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Health and safety

Calls for action following publication of damning Scandinavian Star report

20 September 2022

Norwegian campaigners are calling for victims’ compensation following the publication of an official Danish report into the Scandinavian Star ferry disaster, in which 159 people died in a blaze in 1990. The report stated the Danish Maritime Authority (DMA) should not have allowed the 20-year-old ferry to set sail from Denmark to Norway.

The vessel caught fire during the voyage, allegedly due to arson, leading to the deaths. The former chair of the Danish seamen’s Union, Henrik Berlau, says he will now be writing to the IMO to call for its intervention.

The report follows two years’ investigatory work. It states that the DMA should have carried out better supervision of the Bahamas-flagged vessel and possibly issued better guidelines which would have led to a passenger ferry such as Scandinavian Star undergoing port state control (PSC) before its first voyage from Denmark. The authors stated they wonder how a ship of that size could come into a small port the size of Frederikshavn and be barely noticed – whether it was in good condition or not.

The report states: 'We emphasise that it was well known at the time that with regard to ships which, like Scandinavian Star, sailed under flags of convenience, there was not the same certainty that a responsible check of the ship would be carried out as if the ship operated under a Nordic or other neighbouring flag state’s flag, and that therefore there could be a certain probability in these cases of safety defects etc, of a not insubstantial nature.'

The report states that PSC should have occurred had the DMA noticed the ship’s arrival, not least due to its size, potential safety defects and the fact that the company’s owners had already been under scrutiny because of safety concerns.

The DMA declined to comment on the report, referring to the ministry for comment. Business minister Simon Kollerup noted that the report considered whether the DMA had broken the law by not conducting PSC before it sailed to Oslo in April 1990.

Commenting on the report, Mr Berlau said: 'The DMA’s explanation that the Bahamas alone had responsibility for safety is ruled out. As is the DMA’s assertion that it did not know about the ship. It must now rest with the Danish parliament and Simon Kollerup to decide what must happen to the DMA in light of their untruths about why they did not carry out control of Scandinavian Star and why they subsequently covered it up.

He said there is deafening silence from the DMA but said 'this must not be swept under the carpet'. Mr Berlau has campaigned for years, alleging the DMA did not do its job and was therefore implicated in what happened. He also wants to the see the ITF getting involved. 'There was a crew of 100 on board, it must have been hell for them,' he said.

The Norwegian members of the survivors’ support group reacted with fury on publication of the report. They have written to Mr Kollerup asking for discussions to open about compensation payments for survivors and their families.


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