23. The number of Agency surveyors has fallen from
194 in 1992 to 159 in 2000, while the increase in the number of
UK-registered vessels is placing additional demands on the Agency.
The Agency confirmed that it was becoming much harder to recruit
people from the marine industry because of the declining size
of the industry. The average age of surveyors was 50 years; 78
surveyors were older than this. The Agency were responding by
training Coastguard Sector Managers, some of whom were ex-seamen,
to carry out fishing vessel inspections, and by recruiting graduates
in naval architecture and similar degrees and training them to
24. The Agency do not have a central database of
all UK vessels and their certificates. The Agency's 16 marine
offices maintain their own local databases but the information
held is incomplete and inaccurate, making it difficult to establish
whether a vessel has a valid certificate or not, and as the databases
are not linked information cannot be shared between marine offices.
The Agency said that on the merger in 1998 of the Marine Safety
Agency and HM Coastguard, they inherited a variety of databases
which had been difficult to integrate. A project team was considering
the Agency's future information requirements, and installation
of a computer network connecting headquarters and all marine offices
around the country was almost complete. This would allow surveyors
to access a central database, although it would be a year or two
before that database was ready for use.
25. The Agency's surveyors rely on Port Authorities
to provide them with information about vessels arriving in port.
Only one of six marine offices visited by the National Audit Office
had systematic arrangements for obtaining information from Port
Authorities in their area. Only one office recorded details of
the reports that Port Authorities gave them about potentially
dangerous vessels, and only two offices routinely gave Port Authorities
feedback on the outcomes of the subsequent inspections.
The Agency had met representatives of the ports industry recently
to discuss setting up a standard system for Port Authorities to
supply them with information on a daily basis. The Agency acknowledged
that they had not routinely recorded information on potentially
dangerous vessels but promised that they would use their new computer
system to do so in future. They also undertook to give the ports
feedback on the outcome of subsequent inspections.
26. The Agency issue a range of guidance to surveyors,
all of which is available on paper and some of which is available
electronically. A survey of Agency staff revealed that 38 per
cent of surveyors considered that up-to-date guidance was not
available on paper and 65 per cent considered it was not available
electronically. The National Audit Office also found that 10 out
of 17 surveyors they interviewed were dissatisfied with the availability
and quality of advice provided by headquarters.
The Agency stated that manuals were available in all marine offices
and that surveyors could refer matters to headquarters if necessary.
However, they acknowledged that these arrangements were old and
that they were looking to improve them. The Agency had provided
all surveyors with laptop computers that would contain electronic
copies of guidance, which would therefore be available to them
when they went on board ships. The information would also be updated
automatically when surveyors connected their laptops to the network
in marine offices.
27. The vast majority of shipping accidents involve
an element of human error. Lord Justice Clarke's recent report
on the Formal Investigation of the Marchioness Disaster
underlines the importance of minimising the risk of human failure.
Asked about the attention given to human aspects of ship safety,
the Agency said that their inspections of merchant vessels covered
the International Safety Management Code, and that they were introducing
a similar code for small passenger vessels, which would be covered
during unannounced inspections and during the vessels' annual
they do not know how many inspections check on the human aspects
of ship safety because such information is not recorded.
28. In January 2002 the Department is planning to
introduce a confidential reporting system which would allow anyone
at sea, regardless of position or rank, to report a safety deficiency
without fear of reprisal or disciplinary action.
Asked why it had taken so long to bring in such a system, the
Agency said that the UK authorities had always had the ability
to do so for British people on British ships, and that many British
seamen did report matters. However, in the past the standard of
shipping, and the money earned from shipping, was probably better
than it was today, and hence there had been less to report. The
Department were considering a number of options for the new system,
which needed to be considered carefully to ensure that there would
be confidence in it and that its results would be useful. The
Agency said that alcohol and fatigue were involved in a number
of accidents. The Government had recently announced a system of
alcohol protection for all ships using UK waters, which will set
a blood/alcohol limit for crew on board these vessels.
29. Almost all of the Agency's inspections take place
while vessels are in port and very few are carried out while vessels
are at sea. The Agency
pointed out that they carried out some inspections at sea, particularly
of roll-on, roll-off ferries, and that their surveyors also went
on board on some coastal voyages on UK ships. However, they considered
that it would not be efficient in time or money for a surveyor
to travel from the UK to another country on board a vessel and
that most aspects could be checked when vessels are in port.
30. Where they travel overseas to carry out surveys
of UK vessels, the Agency's surveyors may ask the vessels' owners
to arrange and pay for their travel, allowing the owners to take
advantage of discounts that may be available to them. In most
cases, overseas accommodation is normally booked by the vessels'
owners but paid for by surveyors.
However, in some cases, owners have arranged and paid for surveyors'
accommodation, as well as their travel. Under these arrangements,
there is a risk that surveyors' judgements will be open to question.
Our predecessor Committee asked the Treasury whether they had
alerted departments to the problems that came to light in the
case of Michael Allcock, the corrupt tax inspector who exploited
travel and accommodation arrangements in the Inland Revenue. The
Treasury confirmed that they had circulated their 1997-98 fraud
report to departments in December 1998, describing the main features
of the case. They had also circulated their fraud report for 1999-2000
in February 2001, summarising the case and drawing on our predecessor
Committee's Report of April 1999.
The Agency confirmed that they were aware of the Allcock case.
31. Surveyors use a standard form to record basic
details about the vessels they have surveyed or inspected and
any deficiencies found. They do not record the areas or operations
of the vessels they have checked and found to be satisfactory.
The Agency said that they would be changing this practice to meet
the requirements of a new EU Directive, where surveyors would
have to check off all of the areas of a vessel that they had examined
and highlight the problem areas.
32. Three of the 16 surveyors in charge consulted
by the National Audit Office did not have a system for evaluating
the performance of surveyors while they were on board vessels.
In the Comptroller & Auditor General's previous Report on
ship safety in 1992, he recommended the introduction of peer review,
but the Agency had not introduced such a system. Nor do the Agency
have any arrangements for gauging customer satisfaction on a regular
basis to inform them about the quality of survey and inspection
work. When asked
by our predecessor Committee how they knew that surveyors were
doing what was required of them, the Agency said that all their
surveyors were good and well trained. However, they would be introducing
a peer review system in 2001, involving spot checks. They also
planned to carry out a customer survey in 2002-03 and thereafter
on a biennial basis.
33. The number of surveyors has fallen by a quarter
over recent years and the Agency have reviewed their approach
to recruitment and training to bring some younger people through.
A shortage of surveyors can impact on the costs of survey for
vessel owners, for example the cost of travel time to the vessel.
The Agency should gear their recruitment and training strategies
to meeting a potentially higher demand for well qualified surveyors
arising from an increase in UK registered vessels, more detailed
inspections of higher risk vessels and greater emphasis on human
aspects of ship safety.
34. The Agency are improving the quality and currency
of the advice and guidance provided to surveyors by making such
help available electronically on surveyors' laptops. In developing
their management information systems further, the Agency should
also exploit the opportunities for such systems to underpin a
more informed basis of planning future work, for example through
surveyors recording details of all areas covered in a survey whether
found to be satisfactory or not, and by retaining information
about dangerous vessels.
35. Timely and accurate information from Port Authorities
about vessels arriving in their ports is critical to the effective
direction of the Agency's inspection programmes, but no systematic
arrangements exist for the receipt of such information by the
Agency's marine offices. The Agency should conclude their current
discussions with Port Authorities as a matter of priority to ensure
that complete information is received daily and used to determine
priorities for inspections.
36. There are costs and practical difficulties associated
with inspecting vessels at sea but such inspections would enable
surveyors to see the vessel, and its crew, under operating conditions.
The Agency should consider the scope for carrying out more inspections
while vessels are in operation. Doing so during their approach
to or departure from UK ports would avoid the practical difficulties
and costs of surveyors being onboard vessels during long voyages.
37. The practice whereby some owners arrange and
pay for surveyors' overseas travel and accommodation costs may
compromise the objectivity and independence of surveyors' judgements.
The Agency's travel and subsistence rules should make clear that
the Agency, not vessel owners, should arrange and pay for surveyors'
accommodation and travel, recovering the cost through fees.
38. In their Ninth Report of 1998-99, our predecessor
Committee drew attention to the risks presented by similar travel
and accommodation arrangements operated by the Inland Revenue.
Although the Treasury have drawn departments' attention to our
predecessor Committee' conclusions this was not sufficient to
prevent similar practices at the Agency. The Treasury should write
to all departments and agencies that have an inspection or regulatory
role to stress the importance of inspectors' or regulators' travel
and accommodation costs being paid by departments and agencies
themselves, rather than by those people or organisations being
inspected or regulated.
39. The Agency have yet to implement a system for
assuring the quality of their surveyors' work, despite the Comptroller
and Auditor General's recommendation in 1992 that a peer review
system be introduced. The Agency should meet their commitment
to our predecessor Committee to establish a defensible system
of peer review, and to seek feedback from customers on the quality
of their surveyors' work.
40. The Agency aim to identify and prosecute those
responsible for significant breaches of merchant shipping or marine
pollution legislation, which could cause, or have caused, loss
of life, serious injury, significant pollution or damage to property
or the environment. The Agency received and investigated 58 reports
of significant breaches in 1999-2000. Although 5,500 inspections
were undertaken, only four reports of significant breaches resulted
from inspections, with 54 coming from coastguards and other sources.
Time pressures, and a lack of confidence and experience on the
part of surveyors, contributed to the small number of significant
breaches reported by surveyors.
The Agency told our predecessor Committee that they had changed
their approach to training and that surveyors would be trained
in enforcement procedures where necessary. The Agency pledged
that within a relatively short period their surveyors would have
sufficient competence to take cases all the way through to prosecution
and that they would prosecute where it was necessary to do so.
41. The decision to prosecute or not depends on whether
prosecution would be in the public interest, the seriousness of
the offence and the likelihood of success. In 13 cases investigated
in 1999-2000, the Agency issued official warnings after deciding
that it was not in the public interest to prosecute.
Asked why people who place lives at risk were not prosecuted,
the Agency told our predecessor Committee that their enforcement
branch was only established in 1998. They looked at the causes
of each incident, and where loss of life was concerned they would
be very much involved. On British ships the Marine Accident Investigation
Branch of the Department had priority to attend and investigate
such incidents but if there was an issue the Agency would act.
Factual accuracy of information is essential for a case to stand
up in court. Without evidence there was no chance of a successful
prosecution. For many of the 58 reported breaches there might
have been insufficient evidence, for example, where someone reports
a pollution incident and the ship has discharged.
42. The Agency achieved convictions in all eight
cases taken to court in 1999-2000. The levels of fines for offences
are set out in maritime legislation. In the eight successful prosecutions
in 1999-2000, fines ranged from £1,500 to £25,000.
The Agency acknowledged that the financial penalties were not
necessarily adequate for the incidents that occur. The Department
was reviewing the financial penalties and the Agency expected
that changes would be made.
43. In the majority of cases, the Agency prosecute
ships' officers rather than the owners of vessels. The Agency
preferred to prosecute the owner where the owner was at fault,
but they could not always locate owners living abroad.
Our predecessor Committee asked whether regulations could be introduced
requiring the ownership of a vessel entering UK waters to be recorded
in the vessel's papers, and whether the Agency could seize the
vessel in part payment of the fine. The Agency thought this could
be considered but that international maritime law probably prohibited
it. The idea could be raised with the International Maritime Organization
but would be dependent on sufficient support from the membership
of that organisation.
44. The Agency can deter unsafe shipping by publicising
the results of their work, particularly their prosecutions and
detentions of vessels. They publicise all prosecutions of UK and
foreign vessels. Whilst they publicise all detentions of foreign
vessels, however, only some detentions of UK vessels are publicised.
The Agency confirmed that they would publicise all detentions
45. Around 70 per cent of the Agency's surveys and
inspections identify deficiencies, many of which are rectified
while the surveyor is still on board. The Agency set a time limit
for putting right the other deficiencies and rely on the vessels'
masters or operators to confirm in writing that this has been
done. However, the National Audit Office found that the Agency
had not verified that deficiencies had been rectified in 17 out
of a sample of 29 cases.
The Agency said that, in future, surveyors would ensure that vessels
were either re-visited if it was a serious offence, or would obtain
written confirmation that deficiencies had been put right.
46. The Agency do not prosecute many owners of vessels
for significant breaches of maritime legislation, partly because
they cannot always locate owners that live abroad. The Agency
should consider, with the Department, whether there would be merit
in raising through the International Maritime Organization the
case for the names of owners to be recorded in the vessels' papers,
and for oversight bodies such as the Agency in the UK to have
the power to seize vessels in the event of significant breaches
where owners live abroad and cannot be brought to court.
47. Although the Agency publish the details of all
foreign vessel detentions, they publicise only a small proportion
of UK vessel detentions. The Agency should, as a matter of policy,
publicise all detentions, to deter operators and owners of sub-standard
vessels. They should pursue all deficiencies found on UK vessels,
either by re-visiting the vessels or by obtaining written confirmation
that deficiencies have been rectified.
1 C&AG's Report, Ship Surveys and Inspections
(HC 338, Session 2000-01) Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.8 Back
ibid, paras 2.21, 2.32 Back
Ev, Appendix 1, pp 19, 28-29 Back
C&AG's Report, para 1.2 Back
Qs 29-30 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 8, 2.35 and Figure 15 Back
Qs 26-27 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.39 Back
Qs 19, 72 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 2.10, 2.12-2.13 Back
Qs 1, 25 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 2.40, 2.42 Back
Qs 21, 120-121 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.19; Q8 Back
Qs 31-33 Back
Qs 85-90; Ev, Appendix 1, pp 18-19 Back
C&AG's Report, Figures 1 and 2 and paras 1.6 and 3.18 Back
Qs 14 , 46-48, 51 Back
C&AG's Report, Figure 10 and para 2.15 Back
Ev, Appendix 3, p30 Back
Qs 15, 69, 71 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.5 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 10, 2.43-2.47 Back
Qs 35-38, 76-78 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 1.9, 1.12 Back
Qs 52-53; Ev, Appendix 3, p30 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.3 Back
Qs 4-5, 56 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 2.26-2.29, 4.26 Back
Qs 58, 63-65 Back
C&AG's Report, para 3.7, 3.9 Back
Qs 122, 127, 132 Back
Qs 6, 8-9 Back
C&AG's Report, para 3.16 Back
ibid, para 2.31 Back
Qs 115-119, 160-161; Ev, Appendix 1 Back
C&AG's Report, para 13 Back
Qs 40-42 Back
Qs 16-17 Back
C&AG's Report, para 2.50 Back
Q18; Ev, Appendix 2, p30 Back
C&AG's Report, para 3.13 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 3.20-3.21, 3.32; C&AG's Report, Ship
Safety (HC 186, Session 1991-92) Back
Qs 60, 68 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 4.2, 4.5, 4.7, 4.9 and Figure 22 Back
Qs 10, 152-155 Back
C&AG's Report, para 4.6 Back
Qs 150-151 Back
C&AG's Report, para 4.10 and Figure 23 Back
Qs 105-108, 156-159 Back
C&AG's Report, para 4.11; Q162 Back
Qs 163-165 Back
C&AG's Report, paras 4.20-4.21 Back
Qs 67, 139-140 Back
C&AG's Report, para 4.19 Back