Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)



  100. Congratulations on your timing of coming here, you have the most up-to-date piece of armour any of our witnesses have brought along.

Mr Griffiths

  101. Good afternoon. I want to follow on the questioning on paragraphs seven and eight on pages two and three because I am very concerned to read in the report that the Agency does not distinguish the riskiest types of vessels within each category. I would have thought that was a high priority for surveyors and inspectors.
  (Mr Storey) I think that, again, as stated, we have for the new financial year that started yesterday adopted a risk based approach to the selection of vessels that are going to be inspected. That is in our business plan, a copy of which I will leave with everyone today. It will show that we are adopting that philosophy from this year.

  102. What I want to know, and what I think the public would want to know, is do they target the rust buckets and how are they targeted so far?
  (Mr Storey) I think we are targeting the rust buckets. The majority of vessels that are rust buckets are certain flagged vessels that are on the Paris MOU database and if those ships come to the UK ports we get it from the database and we target those particular vessels.

  103. From which countries' ports and of which type are those rust buckets likely to be?
  (Mr Storey) There are a number of countries in the database that are named as the bad countries. Dare I say, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and there are a number of others. If you would like to know which are the bad ones we can get you a list.

  104. I think we would appreciate that[6]. What do they carry?

  (Mr Storey) They carry all sorts of commodities. One of the ones in the report shows a Belize registered vessel that was carrying a cargo of timber where the timber moved. We took the owners of that vessel to court because that vessel was totally unseaworthy. It was because we were involved in a Coastguard search and rescue to help when the cargo moved as she was coming into a UK port that we picked on that particular vessel.

  105. What did you think of the fine? Was it 5,000?
  (Mr Storey) The fines are not under my direct jurisdiction, they are under the court's jurisdiction and there is discussion at the moment looking at the fines.

  106. Is that because it strikes you as being on the small side, if not the ludicrously small side?
  (Mr Storey) I think the fines have probably not been adjusted for some years and maybe are due at least an inflation increase, if nothing else, since they were last put in.

  107. I see from table 23 on page 37, which lists the eight prosecutions, that the fines ranged from 1,500 to 25,000, although somebody was jailed if not for drunkenness then endangering ships, structures or individuals. What do you think of the total bill for fines in the past year of 78,000?
  (Mr Storey) It is certainly an improvement on what was in place before because there was nothing in place before.

  108. Terrible, absolutely terrible. What is likely to be the revision? Are you telling us that this is being looked at now by the court authorities?
  (Mr Storey) No, this will be looked at by the Department of Transport, Environment and the Regions and it will be up to them to discuss that situation. For example, the fine for pollution offences was raised from 25,000 to 250,000 last year. I think they will look at the issue and give due consideration accordingly.

  109. You mentioned pollution and I see that the SIRTE STAR discharged a three mile oil slick and was fined 25,000. Is that what it costs to clean up a three mile oil slick?
  (Mr Storey) I would suggest that the slick, as it was off the coast, disappeared in the sea. The figure of 25,000 was the maximum that was in force at that particular time when the ship was taken to court.

  110. Your inspections, how are they generally paid for?
  (Mr Storey) There is no charge for inspections of any ship. We are not permitted to charge for foreign ships coming to the UK. We do, however, have the ability under the Paris MOU to charge for a ship that is detained or has work to do on it if it necessitates a revisit to the vessel.

  111. So you do not get any of the fines?
  (Mr Storey) We get none of the fines that are incurred, no.

  112. So your inspections are really being paid for by the people who are good and have a good record, are they?
  (Mr Storey) Obviously the cost of carrying out the survey to run the organisation— A number of those surveyors do inspection work and if there is no charge for those inspections then obviously the cost must be offset elsewhere.

  113. I notice in recommendation 12 that there is some concern about how officers and crews report safety deficiencies. What deterrents are there to crews reporting safety deficiencies to your officers?
  (Mr Storey) There is always an opportunity for any person reporting, if they so choose to do, if there is a problem. From time to time we do get somebody who does complain on a ship. We are working with the Department and the Department is looking to instal a system very similar to the air traffic system which is a Chirp system which is voluntary reporting to a separate body so that information can be fed in discreetly.

  114. Is there any worry among staff about victimisation among ships' officers and crew, that they might be victimised if they co-operate?
  (Mr Storey) I think in the operation of international shipping today certain crews are without any doubt concerned about their own jobs, especially Third World countries, and they are less likely to make any complaints to any authority anywhere in the world. I say this from an experience of operating ships myself.

  115. I am sure that is right. I think the problems of whistle blowing in any walk of life are difficult, which brings me to my question: why has it taken so long to bring into place a system where crews can report in confidence, in secret?
  (Mr Storey) The UK authorities always had the ability with British people on British ships, by the British unions, to report. Over the years you will find that many British seamen did report various issues but circumstances were such in the past where standards of shipping and the money that was made from shipping was probably a lot better than it is today and there were less issues to complain on. Most of the issues were mainly to do with feeding on board, the quality of the ship, etc., etc., or in some vast cases not the right spare parts supplied, but not always.

  116. I notice the speed with which MAFF and other agencies of the Government got leaflets to airports when this recent foot and mouth crisis hit us. I fail to understand why it takes until January 2002 to get similar leaflets to all ships about the confidentiality you can now offer when reporting safety deficiencies. Please explain.
  (Mr Storey) The system is not set up yet. As I say, the Department is looking at setting that system up and we will follow through with the Department the documentation as necessary.

  117. We are not talking about a bit of paper or a helpline.
  (Mr Storey) We are talking about a bit of paper. They must know where to send it to. I can give them my 24 hour line now and give them information on reporting and we can put that on all British ships now.

  118. That is about eight months off?
  (Mr Storey) Yes.

  119. What other things need to be looked at? Am I under-estimating the complexity of a complaints line?
  (Mr Storey) I am not dealing with this particular issue. The issue is being dealt with by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch of the Department. I will certainly ask and come back to you with the details of the timing on it[7].


6   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 19 (PAC 137). Back

7   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 19 (PAC 137). Back

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