Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. On these little pictures you have got on page 37, perhaps this is a bit of a naive question but I am interested, a lot of these offences seem to be pretty simple, they seem to be just breaching the submerged load line. It is not high technology, is it? This is a Plimsoll line, is it?
  (Mr Storey) Correct.

  81. This has been around for 100 years plus. Just how much of your work really is very difficult or how much of it is just looking at the ship and seeing how overladen it is when it comes in?
  (Mr Storey) It is not a question of looking to see if it is overladen. Some ships may be drawn to our attention by a pilot that such a ship is overloaded or there is some material deficiency with the ship, radars or whatever, and we will respond to that situation. If we do some routine inspections and we see a ship is overloaded it is one of the issues that will come up.

  Mr Leigh: Thank you very much.

Mr Williams

  82. Mr Storey, you are in your third year in this post, is that correct?
  (Mr Storey) Correct.

  83. Could you turn back to page ten that Mr Steinberg drew your attention to, passenger casualty rates. It is actually appalling, is it not, what is revealed there? The car has higher rates of injury but that is not really comparable because that is as a result of millions of individual private drivers. So the only comparisons you have of comparable safety are with the other professionally operated services. On that basis the ship is 20 times more dangerous to the passenger than rail, and when you think of all the publicity there has been about rail, and it is about three times worse than buses and coaches. Strangely enough that is not a popular impression but it is rather devastating, is it not, in fact?
  (Mr Storey) The statistics show exactly as you are saying but in reality if you look at the number of deaths on UK ships on the two figures previous to that it shows that we have, as I said with the exception of fishermen, a pretty good record of loss of life. The last large loss of life on a UK ship was the HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE which I think was in 1986 or 1987 and it was about 160/190 people. I do not think we have ever seen any major loss of life on a UK vessel since that time, other than the average 30 a year in the fishing industry.

  84. An injury is not an insignificant thing. It may be minor but I assume that most minor injuries are not reported. I am surprised that when Mr Steinberg was asking you questions about this you seemed to think that it was not really all our fault because it included the foreigners who were rather peculiar people and outside our control anyhow, but that is not so as far as this table is concerned. You are in your third year, I would have thought you would have regarded this table as somewhat important.
  (Mr Storey) The table is important and we are not complacent at all about the number of accidents or failures on UK ships.

  85. You said that the last major accident, thank heaven, was the HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE and after that for quite a while one was seeing rather alarming reports in the press about action not being taken to ensure that the same thing could not happen again. How often are the ferries inspected? That is not the routine, notifiable inspections but the random inspections. How often do these take place?
  (Mr Storey) We take a selection of UK ferries on a regular basis and inspect them unannounced. Concentrated inspections have been done since the HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE and, of course, they all go through an annual refit every year to see the standards are met and on completion of that all ferries go through the various drills before they are put back into service to see that everything is up to scratch.

  86. Can we take it that there is no ferry operating out of British ports which does not meet the safety requirements laid down after the HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE disaster?
  (Mr Storey) The rules and regulations that were put into place after the HERALD gave a period of up to 2004 for various modifications to be done to ferries. Ferries are going through that programme at the present time. There are no ferries, as far as I know, that are not in tandem with the rules that were laid down at that time. Of course, we look at the ferry on the day of inspection and, assuming the ferry is maintained and operated in accordance with the standards that are laid down at that time, they should maintain that quality throughout the year until their next annual refit.

  87. How long have they had that? When were the recommendations made, I have forgotten? It was a while after the actual accident.
  (Mr Storey) It came through over a period of time. When the ESTONIA was lost—she was not, of course, a United Kingdom vessel—that changed the rules again and they looked at further modifications which involved water on the car deck. That is known as the Stockholm Agreement and that is currently in place and going through its procedure at the moment. All of the issues that were raised after the HERALD at that particular time, all of those issues, have been implemented and are in all United Kingdom ships trading from the United Kingdom.

  88. They are?
  (Mr Storey) Yes.

  89. What about the foreign operated ships going out of the United Kingdom, it is a matter of potluck whether you get a French one or a British one, depending on who you go with?
  (Mr Storey) There are certain of the items that the United Kingdom Authorities put in place that were put in place by some of the foreign authorities, but not all of them. For example, you have to weigh vehicles in the United Kingdom before they go on the ferry to calculate the stability, on the other side of the channel or operation you do not have to weigh the vehicle, you take the declared weight and add 7 per cent, it is because those administrations chose not to follow the procedures of the United Kingdom authorities.

  90. In that case this is information that the British public should be aware of. When I was Consumer Minister I broke the cartel that previously operated across the Channel at the Monopolies Commission. There was great growling from the French when we did it. I would like you to put in a reasonably full report on the extent to which ferries which are operating from British ports, regardless of which nation owns them, are regarded as not fully meeting the requirements British ferries have to meet. Can you do that?
  (Mr Storey) We can do that, yes[5]

  91. I would like that so that we can incorporate that in the Report. I gather that your management and information systems have been worked on—they are not alone in this situation—and your computer software did not work, what happened there?
  (Mr Storey) It was not a case that the computer software did not work, there was nothing wrong with what we had, but it did not meet the e-commerce requirements. We joined two agencies together that had two massively different systems. We have an immense amount of paperwork, we have over 1,000 databases between the two agencies and what we are looking at is cleaning those databases up and making them more efficient and adapting them to the procedure that is required of an e-commerce government by 2005.

  92. You do not have a central database of all United Kingdom vessels and their certification, do you?
  (Mr Storey) We do not have a total central database, no.

  93. The officers maintain their own databases, are these computerised in any way or are they on paper?
  (Mr Storey) No, a lot of them are in ordinary hardback files because a computer system is just being installed at the present time. As we develop this new system we will be able to electronically record the data on each individual ship. There is a file on each ship that is currently in operation.

  94. We came across a similar problem with the Metropolitan Police, their bobbies kept all of their notes in filing cabinets and then they decided they could computerise on a station basis. I would not have thought it would be all that different for you to do what they did, why is it that that has not been achieved yet?
  (Mr Storey) Basically because we have just started working on the project, put a team together to work on the project. It is part of the evolvement of the new agency. The Agency was formed in April 1998. I had to bring two totally different organisations together and develop the way forward. It was part of our long-term plan as well as doing the job we are supposed to be doing.

  95. If we can give you a free lesson from experience, which I am sure you will avoid anyhow, in that case we found that when the Met decided to computerise on an area basis it forgot to check whether it might be helpful if one district's computer could talk to the next district's computer. You ended up with a mish-mash, where you were a bit better off than having it in the locker, but not as good as it might have been. Then when we came to superimpose a Metropolitan computer on top of that a lot of the districts could not talk to that either. It is an example that I am sure the NAO would gladly give you background information on if it would be of help to you while you are developing what you are doing there. There were a lot of very important lessons there, and we do not want to repeat some of the mistakes. Coming back to the question of priorities, you use an international database -which does exist, they have managed to get it together but we cannot—to select foreign vessels, what we are told is that the targeting of foreign vessels by the United Kingdom is better than in many other maritime countries, but none of the inspections are of high priority vessels, most are of nil or low priority vessels. That does not fit in at all with the impression you were giving in answer to earlier questions. How do you explain that?
  (Mr Storey) Could I confirm, are we talking about United Kingdom vessels?

  96. This says, "The Agency's targeting of foreign vessels is better than that of many other maritime authorities. Few inspections are of high priority vessels, most are of nil or low priority vessels". That is in the supplemental briefing. Could the NAO clarify this? This is on page 2, the penultimate paragraph of the meeting brief. I do not want to castigate you for things that are not your responsibility. If I interpret it correctly it is very worrying.

  Mr Cavanagh: It also features on paragraph eight on page three of the executive summary, the same facts that underlines the statement you have just been making.

Mr Williams

  97. That is not at all the impression you gave Mr Steinberg when he asked his questions?
  (Mr Storey) The Agency is selecting the riskiest United Kingdom vessels and selecting the riskiest foreign vessels. We have indicated that we use the Port State Control database to do the foreign vessels. Some of the United Kingdom vessels are on the Paris MOU database, and if they have been in trouble before we can access that. We will be looking at putting in a United Kingdom database for United Kingdom vessels that will work on the same basis.

  98. It is very strange that you have this international database which allocates a risk score but you seem to ignore it?
  (Mr Storey) We do not ignore the international database for risk on foreign vessels at all. We look at that database and we select our vessels on that. It may be that some of the vessels that come into United Kingdom are not classified as "high risk vessels" on the Paris MOU database.

  99. Finally, you have issued guidance, as you have said in previous answers, to the fishing vessel owners on assessing risk on board their vessels. That guidance is just guidance, it is not mandatory, is it? It does not even cover owner-operators who may, because they are relatively small business units, be inclined to cut corners on safety because it is not their own lives they are putting at risk, why are they not mandatory?
  (Mr Storey) The under 12 metre code, which has just been about introduced from 1st April, is mandatory and that applies to a lot owner- operator vessels, beach boats, etc, ie the under 12 metre sector. That is enforceable from yesterday effectively. That fleet will be covered accordingly. The rest of the vessels are covered by mandatory rules and regulations which were the 1975 rules, which we will be starting to update during this year.


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

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