A ship must meet the safety level deriving from the common EU passenger ship safety regulation to be permitted to carry passengers on Flensborg Fjord.
High and homogeneous safety level
In principle, the same high level of safety must apply in connection with the carriage of passengers, irrespective of where the voyage takes place. However, near-coastal voyages present fewer risks than voyages far from shore. Therefore, all regulations have a risk-based approach, where increased risk is counter-balanced by stricter technical and operational requirements. This principle is thus fundamental in both the SOLAS Convention (International Convention for the Safety
of Life at Sea) and EU directives.
The number of passengers, the availability of fast assistance, the possibility of reaching shore quickly, the density of ships in the areas as well as the weather and wind conditions are decisive for which operational and technical requirements are needed to acquire the safety level sought for.
A voyage between Denmark and Germany in Flensborg Fjord is, by definition, an international voyage. This means that ships engaged in voyages between Danish and German ports in Flensborg Fjord are covered by SOLAS. But realizing that near-coastal voyages present fewer risks, the flag State can - according to SOLAS - decide which relaxations may be relevant when the ship is no more than 20 nautical miles from the coast. Therefore, a passenger ship on
Flensborg Fjord need not meet the same requirements as if it were, for example, to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
In the spring of 2017, the Danish Maritime Authority and the German authorities reached a common understanding of the safety level to be met by passenger ships engaged in voyages between Denmark and Germany in Flensborg Fjord. These passenger ships must comply with either of the following:
- The directive laying down technical requirements for inland waterway vessels (directive 2006/87/EU) with certain clarifications as regards the survivability of especially old ships and the availability of the necessary life-saving appliances, fire-protection, fire-detection and fire-fighting, or
- The directive on safety rules and standards for passenger ships (directive 2009/45/EU).
You can read the Joint Declaration of Intent here.
Danish or German flag
In general, the flag State approves and certifies each individual ship for its specific use. If a passenger ship is to be approved and certified for operation in Flensborg
Fjord, it must be decided whether the ship is to fly the Danish or the German flag. In connection with voyages in Flensborg Fjord between Denmark and Germany, the safety approval of a ship will in practice be made in close cooperation between the two countries.
Ships approved in accordance with the EU directive on inland waterways
An especially problematic issue has been whether passenger ships can call at and depart from Danish ports if they have been safety approved in accordance with the EU directive on vessel on inland waterways, such as rivers and lakes. The reason for this is that voyages on inland waterways differ considerably from voyages in open waters. Therefore, ships that have been approved in accordance with the inland waterways provisions must typically upgrade their safety equipment in order to be permitted to sail between Denmark and Germany in Flensborg Fjord.
When a ship operates on rivers and lakes in Germany, it is possible to run it aground on, for example, the riverbed from where the passengers can be evacuated. And assistance can reach the scene of the accident quite quickly. This means, for example, that the requirements for fire-prevention and fire-fighting are not the same as those applicable to ships operating in open waters. Furthermore, these ships are not required to carry liferafts or lifejackets for everyone on board. Therefore, these ships are covered by other, typically more relaxed safety requirements, than if they are to engage in voyages in open waters.