A ship called Dignity

Increased protection for disabled passengers travelling by sea

As it stands currently, part 3 of the Equality Act 2010, providing protection from unlawful discrimination in the provision of services and exercise of public functions, does not extend to transport by sea or air. But while services on ferries, ships and cruises are not covered by the Act, carriers, travel agents and tour operators are not wholly exempt and still have a duty to avoid discrimination in respect of matters such as timetables, booking facilities and other services at ports and ferry terminals.

Protection from discrimination for disabled people travelling by sea has also recently, albeit quietly, been increased by bringing into force the EU Regulation  No. 1177/2010 through the Merchant Shipping (Passengers' Rights) Regulations 2013. The 'maritime regulations' came into force in March 2013 and in a manner akin to the ‘airline regulations, they provide disabled people, and those with reduced mobility, with the same rights to accessibility assistance when travelling by sea as they have in other transport sectors. In particular, the regulations apply to ferries, cruise ships and operators and entitle disabled people to make a booking for, buy a ticket for, and travel by ship on the same basis as other passengers. Disabled people must not be charged any more than another passenger would be charged for their ticket and must be provided free of charge with assistance that is necessary for them to travel.

The type of assistance and arrangements that are considered necessary include assistance and arrangements that allow disabled people to communicate their arrival and request for assistance; to check in and move onto the ship; to go to the toilet; and to disembark, proceed through customs and to collect baggage. Also included are arrangements for handling any mobility equipment; ground handling of assistance dogs and providing accessible information about getting on and off the ship.

The maritime regulations include two exemptions to the right to non-discrimination. This means that carriers, travel agents and tour operators may be allowed to discriminate if they can show this is necessary to meet applicable safety requirements or where the design of the ship or infrastructure of the port makes it impossible to uphold the right to non-discrimination in a safe or operationally feasible manner.

The UK Government has assigned the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) as the National Enforcement Body. The enforcement procedure requires that all complaints must, in the first instance, be directed to the operator concerned. If the complaint is not resolved by the operator, it can be taken to the appropriate Complaint Handling Body.  In Scotland this is Transport for Scotland (part of the Scottish Government). If the complaint remains unresolved, it can then be referred to the MCA.

Further information on the regulations can be found on the Department of Transport website https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/draft-guidance-notes-relating-to-regulation-eu-no-1177-2010

Laura Hutchison

Senior Enforcement Officer, Equality and Human Rights Commission

Last updated: 07 Apr 2016