Own Initiative Investigation: Car alarms affecting ambulance-bound patients during Gozo Channel crossings

The Case

On the 17th of October, 2023, the Ombudsman participated in a radio program on One Radio, which included phone-ins from the public. A caller expressed concern about loud car alarms on the Gozo Channel ferry, particularly affecting immobile patients in ambulances or hospital buses travelling to Malta for medical appointments. Due to their condition, these patients remain in their vehicles, making them particularly susceptible to noise disturbances from car alarms.

The Inquiry

The Ombudsman, recognising the seriousness of these concerns, committed to investigating the matter. Consequently, the Office of the Ombudsman contacted Gozo Channel to inquire about existing policies or measures addressing the well-being of such patients, particularly concerning car alarm disturbances.

On the 9th of November 2023, the Ministry for Gozo relayed the Gozo Channel’s response. They indicated that the issue is challenging to resolve as not all car alarms can be switched off. This situation is exacerbated during rough sea conditions, which can trigger alarms more frequently.

International Comparisons

The Office of the Ombudsman researched practices in other countries with similar ferry operations. For instance:

  1. Brittany Ferries in the UK requires passengers to deactivate car alarms during sailings.
  2. P&O Ferries also advises passengers to disable all car alarms while vehicles are on the vehicle decking
  3. Viking Ferries advises disconnecting burglar alarms to prevent false triggers due to the ship’s movements.

Conclusion and Recommendations

  • International Practice: It is standard practice in international ferry transport to encourage passengers to deactivate their car alarms during voyages, enhancing comfort for all passengers.
  • Enhanced Communication and Signage: Raising awareness among passengers about the impact of car alarms, especially on those in ambulances, is crucial. This can be achieved through targeted announcements, signage, and information integrated into ticketing and boarding procedures.
  • Pre-Boarding Checks and Announcements: When an ambulance or patient bus is on board, a procedure reminding car owners to disable their alarms or set them to a less sensitive mode should be implemented. For many vehicles, locking the car with a physical key rather than an electronic key fob can prevent motion sensors from activating.
  • Periodic Training for Ferry Staff: Staff training is essential in handling situations where car alarms distress patients. This training should include conflict resolution, basic technical knowledge about car alarms, and effective communication strategies.
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