Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 640 - 659)

WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2001

MR M STOREY

  640. This is really what happens when something goes wrong, is it not?
  (Mr Storey) Correct.

  641. What are you doing to stop things going wrong? What proportion of shipping entering UK waters is actually being properly inspected?
  (Mr Storey) We have an interface with all British flagged ships because as flag state we have responsibility for those vessels. Foreign flag ships which come into the UK are under the authority of their own flag state. We as a port state are the safety net to check that those ships are satisfactory. We are a member of the Paris Memorandum of Understanding, which is the European area of port state control. Each country within that group carries out 25 per cent inspections per year; we always achieve somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent. If each of the states carries out that 25 per cent and because of the interface and the information passed from time to time, probably somewhere in the region of 90 to 95 per cent of foreign flagged ships visiting the European area are inspected on an annual basis.

  642. What happens with that inspection? What things are looked at, roughly?
  (Mr Storey) The system has changed somewhat recently in July of last year. It was a case of going in and inspecting a ship which came in and you carried out an inspection of the safety equipment, crew's certificates to see it met the international standards of safety. It was decided, because of the poor quality of some ships, to change the targeting system to encourage administrations not to look at the good ships but to seek out the bad ships. Therefore, each ship was given a target factor, for example if you inspected a good quality ship which had no previous record—and it is done on a points system—you would only get the credit of 0.8 of a survey maybe and you could get up to a credit of 1.8 of a survey, depending on the previous record of that ship, to try to encourage the administration to look at the really poor quality ships and penalise the poor quality ships.

  643. I have just asked you about the problems of pollution. It is quite clear that a fair number of ships which come to British ports are actually still discharging waste, rubbish at sea and are discharging fuelling tanks and all sorts of other things which they should not be doing. In these inspections how far do you check up that a ship tying up brings with it the appropriate amount of rubbish for the journey it has undertaken?
  (Mr Storey) There are two types of discharge. There is the straightforward galley garbage, this sort of stuff, and they are required to keep a garbage book on board each ship. We inspect that garbage book to see the amount of garbage they have and where they are going to discharge it. Of course we have just finished an inspection with the UK ports to look at the garbage facilities for discharging. As far as the discharging of liquids over the side is concerned, every ship should meet the International Maritime Organisation MARPOL conventions and they should have the required equipment on board like oil and water separators if they discharge over the side and they are limited to where they can discharge. The other area to watch this is an ordinary whistle-blowing service where people tell us they have seen a ship discharge. We have aerial surveillance aircraft which patrol from time to time for that purpose. We have recently been carrying out some research work using satellite passes to look at areas of oil pollution. We have recently been able to give to the DTI information regarding the discharge from oil rigs in the North Sea area as a result of these satellite passes.

  644. Have any prosecutions resulted from any of these actions?
  (Mr Storey) Yes, we have effected a number of prosecutions for pollution offences.

  645. Are the penalties which have been meted out commensurate with the size of the crime and the amount of effort you have to put in to do the detection work?
  (Mr Storey) Last year the penalties were dramatically increased some tenfold from £25,000 to £250,000.

  646. That is what can be imposed. What about actually within that range the courts choosing to go at the bottom or the top?
  (Mr Storey) I cannot assess what the courts are permitted to give. It would be nice to see as high a figure as possible given. In one case which we took after the increase was made the court did levy a very high penalty but it was appealed against and reduced on appeal.

  647. Yes, I am aware of that particular case. Did you feel that was a misuse by the courts?
  (Mr Storey) It is not my place to say it is misuse by the courts. It is important that we create a situation where the greatest penalty or disincentive is given to dissuade someone from discharging oil and water into our coastal areas.

Dr Ladyman

  648. It may be unfair of me to ask this question because it is probably a slightly technical question. I have a constituent who is very concerned about sea birds and the effect of oil on them. She tells me that you are piloting a new radar system to detect oil spillage at sea which might affect seabirds. Can you tell me how that is going and what your plans are for it?
  (Mr Storey) I think she may be talking about the new satellite testing system we are doing. We have taken a research period which has just completed its first six months. As the satellite passes the UK at certain times of the day it takes an image of an area, it senses whether there is oil in the water and then it downloads that information to a base station which in turn feeds out the information. If we see what looks like a situation we put the spotter plane up and try to find where it has come from. Usually you can do that fairly well. We are just about to extend this for a further six months. It has just been covering an area of the north of Scotland. We are now moving it down into the Channel area to where a lot of the shipping is, so we cover both areas for an extended period of six months to see what happens.

  649. So I can tell her that the coast off East Kent is going to be covered by this new satellite in the near future.
  (Mr Storey) You can and if she would like to see something we should be happy to show her it.

Chairman

  650. You seem very satisfied with the effect of the closure of Oban and Pentland, but of course you will know I personally raised with you some worries from the Mallaig fishermen in the area, to which I must say I got a very self-satisfied reply. There are still considerable doubts as to the efficacy of many of the measures in this area. Have you not had any complaints? Am I the only one who has received a complaint?
  (Mr Storey) No. The complaint you raised was raised direct from the people involved to ourselves.

  651. I always find that is the best way.
  (Mr Storey) It is the only incident we have had complained about, the only one complaint we have had since the closure of Oban.

  652. The only one? I think the Member of Parliament is very unhappy about some of the things which are happening in the area. Are you telling me that none of that has been transmitted to the Agency?
  (Mr Storey) The only written complaint or request I have had regarding the closure of Oban is the written request which you and the Mallaig fishermen's organisation did direct to me.

  653. Are you now satisfied that there is sufficient safe means of communication that will safeguard the interests of the fishing community in that area?
  (Mr Storey) I am.

  654. You are quite convinced that they are now covered by safe measures and that there is no problem in the area at all.
  (Mr Storey) No. The radio aerials Oban were listening to are being listened to by the adjacent two stations, so the coverage has not diminished in any way from what it was previously.

  655. I know that, but you will remember, as we discussed at the time, listening is a very wide term and there are very real difficulties in a watch room.
  (Mr Storey) Yes. There is no problem in the watch room as far as listening is concerned. There are in the Scottish hills, as we are all well aware, some blind areas.

  656. You now have a plan under which you are going to extend the number of aerials and you are going to be quite confident in a very short period of time that these problems will have been dealt with.
  (Mr Storey) We do not have a plan to extend the aerials. We look at each and every case and see whether there is an opportunity to put another aerial up if we see a complete dead spot which justifies such a situation.

  657. Why do you think that the fishermen in this area are not convinced that they are covered in a way which would enable them to enjoy a high level of service?
  (Mr Storey) Some of the methods of communication have modernised with the installation of GMDSS and a lot of them still have the old equipment, as a result of which we are keeping headset watch for a longer period than is required. By 2002 the 2182 watch should cease but we are keeping such a watch on a loudspeaker service to give them time to change over. The Government have already announced that we shall extend our services to 2005 for such a situation, to give them a good opportunity to change their equipment.

  658. Are you quite confident that the whole system of Clyde operations is now performing just as efficiently as it was when Oban was in operation?
  (Mr Storey) I am.

  659. May I ask you what your relationship is with the Department? Have you aligned your aims and objectives with those of the Department in terms of improving transport safety?
  (Mr Storey) Yes. We are probably a small player in the overall transport safety issue because the principal ones are on the roads and highways. Of course we do adopt the health and safety requirements of Europe in this country and on board ships on tours of duty, etcetera. We are promoting the health and safety issues throughout.


 
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