I write today on a subject which has always been near to my core beliefs, and as the subject is ‘Life and Safety at Sea’, it should also stand high in the priorities of the Regulating Authorities, and Parliament, as the ultimate arbiters of Safety as regards the crew and shipping serving the needs of the United Kingdom.
I refer to the numbers of inspections by Competent Inspectors throughout the United Kingdom as noted in the online publication ‘Officer of the Watch’ with a total of 197 Cargo ships inspected, along with 166 bulk carriers; and a total of 14 detentions in the year 2015. I would also ask you to compare these totals with, say Australia, where 6030 bulk carriers and 491 general cargo ships were inspected; where the Detention numbers reported were 241. Gazing objectively at the relative paucity of inspections within the UK, an Island Kingdom which depends almost entirely upon sea freight, as compared to the rigorous Inspection regimes of Australia, we are not just paddling to stay in the same place, we have been caught by the currents of cost-cutting, of so-called austerity, of simply not bothering; in the faint hope that someone else will do our job for us, and protect sailors from criminal acts of neglect and, at worst, death.
We are an Island Nation, with a proud tradition with the sea, and one of the things which stick in my memory of my time in the British Merchant Navy was the resolute requirement that everything to do with Safety at Sea was scrupulously attended to. Every ship I sailed on, every Saturday morning, all equipment with any potential at all regarding safety was either tested, used, operated, sounded or started. Everyone took part, everyone knew how to use all the safety and fire equipment, because we knew that lives might depend on it; and so it was done. We owe it to the seafarers on board every ship which touches our ports and shores that a thorough and sound Safety inspection completed without fear or favour is carried out by Competent Inspectors, of a sufficient number and calibre which should catch any vessels and operators who attempt to evade their responsibilities to the crew, either by substandard living conditions, or by a lack of either provision of safety equipment; or of maintenance & repair of that essential equipment.
Calls for stronger actions, such as those emanating from the Reverend Roger Stone from seafarers’ charity Apostleship of the Sea (AoS); should be both made required reading, as well as featuring in stricter and stronger criminal penalties, instead of the weak-kneed civil strictures in place today.