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Saturday May 2, 2015

Travelling by sea isn't foolproof

All hands on deck in Palma

There is nothing more enjoyable than hopping onto a local car ferry from Palma to Ibiza for a long weekend. In less than three hours the boat glides into the dock, right in the heart of Eivissa town and disembarkation is done in a jiffy. And should one feel like taking the car over to the mainland, there’s a reliable daily service to Barcelona and other destinations.

Unlike air travel I have always found journeying by sea a less daunting experience. For one thing, it’s possible to potter about on the boat, take the air up on deck, have a drink in the bar, visit the shop or watch a film. The security checks are fairly speedy unlike at airports and the boarding procedure very relaxed. That feeling of dread that I often experience when facing queues at the airport, delays and the possibility of air turbulence mid flight, somehow evades me when I’m on a ship.

Of course there is always the prospect of inclement weather and choppy seas, and I have had my fair share of tempestuous voyages. On memorable occasions in Greece and Indonesia I particularly recall harrowing crossings and being moved to kiss the ground when we finally arrived on dry land. All the same, when catastrophe strikes in one’s own backyard, there is an instant sense of foreboding. The recent emergency evacuation of 156 passengers from the ferry Sorrento, bound from Palma to Valencia in Spain, sent shock-waves around Majorca. How could such a fierce fire break out on a ferry and become so out of hand just one hour after leaving Palma. Crucially everyone on board at least lived to tell the tale.

The unnerving truth is that transport disasters can happen any time and anywhere and it is foolhardy to take safety for granted. Back in 1987 during a regular crossing from Zeebrugge in Belgium to the UK the British ferry, MS Herald of Free Enterprise, sank when a bow door was accidentally left open by one of the crew. In recent times there has been the Costa Concordia cruise ship tragedy with 32 lives lost but far worse was the sinking of South Korean vessel, the MV Sewol in 2014 with the loss of 304 passengers, many of whom were secondary school students.

All the same one can but hope that every time there is an occurrence of this kind, lessons are learnt. Every day transport carries risks whether it be travel by train, plane, ferry, car or coach. The good news is that such major tragedies are, in the great scheme of things, quite rare. So much as news of the Spanish ferry inferno sent many a pulse racing, I for one will continue to put my trust in the local ferry service. After all if we allow irrational fear to grab us by the throat come every disastrous event, we’ll all be at sea.

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