Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)



  140. These are ships where you have detained them, as I understand the wording of the sentence, if you have detained a certain number of ships why have you only publicised 10 per cent of them?
  (Mr Storey) That is a point that has been noted. As I said, we intend to publish them in the future.

  141. Why do you not up to date?
  (Mr Storey) I have no direct answer for that. The United Kingdom ships are ships that are known to all of us, we know the position of ships and we have dealt with the maintenance and survey of ships.

  142. Do you not think that publishing it would provide you with some degree of reassurance that you are not in bed with the owner's, you are prepared to name and shame if necessary.
  (Mr Storey) That is correct and that is why we will put it right.

  143. Why did it have to be this Report that drew this to your attention, is there not something wrong with the culture of your organisation that did this not occur to you before?
  (Mr Storey) It could well have been in the organisation in the past and it is one of the things we are looking at changing at the present time and we will take this idea on board.

  144. If you look at the next paragraph, again, the question of ships' officers views, they seem to have a pretty devastating view of yourselves, "The Agency's sanctions were much more effective at deterring unsafe UK vessels than foreign vessels". You do not think that sanctions deterred unsafe foreign vessels. "Detentions were seen to be more of a deterrent than prosecutions. This was because prosecution were rare, fines imposed on offenders were low and some ships' officers were unaware of the risk of prosecution". The whole thing just makes me think that either the ships' officers have not bothered understanding the position, that since its their lives at stake—although that is unlikely—or that yourselves have not publicised what it is that you do and what your responsibilities are.
  (Mr Storey) The prosecutions that we carry out are well publicised and we issue a regular press release whenever there is a prosecution to the national media in the United Kingdom. I would have thought that is the easiest way to get it around the system. It goes in the Lloyd's List, which is the commentator used by the shipping organisations. From that point of view the information is there if they choose to have it. The other situation, which is the big issue on ships' officers, is most of them are members of the union NUMAST. NUMAST produce a monthly magazine—the Telegraph—and they always produce everything that we do, detentions on the foreign ship, detentions on United Kingdom ships, prosecutions. That is well publicised and that goes to all its members on all the ships.

  145. So the ships' officers are wrong then?
  (Mr Storey) I am not saying that ships' officers are wrong, I am saying the information is available, it us up to them whether they choose to read it.

  146. The fact that they do not seem to have it is their fault?
  (Mr Storey) I never said it was their fault. What I said was we produce the information but I cannot make them read that information.

  147. You produce it and if they do not read it, that is their fault?
  (Mr Storey) I suppose it is their fault if they do not read it, yes.

  148. You do not see yourselves as having a role to ease the anxieties that these officers have? My father and two of his brothers were merchant seamen at one time and I am aware of horror stories about lack of safety on the ships. They had little confidence in the system. They did not know what the system was but they had little confidence in the system to make sure that things were kept up to scratch. If the officers have little faith in the system, as appears from this, there is little chance that the seamen will have much faith in it. Does that seem an unreasonable assumption?
  (Mr Storey) It does not seem an unreasonable assumption but I believe that the British officers, and we meet with NUMAST who represent the British officers, and RMT, who represent the British seamen, on a regular basis, are happy with the feedback that they get on the way that we are policing the UK vessels.

  149. Okay. I look then at the top of page 36 where it mentions in table 22 the 58 significant breach reports. I presume "significant breach reports" is not a nautical equivalent of double parking, I am assuming "significant breach reports" are pretty severe mistakes, is that correct?
  (Mr Storey) A "significant breach" is a contravention of the merchant shipping or marine pollution legislation that could cause, or has caused, loss of life, serious injury, significant pollution or damage to property or the environment. They relate to three areas: unsafe ships; unsafe operations; and pollution. It is in 4.2 on page 35.

  150. These are pretty serious matters. Turning back to paragraph 4.5, I am surprised at the number of occasions when there are breaches where it has been decided that it is not in the public interest to prosecute. Given that the criteria include potential for loss of life and all the rest of it, I cannot see why it would not be in the public interest to prosecute people who are placing the lives of people like my father and his brothers at risk.
  (Mr Storey) First of all, we had no enforcement branch until 1998, so it is a relatively new situation that I introduced into the organisation and, therefore, it has moved forward from what was there previously. That is point one. Point two, when each incident is reported we look at the incident and what the cause of the incident is. If there is loss of life we would be very much involved. If it is on a British ship, for example, if there is loss of life, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch has priority to attend the ship to investigate why the accident has occurred. They have priority on statements, etc., etc., and we have to wait until they have dealt with it. If there is an issue and the information is correct then we will act upon it, but before one takes a case to court you have got to be sure that the information you have got is correct, factual and it will stand up in court to take the case forward.

  151. I understand that, but presumably if you investigate something and it turns out not to be a significant breach then it will not appear under the listing of the 58. We are dealing there with cases where there is a filter process that has been gone through. I cannot understand in these circumstances why 13 cases only got official warnings—I do not know whether or not those are publicised—and a big chunk of them were not in the public interest to proceed.
  (Mr Storey) I think the situation, as I say, goes back to the information and the evidence that we have. There is no point in taking any case to court if there is no proof of that case. A significant breach can be a reported incident where somebody thinks they saw a particular issue, like a pollution incident and a ship has discharged. Unless we can produce the evidence to prove that then there is no way that we have got any chance of a successful prosecution.

  152. Okay. I wonder if I can turn then to paragraph 4.9 where your enforcement unit are saying that there is a lack of confidence and experience on the part of surveyors that also contributed to the small number of significant breaches reported. Presumably that is saying you think internally that there should be a lot more significant breaches reported than are proceeded with. What are you doing to make sure that surveyors actually pick these up in the future?
  (Mr Storey) As I said earlier, we have now changed our surveyor training programme to a competence based training programme and that will be put in as part of the competence based training programme.

  153. Similarly, earlier on you were telling us of the problems for some of your staff to conduct interviews in accordance with the procedures in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. All of these will be overcome in the future, will they?
  (Mr Storey) We will do our best endeavours. The enforcement unit that made these statements is no longer with the Agency and the one person that said it was a solicitor, so I am sure he was trained correctly in those circumstances. We were lucky to have such a person, normally an enforcement officer would not be a solicitor. We use Treasury Solicitors to support us. Effectively we will make sure that the people get the basic down that they need to get down and in turn they can bring in any assistance that they need.

  154. I am not quite sure what that means actually. Does that mean that you can give me an assurance that within a relatively short period you will have sufficient competence in your organisation to be able to take prosecutions all the way through?
  (Mr Storey) Yes.

  155. Is it reasonable for us to expect within two or three years an upward trend in the number of prosecutions?
  (Mr Storey) If the incidents warrant it, yes.

  156. Thank you. Can I come back, again, to the point that my colleague Mr Griffiths raised about the prosecutions, and who you have actually prosecuted. I am conscious of the point on paragraph 4.11, where people are saying how difficult it is to get owners, and also in paragraph 4.18, where mention is being made of the financial incentives to breach legislation. When ships are overloaded presumably people are doing that for the money. Obviously if they carry more cargo there are substantial profits to be made because you are incurring roughly the same costs and you are getting more income. Do the financial penalties seem to you to be commensurate with the gain?
  (Mr Storey) I do not think necessarily that the financial penalties are adequate for the incidents that occur. There is a review being carried out at the moment looking at those financial penalties.

  157. What has your organisation done to press for higher penalties?
  (Mr Storey) We are in discussion with our parent department, DETR, and there is dialogue currently going on in that respect.

  158. Are you happy as the senior officer that the views of your department are adequately being taken into account by those with whom you are discussing it?
  (Mr Storey) Yes, I am.

  159. You can see changes coming forward?
  (Mr Storey) I think changes will be coming forward, yes.


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