Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security


Almost 2,000 deaths are known to occur annually as a result of passenger vessel accidents. Practically all of them (91%) involve ferries. Because of reporting deficiencies it is estimated that the actual total toll could well be at least 50 per cent higher. While even that number is relatively insignificant compared with the numbers of deaths caused by cigarette smoking, road accidents, Hepatitis, Malaria, Tuberculosis, illegal drug use, American guns and similar preventable causes of death, it still involves considerable personal tragedy and substantial economic cost. The accidents occur more frequently and their impacts are significantly more severe than, for example, aviation and railway accidents.

Importantly, some 76% of those known accidents and 95% of their resulting deaths occur in the poor, tropical regions of the world. Indeed, 80% of them have occurred in just ten developing countries. Some 93% of them occur on usually unavoidable domestic voyages. Their victims are thus the least able to prevent or avoid them. Moreover, by the author‟s estimate, about 88% of the accidents and 98% of the deaths are directly attributable to human error. This is mainly in the form of unseaworthy vessels, poor lookout, overloading, general negligence and poor seamanship. These factors are exacerbated by evacuation, lifesaving equipment and search and rescue deficiencies. Put simply, the causes are overwhelmingly behavioural and cultural rather than structural or mechanical.

This multi-disciplinary study is based on an analysis of a database of passenger vessel accidents that the author has compiled since 1985 and which, in total, covers all known passenger vessel accidents that have occurred in the world since 1800. In attempting to make objective and valid assessments of the causes of the accidents, the period covered has been reduced to the final 50 of those 215 years. The study has then been further focused on ferries and tourist boats. Some 681 fatal ferry accidents, resulting in nearly 60,000 deaths, have occurred over that half century involving such vessels...


Appendices A & F (database and video files) are not included here, but are available from the author on request. Please email:



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.