Select Committee on Public Accounts Nineteenth Report


NINETEENTH REPORT


The Committee of Public Accounts has agreed to the following Report:

SHIP SURVEYS AND INSPECTIONS

INTRODUCTION AND LIST OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

1. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (the Agency), an executive agency of the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (formerly the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions) (the Department), are responsible for developing, promoting and enforcing high standards of marine safety in the UK. The Agency's responsibilities include surveying and inspecting UK-registered vessels and inspecting foreign vessels visiting UK ports. Surveys are carried out when vessels are built or transfer to the UK register, and periodically thereafter when safety certificates expire. Inspections are spot checks on particular vessels and are selective in the safety aspects that they cover.

2. British-registered vessels have one of the best safety records in the world. Very few vessels have been lost from the fleet in the last ten years and deaths have been rare, except in the fishing industry. The number of accidents involving UK vessels has also fallen over the last 10 years. However, accidents do still arise, while sea fishing remains one of the UK's most dangerous occupations. There is therefore no room for complacency with regard to ship safety.

3. On the basis of a Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General,[1] our predecessor Committee took evidence from the Agency about the targeting and effectiveness of their surveys and inspections, and the enforcement of safety standards where there are breaches of maritime legislation or where deficiencies are found. Three main conclusions and recommendations emerge.

  • The Agency need to focus more of their work on the riskiest vessels. In 1999-2000 half of the Agency's foreign vessel inspections were of no more than low priority vessels and a quarter of UK vessel inspections identified no deficiencies. In determining future inspection programmes, the Agency should increase their use of soundly based risk assessment systems, particularly for UK vessels, and consider whether fewer, more in-depth inspections of higher risk vessels would enable the Agency to meet their objectives more effectively.

  • The Agency should give more attention to the human aspects of ship safety. The majority of shipping accidents are caused by or involve an element of human error rather than, for example, mechanical or design fault. Currently, however, the Agency's inspections give limited attention to the safe operation and management of vessels, and focus more on engineering and equipment issues. The Agency should pursue as a matter of priority their plans to introduce inspections of safety management across a range of vessels. The Department should establish a comprehensive whistle blowing facility whereby deficiencies could be reported, for example by those on vessels, without fear of reprisal or disciplinary action.

  • The Agency should take firmer action to uncover and pursue significant breaches of maritime legislation. Of the 58 reports of significant breaches in 1999-2000, only 4 arose from the Agency's 5,500 inspections. We are surprised by this, and it raises doubts about the effectiveness of the ship inspections. Eight cases were taken to court in 1999-2000, and the Agency cited lack of evidence as a probable reason why other reported breaches were not substantiated. The Agency should review the effectiveness of their training procedures in providing surveyors with the confidence and skills to facilitate and undertake enforcement procedures where significant breaches arise. In particular, they should determine whether training programmes coupled with more risk focussed inspections increase the number of significant breaches identified and successfully pursued from the inspection programme.

4. Other important conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

On targeting inspections on the riskiest vessels

  (i)  Over 60% of Class V (small) passenger vessels did not receive an unannounced inspection by the Agency in 1999-2000. The Agency should undertake more unannounced inspections to increase the likelihood of identifying deficiencies, and hence to enhance the safety of such vessels. (paragraph 19)

  (ii)  Sea fishing is one of the UK's most dangerous occupations with the safety record of fishing vessels a continuing concern. The Agency should evaluate the effectiveness of their current actions to increase awareness of the hazards, and of available safety measures, amongst those working in the industry, and their impact on the overall safety record. This evaluation should inform their future strategy on inspections. (paragraph 20)

  (iii)  Currently the issue of a fishing licence by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is not dependent on the vessel having a current survey certificate issued by the Agency. To ensure owners of all large vessels submit them for survey the Agency should work with DEFRA to put in place such a link for the future. (paragraph 21)

  (iv)  There is a risk that operators of unsafe vessels might minimise their risk of inspection by visiting remote ports and/or coming into port at the weekend. The Agency should review their current working practices and increase inspections at remote ports and at weekends where justified by an informed assessment of risk. (paragraph 22)

On improving the effectiveness of surveys and inspections

  (v)  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. (paragraph 33)

  (vi)  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. (paragraph 34)

  (vii)  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. (paragraph 35)

  (viii)  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. (paragraph 36)

  (ix)  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. (paragraph 37)

  (x)  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. (paragraph 38)

  (xi)  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. (paragraph 39)

On acting on the results of surveys and inspections

  (xii)  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. (paragraph 46)

  (xiii)  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. (paragraph 47)

TARGETING INSPECTIONS ON THE RISKIEST VESSELS

5. The Agency inspects vessels to ensure that they are being operated safely and to provide a credible deterrent to operators who might consider using unsafe ships in UK waters.[2] However, there are almost 13,000 vessels on the UK register, while some 7,000 foreign vessels visit UK ports each year. The Agency need therefore to focus their inspections on those vessels that represent the greatest risk to safety.

Foreign vessels

6. Under an EU Directive and the Paris Memorandum of Understanding, the Agency are required to inspect 25 per cent of the foreign vessels that visit UK ports. The Agency's own inspection target for 1999-2000 was 27.5 per cent of foreign vessels. In selecting foreign vessels for inspection, surveyors use an international system that allocates a risk score or "target factor" to vessels which use ports outside their country of registration, the latter being a key factor in determining the risk score.[3] At our predecessor Committee's request, the Agency provided a list of countries whose registers include a significant number of high risk vessels.[4]

7. The Agency work with maritime authorities in other European states and Canada to co-ordinate their inspections of foreign vessels with the aim of driving out sub-standard ships and owners.[5] They said that the reduction in the number of poor quality foreign vessels calling at UK ports over the last two to three years suggested this aim had been achieved.[6]

8. Nonetheless, in 1999-2000, only four per cent of the Agency's inspections were of high priority foreign vessels whilst over half were of nil or low priority foreign vessels.[7] The Agency said that their ability to inspect high risk foreign vessels depended on which vessels were coming to the UK. However, they recognised that they might not be inspecting enough high risk vessels and would be looking into this.[8]

9. Five of the 13 Agency surveyors interviewed by the National Audit Office stated that they sometimes selected foreign vessels for inspection simply to meet their marine offices' targets.[9] The Agency said that surveyors should not be looking for the easy vessels to inspect. They were disappointed that this had happened and promised that action would be taken to rectify the situation. The new scoring system under the Paris Memorandum of Understanding meant that in future an inspection of a good quality foreign vessel would contribute less towards a country's inspection target than an inspection of a poor quality one.[10]

UK Vessels

10. The Agency agree with the Department's annual targets for inspections of different categories of UK vessels. In 1999-2000, the targets totalled some 3,250 vessels, equivalent to 30 per cent of the UK fleet. The targets reflected the Agency's views about risks as well as the resources available. However, the Comptroller & Auditor General's Report found no strong or consistent relationship between inspection activity for each vessel category and risk levels measured by vessels' accident and death rates. Nor did the Agency set out other factors, such as public expectations, in establishing these targets.[11] The Agency acknowledged that their approach to setting inspection targets was not as good as it should have been, although they had now applied the risk analysis approach set out in the Comptroller & Auditor General's Report to determine their inspection targets for 2001-02.[12]

11. Unlike foreign vessels the Agency do not have a scoring system for selecting UK vessels for inspection. Instead, surveyors use their own knowledge of vessels and the vessels' owners. A quarter of UK vessel inspections identify no deficiencies. A National Audit Office survey suggested 29 per cent of ships' officers considered that the Agency did not target the right UK ships for inspection.[13] To help target UK vessels, the Agency were looking at putting in place a system similar to that used for selecting foreign vessels.[14]

Small passenger vessels

12. In 1999-2000, the Agency carried out unannounced inspections of only 233 (39 per cent) of the Class V (small) passenger vessels in the UK, which include passenger vessels on the Thames.[15] The Agency said that the number of unannounced inspections was probably fewer than they would have liked and that they would be carrying out unannounced inspections of all Class V vessels in 2001-02. They noted that the attention given to Class V vessels was in response to the Marchioness tragedy and subsequent public inquiries, rather than because of the inherent risk associated with such vessels.[16]

Ferries

13. The Agency said that they carried out unannounced inspections of a selection of ferries on a regular basis. Each ferry also has an annual refit and survey to ensure that standards are met before they are put back into service. In addition, improvements identified after the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster in 1987 had been implemented on all UK ferries. Some, but not all, of the changes had also been made on foreign ferries operating to and from UK ports. However, since then, the Stockholm Agreement of 1996 had introduced higher standards for all roll-on roll-off ("ro-ro") ferries operating on international routes to and from ports in north-western Europe. Ferries were going through a modification programme to meet these higher safety requirements. Starting with the riskiest, work on ferries had to be completed by specific dates between 1998 and October 2002. The Agency monitored compliance of both UK and foreign ferries, and had encountered no significant difficulties so far. A list of compliant and non-compliant ferries was published every year. A new list would be published shortly and the Agency offered to provide the Committee with a copy.[17]

Fishing vessels

14. Fishing vessels account for most of the deaths and accidents involving UK vessels.[18] The Agency acknowledged that the safety record of the industry was probably the worst of the UK fleet, and said that they were doing their utmost to improve fishing vessel safety. The Agency were concerned that safety messages, and rules and regulations, were not being recognised by the industry. They therefore publish articles on safety in the most widely read newspaper in the fishing industry, and meet the fishermen's federations twice a year. In addition, during 2001-02 they would be overhauling and bringing up-to-date the rules for fishing vessels between 12 metres and 24 metres in length, which were last updated in 1975.[19]

15. In 1999-2000, the Agency carried out 602 inspections of large fishing vessels, compared with a target of 600, and inspected 892 small fishing vessels compared with a target of 1,000. The Agency had missed the latter target because of delays in training their coastguard sector managers to inspect vessels' safety equipment.[20] They accepted that fishing vessels were probably under-inspected given the level of risk involved. The Agency had tried to increase their inspection coverage, particularly of under-12 metre fishing vessels. Now training of coastguard sector managers was completed, they had increased inspections of these vessels in 2000-01. In determining their inspection targets for 2001-02, the Agency had used the risk-based approach recommended in the Comptroller & Auditor General's Report and set a target of 1,400 inspections of small fishing vessels. Although this was less than the 1,691 vessels inspected in 2000-01, the Agency would be devoting more resources to these inspections and more direct inspection time would be spent on each vessel.[21]

16. Asked about the safety of Spanish-owned but UK-registered fishing vessels, the Agency said that they inspected these vessels when they had the opportunity. However the vessels travelled back to Spain after fishing, thereby avoiding a UK inspection. This had caused the Agency some concern. The Agency were now working with the Spanish authorities to set up a system for inspecting these vessels in Spain.[22]

17. While the Agency issue survey certificates to fishing vessels over 12 metres in length, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are responsible for issuing fishing licenses.[23] The Agency had raised with the Department the scope for making fishing licenses dependent upon safety certification by the Agency. Primary legislation would be required.[24]

All vessels

18. In carrying out their inspections, surveyors visit some 185 ports and other locations around the country. However, some ports receive disproportionately high inspection coverage while others are seldom visited, despite their handling large volumes of traffic. Surveyors also rarely inspect vessels at weekends, even though the shipping and fishing industries operate seven days a week. Owners of unsafe vessels could minimise the chance of their vessels being inspected by using remote ports and by timing arrivals and departures at weekends.[25] The Agency said that vessels at some ports, such as Ramsgate and Harwich, were seldom inspected. At Harwich, for example, the record of ships using the port was good, and they were known regular traders. If a risky vessel was coming into the port at Harwich or Ramsgate, it would be inspected. The Agency also said that it was not in operators' interests to enter a port at a weekend, because they had to pay twice as much for the labour to handle their vessels as they do during the week. Nevertheless, the Agency undertook inspections at weekends and, with a surveyor on call in every area at all times, they would go to any port at any time to carry out an inspection if warranted.[26]

Conclusions

19. Over 60% of Class V (small) passenger vessels did not receive an unannounced inspection by the Agency in 1999-2000. The Agency should undertake more unannounced inspections to increase the likelihood of identifying deficiencies, and hence to enhance the safety of such vessels.

20. Sea fishing is one of the UK's most dangerous occupations with the safety record of fishing vessels a continuing concern. The Agency should evaluate the effectiveness of their current actions to increase awareness of the hazards, and of available safety measures, amongst those working in the industry, and their impact on the overall safety record. This evaluation should inform their future strategy on inspections.

21. Currently the issue of a fishing licence by DEFRA is not dependent on the vessel having a current survey certificate issued by the Agency. To ensure owners of all large vessels submit them for survey the Agency should work with DEFRA to put in place such a link for the future.

22. There is a risk that operators of unsafe vessels might minimise their risk of inspection by visiting remote ports and/or coming into port at the weekend. The Agency should review their current working practices and increase inspections at remote ports and at weekends where justified by an informed assessment of risk.

IMPROVING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF SURVEYS AND INSPECTIONS

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.[27] 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 become surveyors.[28]

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.[29] 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.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32]

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.[33] 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.[34]

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 surveys.[35] However, they do not know how many inspections check on the human aspects of ship safety because such information is not recorded.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40]

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.[41] 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.[42] 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.[43] 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.[44] 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.[45]

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.[46] 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.[47]

Conclusions

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.

ACTING ON THE RESULTS OF SURVEYS AND INSPECTIONS

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.[48] 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.[49]

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.[50] 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.[51]

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.[52] 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.[53]

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.[54] 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.[55]

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.[56] The Agency confirmed that they would publicise all detentions in future.[57]

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.[58] 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.[59]

Conclusions

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

2   C&AG's Report, para 2.8 Back

3   ibid, paras 2.21, 2.32  Back

4   Ev, Appendix 1, pp 19, 28-29 Back

5   C&AG's Report, para 1.2 Back

6   Qs 29-30 Back

7   C&AG's Report, paras 8, 2.35 and Figure 15 Back

8   Qs 26-27 Back

9   C&AG's Report, para 2.39 Back

10   Qs 19, 72 Back

11   C&AG's Report, paras 2.10, 2.12-2.13 Back

12   Qs 1, 25 Back

13   C&AG's Report, paras 2.40, 2.42 Back

14   Qs 21, 120-121 Back

15   C&AG's Report, para 2.19; Q8 Back

16   Qs 31-33 Back

17   Qs 85-90; Ev, Appendix 1, pp 18-19 Back

18   C&AG's Report, Figures 1 and 2 and paras 1.6 and 3.18 Back

19   Qs 14 , 46-48, 51 Back

20   C&AG's Report, Figure 10 and para 2.15 Back

21   Ev, Appendix 3, p30 Back

22   Qs 15, 69, 71 Back

23   C&AG's Report, para 2.5 Back

24   Q59 Back

25   C&AG's Report, paras 10, 2.43-2.47 Back

26   Qs 35-38, 76-78 Back

27   C&AG's Report, paras 1.9, 1.12 Back

28   Qs 52-53; Ev, Appendix 3, p30 Back

29   C&AG's Report, para 2.3 Back

30   Qs 4-5, 56 Back

31   C&AG's Report, paras 2.26-2.29, 4.26 Back

32   Qs 58, 63-65 Back

33   C&AG's Report, para 3.7, 3.9  Back

34   Qs 122, 127, 132 Back

35   Qs 6, 8-9 Back

36   C&AG's Report, para 3.16 Back

37   ibid, para 2.31 Back

38   Qs 115-119, 160-161; Ev, Appendix 1 Back

39   C&AG's Report, para 13 Back

40   Qs 40-42 Back

41   Qs 16-17 Back

42   C&AG's Report, para 2.50 Back

43   Q18; Ev, Appendix 2, p30 Back

44   C&AG's Report, para 3.13 Back

45   Q57 Back

46   C&AG's Report, paras 3.20-3.21, 3.32; C&AG's Report, Ship Safety (HC 186, Session 1991-92)  Back

47   Qs 60, 68  Back

48   C&AG's Report, paras 4.2, 4.5, 4.7, 4.9 and Figure 22 Back

49   Qs 10, 152-155 Back

50   C&AG's Report, para 4.6 Back

51   Qs 150-151 Back

52   C&AG's Report, para 4.10 and Figure 23  Back

53   Qs 105-108, 156-159 Back

54   C&AG's Report, para 4.11; Q162 Back

55   Qs 163-165 Back

56   C&AG's Report, paras 4.20-4.21 Back

57   Qs 67, 139-140 Back

58   C&AG's Report, para 4.19 Back

59   Q12 Back


 
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