and that pumping and spraying had to be done alternately. Also the cost of implementing stringent safety measures is avoided by the practice of 'flagging-out', which means that ships are not registered in the countries where they operate, and where the regulations are strict and expensive, but in places like Panama and Cyprus and the Bahamas, where they are lax and cheap. The Scandinavian Star, although Danish-owned, was registered in the Bahamas. In October 1989, a particularly outrageous case came to light. A general cargo ship, the Bosun, set sail from Hamburg under the flag of Belize.
They were charged with flying a false flag, and forgery of Belize government documents. Belize has no shipping whatsoever, so the Belize High Commission in London was astonished to learn that a ship was pretending to be registered in their country.The United Nations has laid down strict rules and specify that a ship must be built with heat and fire resistant bulkheads, fire doors to passenger and crew areas, sealed cable and air conditioning trunking to block smoke, non-combustible materials and/or sprinkler systems, smoke detectors and alarms, and signposted emergency exits.
The problem is that these rules are not enforceable because the port state is only entitled to carry out spot checks on ships to make sure their safety certificates are in order. It can check if the lifeboats are all there and don't have holes in them, and that there are the necessary charts, life-jackets in the racks, and fire hoses in their reels.They do not have the power to test whether they all work, or if the crews know how to use them. The public has a right to be worried because even though the Scandinavian Star was built to a very high design standard, it is unlikely her crew or her safety equipment could have been checked in the Bahamas before she began carrying passengers.The reason shipowners behave like this, according to the Secretary of the National Union of Seamen, is cost. If the Danish owners of the ill-fated Scandinavian Star had registered her in Denmark and employed ratings belonging to the appropriate union, things would have been different.
The ship would have been thoroughly inspected and expensive modifications and Danish level wages would have had to have been paid, with their accompanying social benefits. It was obviously much simpler (not to mention cheaper) to register her in the Bahamas and at a stroke free the owners from such irksome restrictions.
When something does go wrong, it is the insurance companies who foot the bill.
So it is extremely surprising they do not exert their authority and demand more effective crews and higher safety standards.
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