Documents considered by the Committee on 23 October 2013 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

10 Safety standards for fishermen



COM(13) 595

Draft Council Decision authorising Member States to sign and/or ratify, the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel, 1995, of the International Maritime Organisation
Legal baseArticles 43(2), 46, 53(1), 62 and 218(6)(a)(v) TFEU; consent; QMV
Document originated20 August 2013
Deposited in Parliament11 September 2013
Basis of considerationEM of 3 October 2013
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussion in CouncilNot known
Committee's assessmentLegally and politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


10.1 The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel, 1995, of the International Maritime Organisation (the STCW(F) Convention) came into force in October 2012. The Convention introduces, for the first time, an international standard for the training and qualifications of fishermen. In brief, the Convention requires that all fishermen:

·  undergo safety training;

·  in a management capacity (skippers, officers, engineer officers and radio operators) in vessels of more than 24 metres in length or with engines of 750 kilowatt propulsion power or more are suitably qualified;

·  must be medically fit; and

·  in vessels of more than 24 metres must have a medical fitness certificate.

10.2 The UK has not ratified the STCW(F) Convention. If the Government decides to ratify, any certificates issued to fishermen under the current UK training system before ratification would automatically become valid under the Convention. The UK could continue to issue certificates under its current training system for a period of up to five years to fishermen who started working at sea before ratification of the Convention.

10.3 Only four Member States, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania and Spain, have ratified the Convention so far. Denmark has made a reservation about whether the Convention should apply to Greenland. Regulation 7 of the annex to the Convention makes clear that administrations which have signed up to the Convention should not recognise certificates issued by an administration that has not signed up.

10.4 The UK currently recognises the training of all Member States, as required by Directive 2005/36/EC. The purpose of this Directive is to encourage the freedom of movement of professional workers within the EU. The Directive:

·  applies to EU nationals with professional qualifications who wish to work in another Member State;

·  covers all professions unless they are covered by separate EU legislation;

·  includes sea fishing as a profession, although it only includes direct references to Germany and the Netherlands;

·  requires Member States to carry out a comparison of the qualifications and relevant experience of such jobseekers against the qualifications required by the host Member State;

·  provides for Member States to impose compensatory measures if they believe that there are substantial differences between the two sets of qualification; and

·  allows for the recognition of professional qualifications issued by third countries.

The document

10.5 This proposed Decision:

·  acknowledges the development of the STCW(F) Convention;

·  encourages Members States to ratify the Convention; and

·  is intended to authorise Member States, in respect of those parts of the Convention in which the EU has exclusive competence, to ratify the Convention.

10.6 The reason given for authorising Members States to ratify the Convention is that the EU asserts exclusive competence over the parts that relate to mutual recognition of certificates issued to those working at sea in fishing vessels, as derived from Directive 2005/36/EC.

10.7 The Commission:

·  supports the adoption of the Convention, believing that its implementation is in the interests of the EU fishing industry, as set out in the Common Fisheries Policy;

·  notes that as fishing is one of the most dangerous professions to work in, internationally agreed standards for training and qualifications will make the industry more attractive by cutting accidents; and

·  notes that the Convention contains elements designed to protect the marine environment, which is an objective of the Common Fisheries Policy.

10.8 The Commission cannot ratify the Convention itself and believes that it is in the best interests of the EU for every Member State to do so. Because of this, the Commission proposal is intended to encourage any Member States that have not ratified the Convention to do so by 31 December, requesting that they also make a reservation acknowledging that EU law relating to the recognition of professional qualifications applies between Member States. Where Member States have already ratified the Convention the proposed Decision would require them to send the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation a statement acknowledging that EU law takes precedent where there is a conflict between Member States.

The Government's view

10.9 The former Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon Burns) says that, although the draft Decision is permissive in nature and therefore would impose no legal obligation on the UK to ratify the Convention, there are two issues about the claimed legal basis which will require further consideration.

10.10 The Minister explains first that:

·  the Commission cites Article 43(2) TFEU as a legal basis;

·  this relates to the establishment of common organisation of agricultural markets provided for in Article 40(1) and the other provisions necessary for the pursuit of the objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy; and

·  whilst the proposed Decision obviously relates to fishing, it is not clear how the provisions of the Convention necessarily fall within this Article.

10.11 On the second point the Minister says that:

·  the Commission has asserted exclusive competence over the recognition of professional qualifications, saying that therefore Member States may not ratify the Convention without EU authorisation;

·  there is no express exclusive competence in the EU Treaties and this assertion is based on the AETR (the European Agreement Concerning the Work of Crews of Vehicles Engaged in International Road Transport) case law of the Court of Justice;

·  the Commission recognises that the EU does not have exclusive competence over all aspects of the Convention and so in proposed Article 1 it is stated that the authority for ratification would be only 'for those parts [of the Convention] falling under the European Union's competence'; and

·  the Government considers that the Commission should identify precisely which parts of the Convention fall under the EU's exclusive competence and that these should be specified in the Decision.

10.12 Turning to subsidiarity the Minister says that:

·  the Convention could provide an international, agreed standard of training, however the minimum standards it sets are at a lower level than those set by the UK;

·  its introduction would not improve standards of safety for fishing vessels operating in UK waters or on board UK fishing vessels operating in international waters;

·  the Commission's view is that the proposal falls under the exclusive competence of the EU and that therefore the subsidiarity principle does not fully apply; and

·  it is the view of the Government that as the objective of the Commission is to improve safety by raising standards of training in EU through the Convention and the standards set by the Convention are in part lower than those of the UK's existing national regulations, accordingly this proposal does not adhere to the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity.

10.13 On the policy implications of the proposal the Minister says that:

·  the Government shares the Commission's desire to improve safety standards;

·  although the Government recognises that the Commission has competence in the mutual recognition of qualifications, the Government does not believe, however, that this gives the Commission competence over the substance of the qualifications;

·  before the Government could support the proposal it would therefore like to seek clarity as to which Articles of the Convention the Commission believes fall within the exclusive competence of the EU and which Treaty provisions and secondary legislation, other than Directive 2005/36/EC, are affected by the Convention;

·  the draft Decision is worded in a permissive way and does not direct Member States to sign up, which implies that the Commission is not claiming competency in the main subject matter of the Convention;

·  the first section of the Commission's explanatory memorandum claims however that the EU, through Directive 2005/36/EC, takes precedence over the Convention;

·  this assertion is made in the context of provision in the Convention which prevents the recognition of certificates issued by States which are not party to the Convention; and

·  the Government would like further explanation as to how this could be applied if some Member States do not sign.

10.14 Turning to the implications more specific to the UK situation the Minister says that:

·  the Convention is an attempt to establish an internationally recognised standard of training for fishermen;

·  fishing is important to the UK — there are over 6,000 fishing vessels on the UK register with over 12,000 fishermen working around its shores;

·  fishing is a dangerous occupation — in 2012, there were 260 accidents involving fishing boats, fifty serious injuries and nine fishermen died;[53]

·  the Government agrees that the Convention is a good idea and intends to ratify it;

·  it has discussed the Convention over a number of years with representatives of the UK fishing industry and the training colleges through its involvement with the Fishing Industry Safety Group (FISG) and directly with the various fishermen's organisations and the sea fish industry is broadly supportive of the Convention;

·  there is concern that the Convention in its present form does not go far enough and unless the UK continues to apply some of the standards of its present training system on top of the Convention it would be lowering their current standards of training and compromising safety on UK fishing vessels;

·  the Government has worked in partnership with industry to develop a ten-year strategy aimed at eliminating preventable deaths which includes enhanced training, and would like to continue to follow this by maintaining the existing higher standards than apply under Convention, while taking the opportunity to work with the International Maritime Organisation to develop the Convention into a robust agreement;

·  if the UK did not ratify the Convention there would be port State control issues for fishing vessels which operate outside of UK territorial waters;

·  most of the UK's fishing catch is exported and larger fishing vessels land catch in foreign ports, particularly South America ¯ if countries where UK ships land fish sign up to the Convention and the UK does not, their port authorities could choose to impose fines on the ship owners or refuse entry to these ships;

·  the Government believes that the UK's current standards of training are an important part of minimising accidents in the marine environment and that it is justified in maintaining them even though it means retaining an element of 'gold-plating';

·  a major difference between the UK's existing training programmes and the standards required by the Convention is that such training applies to all fishermen working as officers in vessels of over 16.5 metres in length;

·  with Convention training standards applying only to those working in fishing vessels of over 24 metres in length, those working on smaller vessels are required to complete only basic safety training;

·  4% of UK fishing vessels are over 24 metres in length and approximately 6% are between 16.5 metres and 24 metres;

·  unless current training standards are maintained, signing the Convention would reduce the number of fishermen requiring formal training in navigation and watchkeeping duties by approximately a half;

·  89% of UK fishing vessels are under 15 metres long and the majority of UK fishermen need basic safety training and are not affected by the changes;

·  the structure of the qualifications in the Convention differs slightly from the current UK Fishing Qualification;

·  the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has been working with the fishing industry to upgrade training requirements to meet their needs and has already begun to align training systems with the Convention requirements; and

·  the most significant change within the Convention is the requirement for all fishermen to be physically fit and for those sailing in vessels of more than 24 metres in length to hold a medical fitness certificate and, additionally, some modifications to UK syllabuses will be required.

10.15 In relation to consultation the Minister tells us that:

·  the Government works in partnership with the fishing industry and training colleges to develop a safety culture and revise training regulations to reflect the current needs of the fishing industry;

·  in particular, it works with the FISG, which exists to encourage the development of safety training and reduce the accident rate within the industry;

·  the FISG includes representatives from the fishing industry, the International Association of Marine Institutes, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Group Training Association and the Sea Fish Industry Association; and

·  the FISG has discussed the Convention and is broadly in favour of its implementation.


10.16 Although we are told that the Government shares the Commission's desire to improve safety standards in the fishing industry, we note what appear to be considerable reservations about the draft Council Decision, at least in its present form. So, before considering this matter again we should like to hear about progress in consideration of:

·  the use of Article 43(2) TFEU as a legal base;

·  identification of which Articles of the Convention the Commission believes fall within the exclusive competence of the EU and which Treaty provisions and secondary legislation, other than Directive 2005/36/EC, are affected by the Convention;

·  the subsidiarity issue the Government identifies;

·  how non-recognition of certificates issued by States which are not party to the Convention would work in relation to a Member State which has not ratified; and

·  any further problematic points that arise in negotiation.

10.17 Meanwhile the document remains under scrutiny.

53   From the UK Sea Fisheries Annual Statistics: Back

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