Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)



  20. Are you talking about foreign vessels?
  (Mr Storey) I am talking about foreign vessels, yes.

  21. I did not ask you about foreign vessels, I asked you, or meant to ask you, about UK vessels.
  (Mr Storey) The UK vessels, most of the UK owners because they are registered ships, we know fairly well and we use our ability and our knowledge, as stated, in the form to look at UK vessels but since this report has been effected we are looking at putting a similar system in place to that of the foreign vessels.

  22. So it could be argued at the present time that you go for the soft option to keep to your targets?
  (Mr Storey) No, I would disagree. We do not go for the soft option. I think if you look at the track record of the UK vessels that we inspect, I think they are sure to be one of the safest groups of vessels in the world.

  23. That was not the question, with great respect. I am not arguing about that, I am arguing the fact that it appears from the report and the statistics we get in the report that, in fact, the high risk vessels are not necessarily the ones that are inspected. You tend to go for the soft option. I am not arguing whether you are the best in the world or not the best in the world, that is not something I am arguing about. What I am saying is you tend to go for the soft option rather than the riskier vessels.
  (Mr Storey) No, we do not. I think we assess the risk—

  24. That is what the report says.
  (Mr Storey) We assess the risk by the knowledge that we have and we take our targeting factor on that basis.

  25. Go to figure 7 and figure 8. If you have a look at the target percentage of the larger vessels or the riskier vessels and then you also go to the surveyor's view of the number of inspections of different types of vessels, the information that seems to come from there is that you go for the soft option and, for example, the Class V passenger vessels, according to your own surveyors do not get inspected enough, fishing vessels not inspected enough and cargo ships not inspected enough, all regarded as the high risk ones rather than the soft option ones.
  (Mr Storey) As I said earlier, I have indicated that as far as the risk assessment of the vessels is concerned, the risk assessment was not as good as it should have been. As I indicated earlier, we have followed the risk assessment proposals based on the NAO report and that is in effect in place for this coming financial year. The risk assessment will be done on that risk assessment basis.

  26. You mentioned about the foreign ships visiting the UK ports as well. You seemed to be arguing that you were looking at high risk vessels there. The report again seems to indicate that you are accepting the less risk vessels, the foreign vessels that are coming into the ports, rather than the high risk vessels.
  (Mr Storey) I am not saying that we are inspecting just the easy ones. We take a cross-section. There are a number of high risk inspections which have been carried out. It may not be considered to be a high enough risk and we will be looking at that. It depends, of course, on the vessels that are coming to the UK, which ones they are and what their target factors are on the Paris MoU database.

  27. The report clearly says that very few high risk ships are actually inspected. Now when I read the report I thought to myself "Well, what is the point of inspecting the low risk vessels under foreign ownership?" There does not seem to be any point at all.
  (Mr Storey) It depends if the vessels that are visiting the UK are high risk vessels. It depends on the number of points and we must go on to the database. Once the ship has come into the UK and we know about it, we then go into the database and then get the information and make our selection on that basis.

  28. Right. I have got to be quite honest with you, I read this report and it appeared to be quite good but then you look very closely, and the performance does not look to be all that good at all because really although you are meeting your targets in terms of inspections, it appeared to me when I read this report as a layman that the depth of the inspections was not good enough. Okay, you were meeting targets and getting enough inspections in but you actually were not inspecting the right ones. That is the impression I got from this report. I could be reading this report totally wrongly.
  (Mr Storey) I think we do try and inspect a good cross section of vessels and I think the number we have inspected and the outputs from those has indicated we have had a fair crack at it. It may not be perfect but I think we have given it a fair crack.

  29. It said in the report, and I cannot remember exactly where, I did not write it down, the aim was to drive out of our ports substandard ships and their particular owners. You are not really achieving that aim, are you?
  (Mr Storey) I think we have.

  30. Are you?
  (Mr Storey) I think we have seen over the last two or three years a great reduction in the number of very poor quality ships that call at these shores. The Paris MOU will confirm that it would appear that a number of these vessels have gone to elsewhere in the world. I think we have driven the bad quality ships away.

  31. Let us move on to something slightly different. Why is it that—again I read in the report—only 39 per cent of inspections on the passenger fleet were unannounced? In other words, 61 per cent of inspections are pre-arranged. Does that not give, again, a sort of distorted result of the state of the ships and perhaps a false impression of the performance that you are achieving?
  (Mr Storey) We are talking about Class V passenger vessels, of course, with those particular figures. Some of the inspections were carried out during the annual survey and you do not necessarily inspect the same space as you carry out when you are doing an actual survey. 39 per cent of the unannounced ones was probably a lower figure than we would have liked. As I say, this year we will be carrying out unannounced inspections on 100 per cent of Class V vessels.

  32. That sounds all right. I was an ex headmaster and I know when, for example, I was told there was going to be an inspection from inspectors it was so much easier than walking in at nine o'clock one morning and finding inspectors waiting for them. A very different sort of inspection then takes place. My inspections were not life and death, sometimes I might have thought they were but they certainly were not. You are giving us a guarantee here this afternoon, are you, that the unannounced inspections are going to rise to 100 per cent?
  (Mr Storey) On Class V vessels, yes.

  33. What about the other ones then?
  (Mr Storey) We are following the procedures as indicated in the report by the NAO and we are adapting our inspections on the basis of risk analysis of the risks of those particular vessels. In actual fact, if you look at the true risk of a Class V you would not necessarily carry out 100 per cent inspections on a Class V if you look at the pure risk but because of the MARCHIONESS issue and the current issue on this it is necessary to do so.

  34. What about the larger fishing boats?
  (Mr Storey) The larger fishing boats, I think the percentage that we pick is a reasonable percentage of the large fishing boats and, of course, they come under the survey regime whereas the small fishing boats only come under an inspection regime until 1 April.

  35. I am trying to give you a rough time, you realise that, do you not. Again, reading the report, you only appear to go to certain ports, do you not, whilst other ports do not get inspections at all? I also read you do not work at weekends, the inspectors do not work at weekends. I worked out that if you were a clever captain, a master, you could go to a port at a weekend and there would be no hope of you ever being inspected, is that right?
  (Mr Storey) It is certainly not correct.

  36. Right.
  (Mr Storey) Having been in the marine industry all my life one of the worst things you can do is go to a port at a weekend because what happens is you pay double the price for the labour to discharge a ship so it is not in your interest to do that.

  37. If you have a dodgy ship it is.
  (Mr Storey) Some schedules dictate when you arrive and, of course, we do inspect at the weekend and again the inspection of the foreign ships is based upon the data in the Paris MOU database. If we see a bad ship and it comes in at the weekend we will tackle that ship without any problem.

  38. You have not got a strict policy not to work at weekends and you will go to a port that you do not normally go to?
  (Mr Storey) That is correct. We will go to any port and work at any time 24 hours a day, seven days a week if it warrants it.

  39. The National Audit Office make a number of recommendations at the very beginning of the report and then when I got to the end of the report I noticed the PAC, which I was not a member of in 1992, made certain recommendations at that particular time. Still today some of those 1992 recommendations have not been implemented. What guarantee have we got that the recommendations that the PAC will make and the National Audit Office are making, and we may make at the end of the day, you will adhere to and bring them in?
  (Mr Storey) I would hope that this Committee appreciates the effort that I personally would put in to achieving this. I was before this Committee after I had been in post six weeks on the UK Coastguard Agency and I have kept the Committee, through the Chairman, appraised of the progress we have made on a regular basis of all the issues that the Committee raised. I would intend to do exactly that with this hearing today. When we get your report we will produce a list, as we did with the Coastguard, and we will update it regularly showing you the progress that has been made on the recommendations.


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