Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



  40. We will watch very carefully for that. Again another point I read in the report, and I am just picking up certain general points that I picked up when I was reading this report, I notice that all of these inspections that you make are made while the ships are in port. Now I can understand because it is obviously easier but I would suspect that many of the problems that actually occur on ships take place not because of equipment failure but because of—and the Chairman has touched on it—wrong decisions being made by the crew themselves or the master or whatever. There may well be many wrong procedures taking place on the ships whilst at sea which cause the problems. Do you plan to make inspections at sea in the future?
  (Mr Storey) We do carry out inspections at sea and we have done quite intensively, particularly on ro ro ferries that trade from this coast to abroad normally close continent as a result of the HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE accident and the ESTONIA. As far as big ships are concerned, we do coastal voyages on ships where they go from port to port where necessary but, of course, if we were to travel on a ship from here to, say, the States, it is a bad efficiency of time and money in bringing a surveyor back because he would be tied up half the time doing nothing. This is British ships I am talking about. In the case of foreign ships once a foreign ship is outside the 12 mile limit of course we do not have any jurisdiction over that ship.

  41. I am only talking about UK ships.
  (Mr Storey) Fine.

  42. Are you saying there is no case to inspect ships whilst they are at sea?
  (Mr Storey) No, I am not saying there is no case to inspect ships when they are at sea but I think we can inspect most of the things that one needs to, particularly relating to their ISM code—the safety management code—when the ships are in port. I think when the ship is actually at sea, travelling at sea, it is invariably in the hands of the one watchkeeper who is on duty at the particular time when it is in deep sea and that guy is taking navigational watch and, yes, you can cross check to see that he is taking his sights correctly but these days in modern technology it is all done easily by satellite. Then in the engine room it is the engineer that is just watching the automatics of the engine room. Really there is very little to see at sea when a ship is normally running from point A to point B in a deep sea position.

  43. Okay. I am coming to the end now. All these questions I am asking I picked up in the first ten pages of the report. I realised after I had written all these questions down that I would not get much chance to go past page ten but then I actually reached page ten and if you look at page ten I was quite staggered by the statistics on this particular page. If you look, for example, at figure 3, this is passenger casualty rates by mode of transport, even though the casualty rates are based on, as I worked it out, passengers and kilometres travelled and, therefore, obviously it is bound to be a lot, I was absolutely astounded by the statistics because if somebody asked me to say which was probably the most dangerous mode of travel I would never, ever have said by sea or by ship. Then when I look and see that there is not a great deal of difference in the correlation between ship and car, that is quite a staggering statistic. Basically, after all the questions I asked on pages one to ten, which clearly were criticising you, not you personally but criticising the Agency, I then thought to myself "Well, this actually substantiates the criticisms that I am making" because at the end of the day it is a bloody dangerous way to travel by ship, is it not?
  (Mr Storey) It states passenger casualty rates per mode of transport 1990 to 1999. If we look at the United Kingdom level of loss of life on ships during that period I think you will find it is exceptionally good compared with any other method of travel. This is a general situation and of course if you have one ferry like the ESTONIA or HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE you get 900 people in one go and that really distorts the figures in that respect. The actual loss of life on UK vessels, except for the fishing industry, has been exceptionally low.

  44. That does not bear out what the note says at the bottom unless I am interpreting it wrong. It says "'ship' includes domestic and international passenger services of UK-registered vessels."
  (Mr Storey) International passenger services.

  45. It says "services of UK-registered vessels".
  (Mr Storey) Yes it does. The track record in the last few years has been very, very minimal in UK passenger vessels.

  46. The point is that you do not have, thank God, very many air crashes but when you do it is a bad one and there are usually lots of fatalities. Again you do not have a lot of ship accidents but when you do apparently the fatalities are very, very severe. This clearly proves there has got to be a hell of a lot more vigilance than perhaps there is at the present time. Would you agree?
  (Mr Storey) I think the fishing industry certainly is an area of concern and that concern is being addressed by the under 12 metre fishing vessel code and a review of the regulations. That is probably the worst area of any UK-registered vessels. In figure 2 above it does indicate the difference between passenger vessels, merchant vessels and fishing vessels as far as accidents are concerned and gives you that illustration. On figure 1 it gives you the deaths on UK vessels and you will see that, except for the fishing industry, they are extremely low.

  47. I know you do not mean this, I am sure you do not, but you seem to be saying that that is okay because it is only fishermen. I know that you are not saying that—
  (Mr Storey) Not at all.

  48. But regardless of who is killed or whoever the casualty is, it is not acceptable and therefore clearly, as you say, there has got to be lot more vigilance as far as the fishing industry is concerned.
  (Mr Storey) I am certainly not complacent about the fishing industry and I am not trying to wash them aside. I think they are as important as anyone else and we are doing our utmost to address their own safety. As much as they say they do one questions it when one looks at some of the boats.

  Mr Steinberg: I was going to come on to that; it seems to me they do not help themselves.


  49. I gave you three minutes of what I dare call "injury time" for that. I must say—and I say this to the C&AG amongst others—that the titling of that graph, figure 3, says "passenger casualty rates". Does that include fishermen or not? That is hardly passengers, is it?
  (Mr Cavanagh) It just includes passengers. It does not include the fishing industry.

  50. That is very odd. I think the Committee could do with a further analysis of that graph versus figure 9 which gives us a breakdown which would imply that the vast majority of the deaths are in large and small fishing vessels rather than in sea-going passenger vessels.
  (Sir John Bourn) With the Agency I will prepare that, Chairman[2].

  Chairman: Thank you. Mr Alan Campbell?

Mr Campbell

  51. Mr Storey, coming from North Shields you will not be surprised that I want to concentrate largely, although not exclusively, on the fishing industry. I want to pick up on something you said to the Chairman which I thought was a particularly interesting point. You seemed to suggest that in your view there was a correlation between the number of accidents and fatalities in the fishing industry and the regularity of inspections. Is that a feeling that you have or has that got a statistical basis?
  (Mr Storey) What I was saying was that when I came to the Agency one of the things we looked at was whether we were getting the safety message across an whether the documentation and rules and regulations were reaching the fishermen—and it was obvious they were not. For example, with the normal procedure of a statutory instrument M Notice to give them rules and regulations, they were not taking these documents up. We did this tracking study to try and find out on a certain number of questions how we got the safety message across. We found that most of them read Fishing News so we opted through Fishing News to take a regular article and each article covered one item of safety to try and get the message across. The following year we started to look again in the same tracking study and we found they were getting the message there. However, one has to say that as much as we try—and we meet the fishermen's federations twice a year and there is a commitment by the committee and the fishermen who mean well but not everyone follows that procedure—I think some of them could help themselves much more in their approach to safety.

  52. I find that interesting and encouraging because I think there is something in the nature of fishing which is inherently dangerous as a practice and if we can reduce fatalities, fine. Let me take you on to page 10, paragraph 1.9. The number of surveyors has fallen by about a quarter over the last decade. What is the age profile of surveyors and inspectors now?
  (Mr Storey) Off the top of my head I would say that it is probably round about 40 to 45. If you would like this clarifying I shall have to do so separately[3].

  53. Are we getting sufficient young people coming in which would lead us to believe that that decline could be halted or even reversed?
  (Mr Storey) It is becoming much, much harder to get people from the marine industry because of the reducing size of the marine industry but we have changed our approach, as I said earlier, to a competency based framework. The idea is to bring people in and train them. The tying up of the two Agencies, what was the Marine Safety Agency and the Coastguard Agency, has led us to do that and of course we have in the case of coastguard sector managers trained them to carry out fishing vessel inspections so we are getting more out of the situation. This competency framework will allow us to cross-fertilise between the two organisations because there are a lot of people in the Coastguard who are ex-seamen who are keen to look at the service side, so it is a question of us training them to make sure they achieve that. There are many graduates coming out of the universities today in naval architecture and things like that. Again, if we can give them the competencies we can train them to become surveyors. We have got some quite young people coming through but we need to see if this maintains itself over the next few years.

  54. That is very good because it seems to be partly because there has become a shortage of surveyors that is leading to problems, for example the fact that it may not be possible to use the surveyor from the locality and he may have to be brought some distance. Paragraph 3.5 seems to suggests that this is not problem for the Agency because you get the surveyors to travel quite a distance. Speaking to one of my fishermen this morning it might not be a problem for the Agency but it can be a major problem for fishermen because they have to pay for surveyors and not just for the length of time that they spend on the survey but getting to and fro, and the figure he quoted me was 75 an hour.
  (Mr Storey) He is a little high, it is 72 an hour, but he is not far wrong. Yes, we do charge for the distance that we have to travel as part of the fee structure.

  55. So if there is nobody available in the Newcastle area (as is not unheard of) and somebody has to travel across from Liverpool, at a time when fishermen are finding it particularly difficult to pay their way 75 an hour for travelling, staying over and carrying out the survey can be quite lot of money.
  (Mr Storey) It can be a lot of money but I find it very difficult to believe that while we have got an office in Newcastle that we use somebody from Liverpool unless it is a case of illness or something special to travel to do a survey of a ship in, say, North Shields. The other thing we try to do is where we know we have a number of boats to survey at the same time we try to get agreement with the fishermen to bring the boats together to mitigate the travel costs.

  56. I think it would be useful if you had a look at that[4]. That was an example quoted to me today and it is not the first occasion that people have been brought from elsewhere in the UK and it does stick in a few fishermen's throats that it appears to be costing them more to have what can be for them already a costly business. Let me move on to areas where the NAO has flagged up problems and you have explained some of the improvements you are making. I think to some extent—and I remember when you came six weeks into the job the last time you came to talk about the Coastguard—you were given a pretty difficult task to do at the Agency because not just in the Agency but across the maritime services we have suffered from decades of under-investment and I think that is evident and we are suffering some of the problems with that now. The lack of an IT database, the fact that inspectors still rely on handwritten notes, I found a little surprising.

  (Mr Storey) Yes, I agree with you 100 per cent. When we put the two agencies together one of the difficulties we had was that the two IT systems did not speak to each other. That is why we have put this new system in and we are just at the conclusion stage of installing it. The hardware will be there and we have now set up this team to look at the software, to look at all our paperwork that we produce today, what is needed and what is not needed. Then we will get new databases and start to get everything up to date to meet the e.commerce requirements and hopefully give better communication. If Newcastle do a survey then they will be able to drop their information into the central database and it can be taken out at Falmouth or Liverpool or whatever and be put updated and put back in for everybody's use.

  57. That was the next question, whether or not around the UK they can share information from one area to another, and you have answered that question. Will it also record aspects of vessels safety which are satisfactory on board ships as opposed to the negative view of what is wrong?
  (Mr Storey) That has not been the case in the past but I think we will be modifying this and we will have to do this to meet the new European Directive anyway. In the Port State Memorandum of Understanding there is a system of surveying vessels and it tells you what to do with a general inspection and a more concentrated inspection and there is more detail on what has to be done. We will probably look at some sort of a system where they can check off that they have walked through the ship and looked at those particular areas, of course highlighting the bad areas.

  58. You will be able to talk within the Agency. Will the new system allow you to communicate with ports, for example to make sure that you have got up-to-date information on boats arriving and departing?
  (Mr Storey) Yes. We had a meeting with the ports industry two weeks ago as a result partly of this report and we did raise the issue of getting data from all the ports. We get it from some of them, as the report says. We have asked if we can look at a standard system that we can achieve to get the information on a daily basis, to retain it on a weekly basis, as suggested in the report, so that we can produce the information for the previous week and that would be the intention to go down that line.

  59. Talking to other Government departments with the same system, paragraph 2.5, page 15 raises the point as to whether or not there has been sufficient communication between the Agency and MAFF, for example. When I tax my motor car, if it is over three years old, I need an MOT certificate and then I will not get my tax disc if I do not have that. Is there any scope for making licences, fishing licences for example, given out by MAFF dependent upon the certification which the Agency has?
  (Mr Storey) The DETR has a regular meeting with MAFF and discusses issues of this type as part of those meetings. We have raised the possibility of linking the safety inspection and registration with the fishing vessel licence. It does need primary legislation to achieve this but it is currently being discussed to see if there is a possibility.


2   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 18 (PAC 137). Back

3   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 18 (PAC 137). Back

4   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 18 (PAC 137). Back

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