Select Committee on European Communities Twelfth Report


Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Viscount Goschen, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport

12395/96 - Draft Directive on the registration of persons sailing on passenger ships

  The above proposal was considered by the Committee at its meeting yesterday, following earlier scrutiny by Sub-Committee B. As well as your Explanatory Memorandum of 21 January, the Sub-Committee considered written evidence on the proposal from the Chamber of Shipping, the British Ports' Association, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), the Consumers' Association and the Institute of London Underwriters. The Sub-Committee also saw a copy of a letter provided by the Chamber of Shipping to the Marine Safety Agency setting out the estimated costs to operators.

  As you will see from that evidence, copies of which I attach to this letter, the ferry operators and the ports are strongly opposed to the Commission's proposal that operators should be required to compile detailed passenger lists for all journeys of more than 20 miles (Article 6 of the draft Directive). They argue that this requirement would offer little or no safety benefit but would add considerably to the costs borne by operators and by ports, while also increasing delays for passengers. Article 6 is also opposed by the underwriters. The RMT and the Consumers' Association, on the other hand, support the Commission proposal, which they believe would assist in mounting sea rescues.

  The Committee recognises that passenger lists would enable members of the public to find out whether their relatives had been involved in an accident, a consideration of greater importance for transport at sea and in the air, where bodies may be lost entirely, than on land. We do not believe, however, that this justifies imposing very considerable costs on the industry when there is no convincing evidence to suggest that a passenger lists requirement would save lives. We can foresee circumstances in which some useful information - most importantly, a list of names - could be obtained on-shore at reasonable cost, for example by utilising the machine-readable characteristics of Community passports or by employing video equipment capable of recording vehicle licence numbers, and we would be interested to know whether your Department is undertaking any research into the practicality of such measures and the potential scope of their application to passenger ships operating from British ports. We would also be interested to know what such research the Commission is undertaking.

  Nevertheless, until we see convincing evidence that the compilation of passenger lists is necessary and would not impose disproportionate costs, we would be prepared to support Community legislation in this area only to the extent that it involves translating the provisions of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) into Community law. We would therefore urge the Government to pursue vigorously in forthcoming negotiations the position outlined in your Explanatory Memorandum. This letter lifts the scrutiny reserve, but I would be grateful if you would keep me informed of progress.

5 March 1997

Memorandum by the British Ports Association

  1. The British Ports Association represents 80 United Kingdom port authorities located throughout the country. Amongst its membership are included all the main cross-Channel ferry ports. The terms of the Directive would not only affect these but also a range of ports providing domestic ferry services.

  2. We are very concerned about the effect of certain of the proposals for registration of passengers as set out by the Commission. We should make it clear at the outset that we support the overall intention of the Directive in as much as it increases passenger safety and the capability of the search and rescue services. For example, Articles 5 and 7, which are concerned with passenger numbers and ensuring that these numbers do not exceed a vessel's certified limit, are sensible measures and establish a common approach for all European Union ports.

  3. Although the Directive is based on the SOLAS[7] regulations, it makes some significant additions to them. In particular Article 6 lays down that as from 1 January 1999 passenger details should be available for passenger journeys which go beyond a 20 mile limit. Under SOLAS the requirement is that the vessel should be no further than 20 miles from the nearest land. The Directive in its current form therefore makes a significant difference to the number of vessels which will be affected.

  4. We have three fundamental objections to the application of Article 6. Firstly, we believe that the requirement that a vessel sailed no further than 20 miles from land was sensible and practical and properly related to the operation of search and rescue. The extension that the Commission has offered, introducing the concept of journey length, does not in our opinion increase safety or the chances of rescue following an incident. The critical factor has to be the proximity to land, not voyage length.

  5. Secondly, there is a basic operational difficulty for ferry ports. Ferry traffic combines passengers and vehicles making it extremely difficult to collect information on each passenger in the way proposed by the Directive. Current booking systems are not geared to record such details for every passenger, whether for coaches, other large vehicles or private cars. Our experience in dealing with coach traffic is that numbers can vary greatly from initial booking to the time of actual journey; even if the numbers are the same the individuals involved may have changed. The problem is quite distinct from that faced by the airlines who deal exclusively with foot passengers going through individual security checks and where bookings tend to be made in advance.

  6. Thirdly, the requirements of Article 6 do not improve the safety of passengers. We have already acknowledged the need to know the number of passengers but we do not understand the need to know details such as age, initials and gender. We believe that the disruption caused would be completely out of proportion to any advantage gained.

  7. We are therefore greatly concerned that the Directive will put an enormous extra burden on ferry ports by creating delay while information is being checked and rechecked. We understand that in Sweden where such a system was recently tried out, it proved impossible to maintain an efficient service and uninterrupted passenger flows. We hope to be able to supply the Committee with further details of this experiment. We also hope to be able to supply information on the costs arising out of the Directive for a significant cross-Channel port.

  8. We agree with the views expressed in the Department of Transport's Memorandum of 21 January 1997. The Memorandum also underlines the problems posed by Article 6 and the lack of justification offered by the Commission. We have been especially concerned that even as active members of the European Sea Ports Organisation, to our knowledge the Commission has at no time consulted that organisation on the effect of the Directive. By contrast the Department of Transport has consulted us and listened carefully to our views. We are also very concerned that the opinion of other Member States takes no account of the opinion of their own port and shipping sectors. In the Department of Transport's Memorandum (paragraph 15), there is the statement that France supports the Commission's proposals. This may be the case for the French government but we know from our contacts with the French ports organisation, UPACCIM, that their objections to the Directive are exactly the same as ours and that they are deeply concerned about its implications.

  9. We hope that these views are of value to the Committee. We shall both nationally and through our European contacts be pressing for an amendment to the Directive whereby Article 6 is not applied to ferry journeys.

Supplementary Memorandum by the British Ports Association

  1. The statement in paragraph 4 of the evidence submitted on 11 February supports the view that passenger details (as set out in Article 6) are acceptable for voyages which go beyond a twenty mile limit from the nearest land. However, it has been pointed out that this is not consistent with the views expressed in paragraph 6, which challenges any need to record such detail on the basis that it would not assist the rescue services and would place a disproportionate burden on the ferry ports. We do not believe, therefore, that Article 6 should be applicable to journeys beyond the 20 mile limit.

  2. The original SOLAS requirements allowed exemptions from providing detailed information if it was impracticable for records to be compiled; the Commission's proposals do not allow for such exemptions and we find this completely unacceptable.

  3. We hope this correction and clarification can be taken into account.

Memorandum by the Chamber of Shipping

  1. It appears that the Commission has taken little account of the views expressed by ship operators and the adjustment of Article 5 to give 30 minutes after departure to collate and communicate the information will be of little benefit to operators. We still foresee major problems in implementing the requirements. Turning to the Directive by clause:

Article 4

  2. This poses no problem unless Article 5 has to be complied with.

Article 5

  3. The retention of a 20 mile limit seems illogical especially as it will bring the Dover Strait into the Directive where the most modern ferries operate under a Vessel Traffic Scheme (VTS) with search and rescue (SAR) facilities close by.

  4. Search and rescue operations operate to standard procedures using unique equipment. We do not believe that they are able to vary either their procedures or the equipment used to respond to a change in passenger mix by either age or gender. We would be pleased to see and comment upon the full safety case which purports to justify this requirement.

  5. Names - Many group operators are not in possession of this information until immediately before departure. When large groups or a large number of individual coaches or groups are carried (say 1,000 passengers) compiling this information will create a major bottleneck.

  6. First name/Initial, Gender, Age - Same objections as above and, truthfully, with even less relevance.

  7. The requirement to produce the information 30 minutes post-departure provides no assistance; it will be the collection of this information that will pose the problem. Further, it is somewhat incongruous that over half the journey on a Dover/Calais sailing will have already been completed before this information is required to be available.

  8. Member States may vary the 20 mile threshold mentioned in Article 5, recognising the particular availability of support, assistance and rescue facilities as well as the normally prevailing weather conditions in any particular trading area. Could this not be applied to the Dover Strait if there is a view that 20 miles from land would be appropriate.

  9. Alternatively, paragraph 1 could be deleted entirely and paragraph 2 could provide the necessary discretion by the deletion of the phrase "in sheltered waters".

  10. Presently cruise ships have full passenger lists for each leg of a voyage. However if they have an excursion, say to beach at an EU location (i.e., where no passengers are to disembark permanently) the vessel assumes that all those who go ashore return. This Directive would require passengers going ashore temporarily to be recorded with the process repeated when they embark again in the evening. This would seriously delay and extend the process without visibly improving the safety of the passengers.

Article 10

  11. Data collection to the required standard must have a very considerable impact on the operation of any high frequency short sea crossing, where port transit time for passengers is normally expected to be achieved in a matter of minutes if the operation is to be successful.


  12. It will be appreciated from the foregoing that the Chamber believes that the imposition of this Directive poses major problems to most operators with no scope to recognise the particular circumstances which may justify an exemption from those parts of the Directive which are inappropriate to any particular operation on a route. For a variety of services, operations will be severely impacted upon for no increase in safety.

Letter from the Chamber of Shipping

  1. The papers that we faxed to you previously summarise our position very succinctly. However, there is one point which needs to be stressed, namely this: The Directive will do nothing per se to improve the safety of passengers on short crossings and it will be bureaucratic. In the unlikely event of an accident the first priority is to evacuate passengers using the ample life-saving equipment provided, using the trained crew on board. The Search and Rescue (SAR) services will need to know the number of passengers and crew on board, and that is already available.

  2. I would add that other UK routes, including some domestic ones in Scotland, will be affected, apart from the Dover routes. Some of the Caledonian MacBrayne services will be included.

  3. The 1995 SOLAS Conference agreed Regulation 24.2. In its Clause 5 it permits administrations to exempt passenger ships if the "scheduled voyages of such ships render it impracticable for them to prepare such records". That is quite reasonable and we would support it as does Her Majesty's Government.

  4. It appears that other countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany may well support the UK stance but to date are not willing, for whatever reason, to say so publicly in Brussels. I have asked our sister organisations in other EU countries to try and get more open support for the UK position.

Mr E J N Brookes

Director (Marine Services)

17 February 1997

Letter from the Consumers' Association

  Consumers' Association (CA), publisher of Which? and other consumer magazines and books, is an independent consumer organisation with around 750,000 members. We have had a long interest in ferry safety and submitted evidence on this subject to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee back in June 1995. We have also contributed to the campaign for safer ferries through regular publication of reports in Which? magazine. CA welcomes the opportunity to contribute further to the debate.

  CA broadly supports the Commission Proposal for a Council Directive on the Registration of Persons Sailing on Passenger Ships. CA considers it to be an acknowledgement of the urgent need to improve search and rescue possibilities. We consider this proposal to be a necessary humanitarian measure which will enable relatives to identify passengers quickly in the event of an accident and also help with practical concerns such as insurance claims after the event. On these grounds alone we support the proposal, but consider further measures are still needed to improve ferry safety.

  CA acknowledges the attempts made by the Commission to ensure that safety checks do not create unnecessary delays for passengers. We would urge the Commission to explore ways in which registration information can be collated in a speedy manner with the least possible disruption to passengers. Opportunities to do this may exist at the time of booking tickets, or at other pre-departure times when passengers are not actually in the process of boarding the ferry.

Philip Cullum

Policy Manager

14 February 1997

Letter from the Institute of London Underwriters

  We are replying on behalf of the British Insurers' International Commission to your letter of 7 February as marine insurers (members of the Institute of London Underwriters) and note the details of the draft Directive on the registration of persons sailing on passenger ships (12395/96). Since insurers' main concern is the safety of ship, passengers and cargo, they endorse the comments of Articles 5 and 7 which seem fundamental and important.

  They feel the details of Article 6 are too exhaustive for short sea ferry voyages and could lead to confusion, delays and possible abuse. It would seem that information as to the need for special care or assistance in an emergency situation is a common sense issue and would normally be made clear at the time of boarding.

  The other articles are primarily of interest to the shipping operators and only become a concern of marine insurers if delays on leaving and arrival in port lead to congestion and confusion of both vessels themselves and their passengers.

A S Nunn

Governmental and International Affairs Adviser

12 February 1997

Letter from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers

  I write with reference to your letter dated 7 February 1997.

  Having considered this matter the Union believes that there is merit in compiling the list as proposed under the European Community Directive. Information on the ages of the passengers on board a vessel would be very useful in the event of an emergency at sea especially if a rescue operation had to be planned. Clearly, if the age profile of the passengers was high, a rescue operation would need to be carefully planned and extra personnel would need to be deployed.

  However the implementation of this Directive will clearly impact upon the ferry operators' turnaround times and the Union would not wish to see shipping companies being forced into a position where the number of trips are reduced.

  The Union would therefore broadly support the application of the Directive but in such a way that does not impact too greatly upon the ferry companies' day-to-day operations.

  I hope this information assists.

Mr James Knapp

General Secretary

13 February 1997

7  Printed in Correspondence with Ministers, 5th Report, Session 1996-97, pp. 20-21. Back

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