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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 219)

WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001

MR NORMAN MCKINNEY, MR GEORGE MILLS, MR LES CATE, MR ALAN GRAVESON AND MR ANDREW LININGTON

  200. Have there been more prosecutions since then of people who have actually had near-misses or not observed the proper navigation rules?
  (Mr McKinney) To be perfectly honest, we do not believe there is any great record of near-misses. As regards prosecutions, basically the only prosecution I am aware of was in Milford Haven where the Port Authority and the Harbour Master were prosecuted over the Sea Empress. To my knowledge there have been no further prosecutions.

  201. Do you think that safety standards in UK ports are as good as anywhere else in the world?
  (Mr McKinney) I believe we have a very high standard of safety in UK ports but that is not to be complacent about it. I believe we should aim for even better safety standards.

  202. The fact that lots of people are now getting these exemption certificates does not really matter.
  (Mr McKinney) There are two sides to this story.

Chairman

  203. Tell us what they are for the record.
  (Mr McKinney) The pilotage exemption certificate is issued to the master of a ship who is a regular trader and completes a specified number of trips to a port and on his experience of coming in and out of the port is then granted the pilotage exemption certificate for that particular port.

  204. On the assumption that he knows how to handle the ship within that port.
  (Mr McKinney) That is correct and has local knowledge of the port. However, there is a lack of consistency in it because in some ports they are very, very strict on these pilotage exemption certificates and in other ports they are not so strict. For example, the number of trips a master may be required to carry out in a port may be very low.

  205. Is it not laid down anywhere?
  (Mr McKinney) It is only laid down locally. There is no national standard. This is again something which the Department is looking into for the future. We do know that in Milford Haven, prior to the Sea Empress disaster, a master was only required to carry out one trip in and one trip out of Milford Haven before he was granted an exemption certificate.

Mr Bennett

  206. Is that competitive pressure between ports? What do I do if I am an owner? I go along and say I can get into this port with an exemption certificate, can I get into your port with an exemption certificate?
  (Mr McKinney) I do not believe it was the case with Milford Haven which is a major oil port which sits on its own. I do believe it may be the case perhaps where there are many little ports grouped together, competing against each other, that they may be a bit more liberal about exemption certificates.

  207. What about pressure generally on pilotage to make sure that boats get in, catch the tide, get out quickly? Is pressure applied in that way?
  (Mr McKinney) The pressure is always there. A ship may arrive later than its ETA on the last bit of the flood tide and the pressure may be there to get the ship safely alongside; maybe dockers have been ordered for a certain time and the pressure is always there.

  208. Is it unreasonable pressure?
  (Mr McKinney) In most cases not, but on occasions it can be.

  209. Can you give us an example of when it is unreasonable?
  (Mr McKinney) I believe the Sea Empress was a case of pressure. I believe it may have been expedient that that job was aborted before it ever took place. I believe there was a certain amount of pressure there.

Mr O'Brien

  210. In the evidence from the UK Maritime Pilots' Association it says "... a pilot expedites the safe and efficient passage of a vessel to or from a port or harbour" because of the restricted waters in there. How important is the role played by pilots in ensuring the safety of those using major ports? Is the importance of that role recognised by ports and by shipowners too?
  (Mr Graveson) Yes, the pilot is absolutely vital for the safe navigation of ships in and out of port. Mr McKinney has just been referring to the issue of pilotage exemption certificates. Today, with the manning level on many of the ships, and this has been identified by Admiral Lang, the Head of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, fatigue is a big issue, a very big issue indeed. Often after a long and hazardous voyage, coming in and out of port is where the greatest danger exists and the master then has to navigate the ship in very difficult waters. There is often very little adequate support and backup to the master who is conducting the pilotage and therefore there is potential ... In many instances the masters are very glad that the pilot has come on because they are tired.

  211. Do you support that view, Mr McKinney?
  (Mr McKinney) Yes, I totally support that view.

  212. You have said in evidence that you consider that the question of the safety of our ports has been seriously neglected from the introduction of the Pilotage Act 1987. In what way do you think it has been neglected?
  (Mr Graveson) Following the 1987 Pilotage Act the pendulum swung too far and a great deal was left to the so-called competent harbour authorities to determine certain levels and standards. Recently Andrew Burr of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has undertaken a review which has culminated in the port operations code and guide. That is certainly going to go some way towards improving the situation and swinging the pendulum back.
  (Mr McKinney) From the time the 1987 Pilotage Act was introduced there was no supervision of what went on in our harbours and ports. There was no policing of how they were being managed up until the Sea Empress accident and the subsequent MAIB report and the review of the Pilotage Act.

  213. Have you ever challenged the port authorities on neglect?
  (Mr McKinney) It would be fair to say that in a number of cases, certainly the PLA in London was a case, the pilots have challenged on safety matters but we did not have much success in changing their minds on these things.

  Mr O'Brien: You say there has been one case.

Chairman

  214. No, you are saying that one case was the stimulus.
  (Mr McKinney) No, there have been other cases where we have made representations to the ports, but basically not very much has happened.

Mr O'Brien

  215. Would it be fair to say that there is not a great deal of evidence that there has been gross neglect by the management?
  (Mr McKinney) Probably not any hard and fast evidence.

Mr Stevenson

  216. Mr McKinney, I think you said earlier that the safety record in the industry is pretty high but it could be improved. I paraphrase slightly but I think those were your words. NUMAST say in their evidence "... that many port and harbour authorities are failing to ensure an adequate level of safety—not only for dock workers, but also for crew members transiting between the ship and the dock entrance". Which one of those statements is correct?
  (Mr Mills) There are two different regions here. We were relating more to pilotage and the safety aspects which have been approached by harbour authorities on that line. NUMAST encompassed the wider field from seafarers to work ashore.

  217. Are you saying that there appears to be a different culture and different approach towards pilotage and the areas NUMAST referred to, the wider areas of dock workers, crew members and so on?
  (Mr Mills) That is right. Where we are relating to in pilotage the safety is obviously paramount and that is primarily our objective.

  218. Clearly if there is that sort of distinction it is very serious.
  (Mr Mills) Recently DETR have produced the port and marine safety code. This has heightened the obligations that a harbour authority has under the Pilotage Act. Unfortunately the port and marine safety code does not enjoy any legislation with it at the present time. What we have always felt would be beneficial is if this port and marine safety code actually did have some teeth to the code.

  219. Mr McKinney, would you agree with that?
  (Mr McKinney) Yes, I totally agree with that.


 
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