Fourth Gozo ferry’s serious accessibility problems must be addressed, PN says

Passengers have complained about the Nikolaos’s steep, narrow climb of some 36 steps and the lack of a lift for disabled commuters

The MV Nikolaus
The MV Nikolaus

The Nationalist Party’s MPs for Gozo have called out issues of accessibility on the fourth Gozo Channel vessel, a Greek-registered ship called the Nikolaos.

Chris Said and Kevin Cutajar, as well as disability rights spokesperson and MP Maria Deguara said the boat lacked an elevator, was hard to access due to the inconvenience of its steep staircase and because passengers could only leave by the same entrance for vehicles.

“The fourth ferry was needed to improve connectivity to Gozo, but passengers are right to complain that they should travel between the islands with dignity. It is necessary that the Gozo Channel explains as to how long the Nikolaos will be chartered, due to its lacking accessibility, and what plans are there to improve the situation or for a new ship with satisfactory accessibility levels,” the MPs said.

Passengers who leave their car in the Nikolaos have to negotiate a steep, narrow climb of some 36 steps – highly uncomfortable for those with child or the elderly. No lift is available for these commuters. Motorists who are ushered to drive up to the upper deck have it easier, since aboard the Nikolaos, the upper deck shares its passenger space with cars.

Surely enough, the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) told MaltaToday that although the accessibility problems on board the ship had recently been partially mitigated, the vessel was not suitable for use in the long-term.

“The CRPD is aware of the vessel’s numerous shortcomings with respect to accessibility for all, which the Gozo Channel Company Limited has partially mitigated in the light of the temporary employment of the vessel in the ferrying service between Malta and Gozo,” spokesperson Bernard Busuttil said.

However, he highlighted that the “CRPD does not deem such arrangements to be adequate should the vessel Nikolaos be employed in the long term.”

He said that the Commission was appealing to the competent authorities to take necessary action to ensure complete accessibility both on the Nikolaos as well as on the other ships in the Gozo Channel’s fleet.

Borg underscored that, to date, the CRPD had only been informed by Gozo Channel that the vessel Nikolaos was leased for a period of six months and that it wasn’t registered in Malta.

Travel by sea, including matters regarding accessibility, is regulated by EU law, but the CRPD is not a national enforcement body, which means that it is not competent national authority when certifying accessibility on board seafaring vessels.

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