Why Do We Trust Ferries?

A dear Facebook friend, whom I hope to meet someday in person, has been riding one of America’s iconic ferries this week. At the foot of my own street, Lake Champlain Ferries are gearing up for another season of tourists, students, commuters, and people who just want to spend a couple of hours crossing Lake Champlain in good weather.

For us, with strong local protective powers overseeing our safety, these ferry rides are treats we give our families. We bring loved ones with disabilities, knowing they will safely disembark.

It didn’t feel that way when I lived in Indonesia.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/13/world/asia/13indo.html

And I thought of some friends who had made this crossing, when I saw this headline, from a ferry line we all considered reliable:

http://www.nytimes.com/1994/09/29/world/little-hope-for-800-lost-in-sinking-of-baltic-sea-ferry.html

But much worse are losses for those who aspire simply to enter the Third World, fleeing places below any ranking of progress:

http://www.nytimes.com/1993/02/21/world/ferry-disaster-underlines-haiti-s-everyday-needs.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/04/world/senegal-raises-the-death-toll-in-september-s-ferry-disaster.html

Perhaps it’s time to rethink “the laws of the seas” with an eye to passenger safety, rather than shareholder profit. Ferries apparently operate without basic rules of safety. Lifeboats. Safety drills. Crisis-proof, comprehensive message transmission systems. Captains and crew trained to anticipate challenges, plan, and respond accordingly.

There are little ferries that take cars across tiny waterways for fun. And then there are these floating parking lots, cruise ships, leisure resort destinations in themselves. Time to shift control into an international organization based on compassion, not competition among capitalists.

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