Port safety regulations should not be relaxed, warn MPs.
In a report published today on marine pilotage the Transport Committee questions whether the Department for Transport is striking the appropriate balance between its role as a regulator of port safety and its aim to promote the commercial attractiveness of UK ports. This follows evidence that most ports fail to confirm to Government that they comply with best practice guidance on port safety and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has the resources to conduct just four port 'health checks' each year.
The Committee also heard how representatives of marine pilots, who guide ships in and out of ports, lack confidence that the Department for Transport understands their concerns and the requirements of their work and shares their aim of enhancing maritime safety.
Committee Chair Louise Ellman MP said:
"Overall, UK ports have a good safety record but where problems occur there can be terrible consequences in terms of loss of life, pollution and damage to property. We cannot tell to what extent ports follow Government guidance on port safety because most fail to confirm to Government that they comply with the guidance. There are also few publicly available statistics about accidents and near-misses in ports. This has to change."
The Committee is opposed to a proposal, supported by Government, to relax the rules on the granting of pilotage exemption certificates to more junior navigating officers which could jeopardise safety. If the Government insists on pressing ahead with this change, the Committee recommends that the impact of the change should be monitored* .
"Marine pilots play a vital role in keeping our ports safe. The message we received from marine pilots was the same as we have heard from coastguards – they feel that the DfT does not understand what they do, and pursues a 'light touch' approach to regulation that undermines vital safety issues. Ministers have a lot of work to do to regain the confidence of marine professionals, such as pilots and coastguards," adds Ellman.
Other recommendations include that:
- the Maritime and Coastguard Agency should broaden its safety inspection programme so that it undertakes eight inspections per annum
- ports should be required to publish statistics on accidents and near-misses
- the Government should use its influence to persuade harbour authorities to accept national standards as to who can be authorised as a pilot: if national standards are not adopted the case for legislation on this issue will be compelling.
* This change is included in the Marine Navigation Number 2 Bill currently before the House of Lords.