HC Deb 25 June 2002 vol 387 cc193-214WH

11 am

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

This debate is about the safety of ships and mariners at sea, which is a topic that the House has not debated for several years. In particular, my contribution will be about the sinking of the MV Derbyshire in 1980, with the loss of 44 lives, including the wives of two officers. The story of the Derbyshire is incredible, and I can only scratch the surface this morning.

Hon. Members may wonder why on earth a Member who represents an inland constituency should take such an interest in the sea. The truth is that I have been fascinated by the sea all my life. I was born close to it and went to secondary school in the seaside resort of Southport. My fascination with ships began on my many visits with my father to Liverpool in my formative years. I am old enough to remember the joy of riding on the overhead railway, long since demolished, along the dock road, to look at all the mighty ships that sailed the seven seas.

The Derbyshire sank during Typhoon Orchid. No SOS was received: only oil rising to the surface identified that the ship had sunk and located its approximate position at the time. The families heard about the loss mainly through media reports, which made their grief even worse. MV Derbyshire was a single screw ore-bulk-oil combination carrier, one of six sister ships. An OBO is a design of ship that was popular in the mid-1960s, because such ships were adaptable to carrying oil or bulk cargos such as iron ore, which the Derbyshire was carrying from Canada to Japan.

The MV Derbyshire was registered at Liverpool and, at the time, was the largest ship ever built: it was twice the size of the Titanic. In length she measured 294.1 metres and, in extreme breadth, 44.28 metres. If stood on end, the ship was 60 metres taller than Canary Wharf, and had nine holds or tanks and nine hatches. She was built by Swan Hunter on the River Tees, and handed over to Bibby Tankers in Hamburg on 10 June 1976. MV Derbyshire was managed from that point until her loss by Bibby's. She was classed by Lloyd's Register of Shipping in London as a + 100 A1 strengthened for ore cargoes; holds 2 and 6 may be empty or oil cargoes". Since the tragic loss of the MV Derbyshire, bulk carriers have been sinking at a rate of one a month. From the loss of the Derbyshire in 1980 to August 1998, 1,632 seafarers lost their lives in bulk carrier incidents alone. The MV Derbyshire Family Association was established following the loss of the ship and sought to persuade the then Government to investigate its loss and the loss of loved ones. The Government declined, citing the technological difficulties of examining the wreck at a depth of two and a half miles below sea level.

I want to pay tribute to the DFA and its members for their persistence. I have worked with them since my election to Parliament in 1997, and have been impressed by their work. Their primary aim has been to use the loss of the Derbyshire to improve the safety of all those who sail at sea in OBOs. Several right hon. and hon. Members have promoted their cause in this House, and I pay tribute to them. Some of them have been elevated to the other place. My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) has been applying for this debate for several weeks, and last week I promised to give him assistance as a member of the all-party parliamentary group on the MV Derbyshire. Unfortunately, he is away in Strasbourg this week and is devastated that he cannot he with us today.

A draft Government report, published in 1985, concluded that the most likely cause of the loss of the Derbyshire was major cracking of frame 65. However, after consultations with Swan Hunter and Lloyd's Register of Shipping—and perhaps others—the draft report was substantially altered. The final version, published in March 1986, listed five possible causes for the loss: explosion, a shift of cargo, failure of the hatches, external hull damage and structural failure.

With the loss of a sister ship, the Kowloon Bridge, in November 1986, a finger of suspicion was again pointed at frame 65. Consequently, a formal investigation was appointed under Mr. Gerald Darling QC, as wreck commissioner, with three assessors. It considered the loss from October 1987 to March 1988. Its report concluded: For the reasons stated in this Report the Court finds that the Derbyshire was probably overwhelmed by the forces of nature in Typhoon Orchid, possibly after getting beam on to wind and sea, off Okinawa, in darkness on the night of 9/10 September 1980, with the loss of 44 lives. The evidence available does not support any firmer conclusions". The families of those who perished were extremely disappointed at such an inconclusive result, and at the allegations of bad seamanship made in the report. The report cast further suspicions on the design features of the Derbyshire, particularly the strength of frame 65, and it was promoted as a cause of the ship's loss in articles in learned journals, by lecturers and in a book on the sinking of the Derbyshire written by Dave Ramwell and Tim Madge, which was published in 1992. The MV Derbyshire Family Association continued to put pressure on the Government for a full inquiry, with support from the International Transport Workers Federation and the maritime unions. In March 1994, the ITF agreed to back a mission to locate the Derbyshire, raising the money independently of the Government. Its part in the story cannot be over-emphasised. It brought in Oceaneering Technologies, and the wreck was located on 8 June 1994.

In a joint UK-EC assessors' report, Lord Donaldson used the results provided by Oceaneering Technologies and recommended that a joint UK Government-EC investigation be carried out in the interests of international ship safety. The deep submergence laboratory of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of the United States carried out an extensive groundbreaking survey, which at the time was the deepest underwater forensic examination of any wreck. It provided more than 200 hours of video and 135,774 photographs, which located the position of 98 per cent. of the wreckage in 2,500 separate pieces. Through pressure from the MV Derbyshire Family Association, the all-party parliamentary group on the Derbyshire and others, we persuaded the Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), to reopen the formal inquiry under Mr. Justice Colman. The present Government's role in unearthing the truth surrounding the sinking of the Derbyshire cannot be underestimated.

The inquiry was unique in that it took place in the High Court and was presided over by a senior judge. Tribute must be paid to the inquiry team, who worked with all parties involved to arrive at a definitive conclusion on the loss. From evidence of the condition of the wreck and data derived from model tests, which were conducted by MARIN in the Netherlands, strong inferences were drawn about the cause of the loss. Ventilators and air pipes located on the foredeck and leading down to the bosun's store, machinery space and ballast tank were damaged before sinking commenced in such a way as to admit substantial volumes of seawater to those spaces; the hatch covers were damaged by impact from forward before they collapsed into the holds and before they were subjected to bending on a longitudinal axis; the hull girder had not lost its longitudinal integrity at any time until after sinking had commenced; the bosun's store hatch lid did not admit water to the bosun's store until it was destroyed by impact, probably by some part of the starboard windlass; and the starboard windlass broke loose by reason of hydrodynamic loading, probably after some or all of the ventilators and air pipes to the bosun's store and ballast tank and probably the No.1 hatch covers had already been destroyed and had started to admit seawater, thereby reducing the vessel's freeboard and increasing the exposure of the windlass to weld-cracking waves.

The initiating cause of the loss of the vessel appears to have been the destruction of some or all of the ventilators and air pipes that were located on the foredeck, which led down into the boatswain's store, machinery spaces and ballast tank, and the consequent loss of freeboard at the bow due to the gradual flooding of those forward spaces.

Professor Tawn concluded from that data that the flooding of both the stores and the ballast tank—even the stores alone—could have produced sufficient loss of freeboard to expose hatch cover No. 1 to at least one hatch-breaking wave during the typhoon on 9 September 1980. Therefore, hatch cover strength became crucial, not only to the safety of the Derbyshire, but to all similar vessels, many of which are still navigating the oceans today, thus putting hundreds more lives at risk.

The recommendations of the re-hearing of the formal investigation were significant, far-reaching and necessary to protect mariners' lives. Certain issues were highlighted as crucial to the achievement of increased safety at sea—hatch cover strength, permissible freeboard and navigational improvements.

Hatch cover strength applies equally to existing ships as to new ones. However, the problem with existing ships is whether shipowners would consider the fitting of stronger hatch covers to be economically viable. The underlying deck structure may not be strong enough to support heavier covers. That problem could be combated by an increase in either the minimum freeboard level or new covers, or a mixture of both for existing ships, which would allow heightened safety in dangerous waters. There is no excuse for building new ships without strengthening their hatch covers.

The international convention on load lines 1966 governs the weight of cargo stored in the holds of all bulk carriers worldwide. Justice Colman's inquiry concluded that: it provides for a level of protection substantially too low by reference to modern safety standards". The RFI report recommends that that be changed and be applicable at least to all existing bulk carriers and that they should more than comply with the ILLC 66 regulations for minimum hatch cover strength". An article in the T2 section of The Times on 22 April 2002 entitled "Coffins of the High Seas" focused on the Derbyshire and the general safety of bulk carriers. A spokesman for the National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers was quoted as saying that the commercial life of those vessels is 15 years maximum, but many of the vessels still working are more than 20 years old and the incidence of loss increases dramatically after 11 years. That implies that many OBOs are death traps and unfit for service. That implication is reinforced by the sentiments expressed in the article's conclusion by Paul Lambert of the MV Derbyshire Family Association, whose brother Peter died on the Derbyshire. He suggests that the industry has known for 20 years what the problem is", and that bulk carriers are not seaworthy. Paul told me that some OBOs become rust buckets after 15 years, and that beyond that age they should be subjected to much more stringent inspections than younger ships.

The RFI report concludes that the International Maritime Organisation should require the compulsory daily reporting of all vessels". The report also suggests that the mariner's handbook, NP100, should be amended as regards navigation in the dangerous semicircle of a tropical revolving storm, to include the possibility of running with the wind on the port quarter in certain circumstances. Masters should be made aware of the potential dangers of water entry into forward spaces and the resulting loss of freeboard.

According to the report, an increased participation by vessels in the World Meteorological Organisation's voluntary observing ships scheme should he encouraged by a British maritime notice and an IMO circular. Weather routing agencies should make clear to masters the precise circumstances in which positive routing advice will be given to vessels during voyages. Those navigational improvements will enable the safer passage of vessels through the most dangerous seas.

Many additional features in the report place obligations on the International Association of Classification Societies, the IMO and the Department for Transport, which should co-operate as necessary. Those features are aimed at ensuring the implementation of the improved safety standards set out in Mr. Justice Colman's report. The report recommends that IACS set up research programmes to investigate the establishment of a minimum strength requirement for and, if necessary, location and protection requirements for ventilators and air pipe fittings on deck". It also recommends that chain locker access be through bolted manholes, not doors; that foredeck hatch cover displacements be monitored, preferably using camera surveillance on the foredeck; that deck fittings be secured; that as-built construction plans and plans showing alterations that have been in any dry dock worldwide be kept; and that powerful lighting and industrial video cameras be installed on the foredeck of all Capesize bulk carriers. It also contains recommendations on hatch-cover operating manuals, and recommends that the pumping system to deal with forward-space flooding be independent of the main pumps and be capable of running dry without damage and handling solid material.

Perhaps the two most important recommendations are that a marine accident database be established comprehensively to record storm damage incidents, and that all new ships be fitted with voyage data recorders, which are similar to the black box recorders that have always been fitted to aircraft. It is recommended that VDRs be retrofitted to existing ships, and the IMO is carrying out a feasibility study on retrofitting VDRs to existing bulk carriers, although it is not expected to report until January 2004.

In its 74th session last year, the IMO's maritime safety committee reported that some progress was being made. The committee was updated on the formal safety assessments that member organisations were carrying out on bulk carrier safety.

Andrew George (St. Ives)

The hon. Gentleman rightly notes that action must be taken in the international context. Is he arguing that, given the IMO's record of reaching conclusions very slowly, the UK authorities should act unilaterally, rather than await the extremely sluggish development of new regulations?

Dr. Iddon

Yes, I am. I believe that the authorities are already taking such steps, and I look forward to the Minister saying something about that in his response.

Mr. Justice Colman has expressed concern about the progress that is being made in implementing the recommendations in the report. He warned that the sinking of the Christopher last December was a red light to the industry, and that there may be bulk carriers afloat with hatch covers that comply with ILLC 66, but which are of the order of 50 per cent. of what they should be in terms of structural strength". According to him, the IACS should get its act together on hatch cover safety and lead any change on the issue.

Clearly, there is concern, given that 1,634 seafarers were lost in bulk carrier incidents in the period between the loss of the Derbyshire in 1980 and August 1998. The Christopher managed to get out a message stating that she had suffered forward hatch cover damage and was Flooded—a fate similar to the Derbyshire's. It is clearly unacceptable for lives constantly to be lost when we have solutions to the problems within our grasp.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich)

Does my hon. Friend agree that dealing with flags of convenience would be one way to tackle the poor safety records of some shipping companies? He mentioned the ITF, and I am sure that he will join me in congratulating it on its good work. Its inspectors examine ships to ensure that they are in good condition and use the right safety methods.

Reference has been made to solving the problem internationally, but we should surely tackle it on a European basis first. Every ship that enters European waters must comply with safety regulations, so that they are not unsafe or unseaworthy, and crews must be trained to a certain standard.

Dr. Iddon

My hon. Friend is right. If I had more time, I would mention those matters. I accept that it is difficult to achieve international agreement, but there is no doubt that, in recent years, cost-cutting exercises have driven the shipping industry. I am pleased that the Government are considering flagging back ships in Britain, because one problem has been that ships have flagged out of countries that have more stringent safety requirements. Training crews is important, as is insurance to cover those staff. There are so many complex issues to deal with in shipping that it is not easy to reach international agreements.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

The hon. Gentleman is perhaps the modern day Samuel Plimsoll. What action has Lloyd's taken to secure improved design for new shipping, as well as for the existing fleet?

Dr. Iddon

I am not an expert on shipping, but I understand that, for obvious reasons, Lloyd's Register of Shipping takes a great interest in the matter and is one of the leading promoters of safety for ships at sea.

Mr. Justice Colman is right to point out the dangerous delay in the implementation of his report. We should put pressure on all interested parties, including the Government, to speed up its implementation, so that we can offer a safe working environment for all those at sea, and provide justice for the families of the Derbyshire crew, who have fought for more than 22 years to improve safety at sea. I know that the Government are working actively to improve ship safety and that we are already well on our way to implementing many of Mr. Justice Colman's RFI report recommendations. I look forward to the Minister updating us on this important subject.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Peter Pike (in the Chair)

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should mention that five or six hon. Members wish to speak in addition to Front-Bench Members, so hon. Members must co-operate if everyone is to have a chance to contribute.

11.22 am
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing this important debate. I want to focus on another aspect of safety at sea, but I was interested to hear what he said about the lessons to he learned from the case of the MV Derbyshire. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, however, I have a coastal constituency, some 50 miles of glorious coastline, which hon. Members are welcome to visit at any time, as it includes some of the best features in the United Kingdom, including two special conservation areas—[Interruption.] I am sure that hon. Members representing Cornwall will have an opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Pike—and only the second breeding pod of the bottle-nosed dolphin in the United Kingdom, so it is an important and pristine area.

I want to concentrate on a report published by the National Audit Office on 12 June, which deals with pollution from ships and accidents at sea. The report focuses on the contingency planning and response activities of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. I was interested to read the report because I have been campaigning on the issue for several months and corresponding with the Minister's Department and planning officers in Wales. The report noted a severe gap in the contingency planning of coastal local authorities in Wales to deal with maritime accidents. As hon. Members may recall, the last serious maritime accident off the coast was the Sea Empress disaster, which caused a huge environmental problem for the beaches and tourist areas of Pembrokeshire and signalled a disaster in terms of safety at sea. Prior to that there was the Braer disaster. The independent inquiries into both those disasters—Lord Donaldson's into the Braer oil spillage and that of the Sea Empress environmental evaluation committee—one in 1994 and the other in 1996, made it clear that a key recommendation was for local authorities to have a statutory duty to plan for and undertake shoreline clean-ups following marine pollution incidents.

So far we have experienced oil pollution. The time will come when we see more serious pollution off our coasts. That call by the two inquiries was backed up by a report of the National Audit Office published a fortnight ago. It called for the Minister's Department to consider the case for taking powers to require all coastal local authorities to have up-to-date oil spill contingency plans consistent with the national contingency plan so that the United Kingdom as a whole is properly prepared to deal with marine pollution incidents in compliance with international convention. The implication in that statement is that we are not properly prepared at the moment; we need those statutory duties. That call has been supported by my local authority, Ceredigion county council, by Pembrokeshire national park and Pembrokeshire county council as the main sufferers of the Sea Empress disaster, by the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities. It is also the subject of early-day motion 776, which has been signed by over 60 members of Parliament, including many—I am pleased to see—from the governing party but not, so far, by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East. Perhaps he will consider whether he can support it; I would welcome that.

We need increased funding if we are to place a statutory duty on local authorities to deal with marine incidents. The three local authorities in Wales that were, unfortunately, identified by the NAO as not being sufficiently prepared for such disasters were Monmouthshire, Denbighshire and Newport. The BBC and the Western Mail report Denbighshire as having said simply that it could not do what was asked of it unless it had the resources to do so.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Pike. The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, but it is not about safety at sea.

Mr. Peter Pike (in the Chair)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the debate is on safety of ships and seafarers at sea. I hope that he can bring his remarks back to that.

Mr. Thomas

Thank you. Mr. Pike. I thought that the NAO report on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency was pertinent to the debate. I shall move on to another aspect of the report, which I hope will please the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) more. The agency called for changes in merchant shipping legislation. Current legislation defines major areas of the UK coast, including mine in Cardigan bay, as internal waters. That means that those waters are insufficiently prepared for maritime accidents.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, all hon. Members will recognise my final concern, which relates directly to shipping at sea and the safety of mariners. In August, two ships—I do not know whether they are of the type that has been referred to—will carry cargo for British Nuclear Fuels plc through the Irish sea, off the coast of my constituency. The Irish Government and Governments in the Caribbean and New Zealand have registered their protests. They see such shipping as a possible terrorist target. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to say how he is addressing the safety of that shipment, and how he will ensure that there are no detrimental effects from the shipping of nuclear waste through the Irish sea.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am pleased—

Mr. Peter Pike (in the Chair)

Order. I have let you say it twice, but I am not a Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Thomas

I apologise, Mr. Pike. You should be. I thought that all hon. Members who took the Chair in this Chamber were to be called Deputy Speakers.

Mr. Peter Pike (in the Chair)

The four most senior members of the Speaker's Panel are additional Deputy Speakers. Other hon. Members are known by their names. That is why we have them in front of us.

Mr. Thomas

Thank you, Mr. Pike. I did not need to see your name to know it. I am sure that the fact that even I know your name means that you will soon be a Deputy Speaker.

I am pleased to have had an opportunity to outline some of the difficulties that I see affecting my constituency from marine pollution incidents; matters relating to the safety of shipping, particularly what will happen in August; and the history of some serious accidents that have been experienced off the coast of the United Kingdom, which affected both the lives of mariners and the pollution of our coast.

11.30 am
Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne)

I will keep my remarks short, Mr. Pike. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing the debate. The issue is important for my constituency.

I could take many tacks, but I would like to concentrate on safety in the Falmouth harbour area. Falmouth boasts one of the finest harbours in the world. For hundreds of years its mariners and fishermen have plied the seas, risking life and limb. Packet ships sailed to and from Falmouth with mail to and from the new world. Today it is home to a major ship repair yard and builds some of the great racing yachts of the world. The waters bustle and bubble with the activity of boats powered by both engines and sail. The shipyard has played host to many a ship needing repair. Disasters have long hit the Cornish coast; few hon. Members will need to be reminded of the tragedy of the Torrey Canyon.

I was delighted that the Government ensured a couple of years ago that a tug, the Far Sky, was based in Falmouth. Together with its successor, the Anglian Prince, which will be available for any future disaster, it has played a critical role in rescuing drifting vessels. A number of reports, including the Donaldson report, had recommended that we needed a western approaches guard ship on standby in Falmouth. I am pleased that the Government responded. The tug works locally with the internationally known Falmouth coastguard. The Deputy Prime Minister, a regular visitor and friend of the town, has seen its work. It oversees rescues around the globe—that of Pete Goss being just one relatively recent example. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the coastguard and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, to all at Culdrose and to those involved in sea rescues who, day and night, year in, year out, work for the good of all mariners. Hon. Members will remember the Kodima, which last winter foundered off the south Cornwall coast, providing endless decking for the gardens of Cornwall. The Far Sky was critical in rescuing the ship before it broke up on the rocks.

I do, however, have concerns. In Falmouth harbour, three different harbour authorities have jurisdiction over the Carrick roads. Pilots in Falmouth have argued long and hard that they need one authority. They are in no doubt that one authority would make for a safer harbour if a major catastrophe hit the area. I strongly support them. It seems that it is possible to reform local government and to create a Parliament in Scotland, but that to amalgamate three harbour authorities is beyond the wit of man and Government.

Twenty years ago, Falmouth was a relatively quiet harbour in terms of water sports. Now, hundreds of yachts mingle with ships weighing hundreds of thousands of tonnes. Safety measures for ships and seafarers within the harbour and local waters seem to involve many anomalies. My good friend the Minister introduced a private Member's Bill in 1996 to improve safety at activity centres. I congratulate him on that achievement. However, there are certain loopholes that I suggest, tentatively, he might address. Water sport companies training sailors need adventurous activities licences. They are happy to comply, but question why surfing is not included. Surf companies may have to obtain licences from the local authority, but those do not require the same standards as adventurous activity licences. I am sure that all current surf companies operate to the highest level in Cornwall, but that may be something to consider in the future. Powerboats, which are the equivalent of sports cars at sea, can be driven with no training at all. Would we allow untrained drivers on motorways? Of course not. We should, therefore, consider mandatory training for those who drive powerful powerboats.

On the wider issues, the mariners of Falmouth are keen for massive improvements to be made in safety at sea. The trade union NUMAST is clear that we need to attract many more young recruits to the sea, but flags of convenience will not do so, as hon. Members have said. Nationally, the industry fears that European expansion will lead to cheap labour, particularly on ferry routes.

Many people in Cornwall want on-board conditions to be checked during port state control inspections. In recent years, several ships have been stranded in Falmouth. The crews have been living among rats, and have been dependent on the charity of the people of Falmouth. The basic safety offered by such ships has been dreadful due to lack of investment and basic maintenance, and it has often been difficult even to identify the owners. In some cases, the crews have not been paid for months, and the ships have been taken into custody because of unpaid bills.

Mr. Ivan Henderson

Is my hon. Friend aware of the article in The Guardian today, which refers to the Cambodian ship that was arrested by the French Navy and the Spanish and Greek authorities? The article states: Safety is also an issue: since 1995 at least 25 Cambodian ships have been wrecked or stranded. There have also been 41 collisions, nine fires and 45 arrests. That is purely down to flags of convenience, and we should seriously consider tackling the issue.

Ms Atherton

I thank my hon. Friend. I have not seen that article, but I shall certainly review it. Flags of convenience are clearly a major issue, and I know that the Government have considered it. I shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say in that regard.

Seafarers become the victims in the international game of pass the buck. Ships are often unsafe, and conditions are beyond the pale. It is vital that the Government take action internationally and in Britain to ensure that standards rise and conditions improve.

Mr. Sayeed

The fact that port state control in the EU has been toughened up has led to ships being arrested. Hitherto, they were not arrested, because port state control was ineffectively managed. The fact that they are now being arrested means that there are ships around with unpaid crews and poor conditions.

Ms Atherton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but he can hardly think that the current situation is satisfactory; people in my constituency and in the wider Cornish area certainly would not. There have been small improvements, but we need greater regulation.

If young people are to be attracted into the industry in the future, they need to be reassured that there will be no more stories of unpaid crews with rats for companions. Higher safety standards will not encourage new recruits if the industry still plies the seas with ships that are in such poor condition.

I have raised small and large issues today, but safety at sea must be our number one priority, whether in international or in own waters.

11.38 am
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

The House should congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), and thank him for once again raising the issue of the MV Derbyshire. It is particularly important, given that other ships of that class have been lost at sea. That seems to suggest—I put it no more strongly than that—some form of structural failure with that class, which maritime organisations should examine.

I take issue with some of the points that have been raised, particularly by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton). She did not recognise that some measures have already been taken.

Safety legislation can be considered on three levels: international, European and national. Internationally, the shipping industry is principally regulated by the International Maritime Organisation, which is a London-based United Nations agency. The IMO has no power to make Governments or industry take action, so the principal responsibility for enforcing IMO regulations on ship safety and environmental protection rests with flag states. Much of that work is delegated to bodies called classification societies. Flag state support and enforcement is supplemented by port state control, which means that officials can inspect foreign flagged ships to ensure that they comply with international requirements.

Through the years, the IMO has adopted much useful and important legislation. The first is the international convention for the safety of life at sea. The second is MARPOL, which deals with prevention of pollution. The third is the convention on the international regulations for preventing collisions at sea, which lays down what is known in maritime circles as the rules of the road. The fourth, which has already been mentioned, is the international convention on load lines, which sets the minimum permissible freeboard according to the season of the year and the ship's trading pattern.

Shipping companies have the international safety management code, which requires them to have a licence to operate. For seafarers, there is the international convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers and ILO 147, which requires national Administrations to have effective legislation on labour issues such as hours of work, medical fitness and seafarers' working conditions.

The IMO is sometimes accused of being slow, but that accusation misunderstands how it operates. It must operate by agreement, which means that it must secure agreements from parties with many different interests. It is a slow process, and to circumvent it, port states, national Governments and the European Community have often implemented their own regulations.

European safety legislation has mainly concentrated on maritime cabotage, jobs and ensuring that internationally agreed rules, especially those of the IMO and the ILO, are strictly adhered to. The legislation has sometimes amplified those rules, particularly in relation to ferries. The EU has sought to improve the safety of navigation by developing two aids to navigation: vessel traffic management and information; and radio-navigation systems.

In the United Kingdom, the Government are advised by several organisations. The principal one is the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which was formed by the merger of the Coastguard Agency and the Marine Safety Agency on 1 April 1998. There are many doubts about the agency, and as the Minister will know, the Transport Committee argued in 1999 that the two organisations should be demerged. The Government resisted, and have continued to resist, the proposal. The Comptroller and Auditor General has also been critical in his report "Ship Surveys and Inspections", much of which concerned safety. The Public Accounts Committee took up the cudgels and published a report on 6 February 2002. Three main conclusions emerged. First, the MCA needs to focus more of its work on the riskiest vessels, rather than taking the easiest targets. Secondly, it should give more attention to the human aspects of ship safety. Thirdly, it should take firmer action to uncover and pursue significant breaches of maritime legislation.

I have a further criticism. As far as I am aware there is not one master mariner in the MCA's senior management. It seems daft that the principal organisation chosen by the Government to advise them on safe, secure maritime operations has no senior practitioner of that art but relies on those whose experience is principally shore-side. It was announced in the Queen's Speech on 6 December 2000 that the Government were putting together a draft safety Bill to cover a wider range of different workplace and transport safety issues, including port and shipping safety. More details were in the press release of 3 May 2001. It is now a year on. Will the Minister tell us what has happened to that Bill?

One of the IMO's current concerns is safety from terrorism following 11 September. As that tragedy made painfully clear, economic globalisation and technological interdependence have brought unforeseen global security threats, which affect not only sovereign states but the vessels that constantly move between their legal jurisdictions. Shipping is now a direct component in a complex logistical chain that is an integral part of the world's manufacturing process. It has also become subject to that more notorious global force—international terrorism.

Thus, we cannot speak of shipping safety without also recognising the link with maritime security. Security measures, which at present cover only passenger ships and passenger ferries, need to be expanded to cover other potentially vulnerable ships, such as gas carriers, chemical and oil tankers, not to mention the safety of personnel who man the port areas. In view of that safety-security connection, I wish to highlight the potential implications of revising chapter V of the international convention for the safety of life at sea, which will come into force on 1 July and is at present being considered by the House.

The automatic identification system was developed to deliver digital information conveying a vessel's position, identity and other related information automatically from ship to ship and from ship to shore. The systems allow ships and coastal authorities to "see" the position of other ships, even in situations where physical obstructions would prevent radar detection. AIS also enables ships to identify other ships, assists in target tracking and simplifies information exchange by reducing verbal exchanges.

The principle of those regulations is admirable, yet the consequences of their implementation demand rather more thought and much less haste. There certainly needs to be much more provision for the training of seafarers and personnel at shore surveillance stations and ports in a number of new navigation technologies, including AIS. At the moment, that is merely being considered by the sub-committee on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping. Moreover, as a leading tanker owner and operator of large crude carriers warned, AIS may delay the adoption of an urgently needed holistic approach to shipping traffic safety". It seems odd that we intend to pass a statutory instrument before 1 July, but according to its Assistant Secretary General, the IMO is now actively encouraging a more thorough consideration of AIS issues by means of a two-day seminar which will take place on July 15/16". We are introducing a regulation that the IMO has not finished considering. Any seaman will tell the Government that the priority should be for multilateral arrangements that deal with collisions and groundings as prime threats to mariners and the environment. AIS may prove helpful in tracking vessels in the aftermath of an accident, but it may be less useful as a preventive measure. I hope the Minister will answer the loud call for a comprehensive international traffic control and routing system.

AIS also runs the risk of undermining the seaman's more safety-conscious reliance on the mark one eyeball, radar, proper passage planning, the rule of the road, separation zones, and a host of seaman-like actions that may be downgraded by an over-reliance on fallible VHF-AIS electronics.

I wanted to make points about flares and their disposal, but I shall write to the Minister instead. I shall also write to him about the suggestion that small boats should have to show that they have passage planning before they undertake any voyage.

11.51 am
Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), who has become a veritable expert on all MV Derbyshire-related matters.

The Derbyshire story has run almost throughout my career as a merchant navy officer, which began in the 1960s. It has become almost an icon of the continuing campaign to improve safety at sea and better the lot of the seafarer. I spent some 30 years at sea with the Blue Funnel line out of Liverpool and the Glen line out of London, and sailed on some of the safest deep-sea vessels ever built. I also had the harrowing experience of sailing on some of the world's worst ships during my time as a globe-trotting, trouble-shooting chief engineer, so I have seen the best and the worst during my deep-sea days.

During the last 13 years of my seafaring career before I entered this place, I sailed as chief engineer on Dover's cross channel ferries, and was employed in that capacity on Friday 6 March 1987 when the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized off Zeebrugge on passage to Dover. It was carrying 430 passengers and 80 crewmen, and 193 lives were lost. Safety at sea has therefore been real and personal for me, and it continues to be so. My constituency of Dover has the busiest ferry port in the world, and overlooks one of the busiest seaways in the world. Thousands of my constituents are associated with the port of Dover, or sail on the ferries.

Safety at sea is a massive, international subject, as hon. Members have acknowledged. I want to confine my comments to working hours, tours of duty, fatigue and training. Although there is much to be done to improve ship design, stability and fire and flood prevention, it remains an uncomfortable fact that 70 per cent. of all accidents, incidents and losses at sea can be attributed to humans. Most incidents and founderings are the result of a combination of factors, but the human factor is present in almost all of them. The hours of work and the quality and quantity of work periods hugely influence the way in which people perform and behave. That is pertinent to cross-channel ferries as well as to deep-sea operations.

The National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers—I declare an interest as an affiliate member of that august organization—and the National Union of Seamen, now known as the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, have for many years campaigned for safer hours. Hon. Members will recall that the P & O ferry strike of 1989 was called by the National Union of Seamen to fight for safer working hours and to resist the swingeing changes enforced by the ferry company. It is tragic to recall that after many months of struggle and strife and difficult times in Dover—we still face them today—P & O's response was to sack the entire work force and bring in replacements over their heads. I want to put on record the fact that the sacked seafarers committee, led by one of my constituents, Steve Stevenson, is still campaigning for safety at sea and for justice for the sacked seafarers.

The working hours directive and its effect on seafarers' hours and our domestic trade union laws is an important issue. Every time we reflect on these matters, we realise that the seafarer is a second-class citizen who is squeezed out of the game and omitted from rules and regulations. Seafarers never receive the protection that they deserve.

The ferry industry has always been hugely competitive. The challenge of the channel tunnel increased competition. The recent removal of duty-free sales from the ferry services built up further pressure on owners and employees in respect of conditions and hours of work. When I represented merchant navy officers at the port of Dover for NUMAST, the issue of hours and fatigue dominated the negotiations. The battle for fair working conditions is, of course, continuing.

As to the effect of working hours and fatigue, my evidence is anecdotal. I have not carried out specific research for this important debate, because I did not receive early enough notice of it. I have a copy of the NUMAST Telegraph, a publication that I recommend to all. It tells of a shipping vessel running aground in the Shetland Isles after the skipper fell asleep while alone on the bridge: inspectors from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch found that the man had had only seven hours sleep in the previous three days. It goes on to say that the skipper's lack of sleep was largely the result of the vessel having a crew of only three, one of whom was very inexperienced. Another item is entitled, "Dozy officer is sentenced": A Russian officer was given a six month suspended prison sentence and fined £1,830 by a French court last month after his ship ran aground off the Brittany coast after he fell asleep while alone on the bridge. They may not be headline incidents, but similar cases resulting from fatigue could be cited during any month of the year. They are mainly the result of the manning of the bridge and the navigation of the ship, but further areas of potential difficulty exist below that level: engine room watchkeepers, seafarers on deck and mechanics in the engine room can all have their attention spoiled by lack of sleep and rest.

Time is pressing and other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate. Rather than recount further incidents, I would like to make a plea on behalf of seafarers—both officers and ratings—in respect of hours of duty, rest periods and size of crews. We cannot impose a minimum crew size on many small fishing vessels. Statutory guidance exists on minimum crew levels for larger ships, but the minimum has virtually become the norm. Instead of companies considering the most appropriate manning levels and listening to the people who run ships day in and day out—master mariners, chief engineers and ratings—they try to get away with the lowest levels. Many companies use the lowest common denominator, which results in overstretch. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) has experience in the area, but it is from afar. He painted a rosy picture, but the statistics and league tables on accidents, losses and flounderings at sea show that flag-of-convenience vessels are head and shoulders above British-staffed and British-manned vessels.

Mr. Sayeed

The hon. Gentleman suggests that I was unaware of, or unconcerned about, flags of convenience. I am not, as my remarks made clear.

Mr. Prosser

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

When the problem of hours, fatigue, flags of convenience, lack of training and fraudulently gained qualifications are combined with, and superimposed on, the experience of areas such as my patch of the straits of Dover, which has fully-laden tankers, chemical Carriers—indeed, the whole list of carriers—and cross-channel ferries from Dover to Calais and Zeebrugge, we have a dangerous mixture.

My final plea is that the issue of hours is reconsidered, and an inquiry is held into working hours and crew sizes, so that rational decisions can be made that will improve safety for the seafarer and the owner.

12.1 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) for allowing me a few of the precious moments that he has been given. I offer my speech as a lesson to other hon. Members in how to tailor remarks to fit a time limit.

I had wanted to raise several issues but will consign myself to one: the standard of safety in the fishing industry, which is a matter of supreme concern in my constituency. It involves two issues. The first is the culture in the fishing industry that safety is not important and can be overlooked. I am mindful of my experience as a solicitor engaged in an inquiry into a fatal accident on the merchant fishing vessel Annandale. My client's son had gone over the side to fix a trawl door without a lifejacket or a safety line, and the boat was hit by a lump of water. The body was never found. During that fatal accident inquiry, one of the deck hands gave evidence that he had worn a lifejacket for two weeks afterwards but had eventually stopped doing so because he was being ribbed by his crew mates. I offer that as a mere illustration of the problem.

The second factor in the worsening situation is economics. As has been said, fishing boats operate with smaller crews and higher overheads, and spend much more time at sea and less money on maintenance. Those changes all cause decreased safety levels. However, it is clear that the problem will not be solved by regulation alone; regulation has been tried and has manifestly failed. The economic difficulties of the industry need to be resolved—that is not one of the Minister's extensive responsibilities—and a change of culture in the industry brought about.

12.4 pm

Andrew George (St. Ives)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing this important debate. He was right that the subject is raised too infrequently in the House. According to my records, the last time that the issue of safety at sea was raised was in an Adjournment debate that I secured as long ago as 15 July 1998 on loss of lives at sea. It concentrated on the fishing industry, which concerns many hon. Members.

Several important issues were raised in the debate, and the Minister will want to respond to some of the points made about the integral role of the International Maritime Organisation. Many people are concerned that a body that can move forward only on the basis of consensus and agreement does not have sufficient teeth and cannot impose the necessary sanctions to be able to implement the regulations with which it agrees. Anything that the Government can do to rattle cages and encourage the IMO to establish the sanctions that we all want would be very much to the good.

Several projects have taken international safety standards forward, some of which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed). I want to highlight the standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers. I have spoken to a number of senior and experienced mariners, and there is concern that much of the new training on the international stage that is being promoted at present is based too much on technology and not sufficiently on an understanding of manual navigation techniques. Master mariners are worried that navigation standards are deteriorating as a result of the new training programme. The Government should recognise the argument that it is affecting navigation and watchkeeping standards on UK-registered and overseas vessels.

It is argued that an incident 18 months ago in the Dover straits involving Ever Decent, a Taiwanese cargo vessel, and Norwegian Dream, a passenger ship, was caused by the over-dependence on technology and insufficient use of visual methods of watchkeeping. In March 1997, the loss of the MV Cita in my constituency was partly the result of insufficient crew members on board. The watchkeeper fell asleep and the vessel ran into the east coast of the Isles of Scilly. The vessel was registered in one country, owned in another and insured in another, and as a result it was impossible to make any compensation arrangements for the crew or for the people of the Isles of Scilly who were affected by the incident.

The IMO should have more teeth. It should have sanctions available to it so that, with the maritime Governments at the cutting edge of improvements in this regard, it can jump on the low standards of shipping, which several hon. Members have emphasised in the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) rightly raised the issue of fishing. The Government can take the lead on that by showing that they live by the slogan of joined-up government, especially in the Department for Transport's relationship with the Ministry of Defence. When the MOD sends out reconnaissance aircraft to search for vessels, it does so as a favour, not under agreement between the Department for Transport and the MOD. In the past, I have appealed to the Ministry of Defence to scramble aircraft to go out and look for vessels, but it is under no obligation to do so, and there is no agreement between different Departments to employ the best resources for that purpose. Similarly, naval fishing protection vessels are used to inspect fisheries and to protect fish stocks. While inspectors are on board those vessels they could easily inspect safety aspects of fishing vessels. It is not beyond the wit of man or woman to sort out those issues.

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire made a number of important points. The introduction of the draft safety Bill announced in May 2001 certainly needs to be addressed, as do several other issues. The Minister must also take on board and investigate the often-repeated complaint that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency does not have sufficient advice from master mariners, either for its inspections or in its understanding of buoyancy. I again congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East on securing this important debate, and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

12.10 pm
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on securing this important debate. Although he rightly concentrated on MV Derbyshire—we listened carefully to him—he also introduced various general issues relating to maritime safety.

On the issue of MV Derbyshire, the then Secretary of State for Transport, who is now the Deputy Prime Minister, said in a written answer of November 2000 that Mr. Justice Colman had made a total of 24 recommendations to enhance bulk carrier safety and safety generally. The Secretary of State then made four promises. He said that the Department—the then DETR— will prepare a response to each of the recommendations…This response will be presented to Parliament…the Department will give urgent consideration, in particular, to the recommendations that the IMO— the International Maritime Organisation— should revise the relevant provisions of the International Load Line Convention 1966 and that any enhanced requirements concerning hatch cover strength should also apply to existing ships."—[Official Report, 8 November 2000; Vol. 356, c. 240W.] It would be helpful if the Minister, some 18 months later, could confirm that all those commitment have been met.

Back in May 2001, the Department, through a Minister, announced new measures to improve maritime safety, an issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) has raised. It talked about the intentions set out in the Queen's Speech the previous November to draft a safety Bill, and it promised to use that opportunity to introduce three groups of measures to improve the safety of merchant shipping in the United Kingdom and safety at ports and harbours.

Let us take a closer look at some of the proposals. The first group was to improve the way in which maritime safety incidents were dealt with and to give fire authorities powers to recover the costs of fighting fires at sea. Although they have powers, but not duties, to fight fires, no mechanism is available for them to recover their costs. The second group was to improve the enforcement of shipping safety law, and the third group was to make some improvements to the powers of harbour authorities to regulate marine safety, so as to help them to implement the port marine safety code. As we well know, that was developed after the grounding of the Sea Empress in Milford Haven in 1996.

All those proposals would find acceptance and support among Opposition Members, but 13 months later there is still no sign of the Bill. Notwithstanding the problems and pressures in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, what signal does that send to the shipping industry about the Government's priorities and their failure to regard safety at sea as a serious issue? Once again, the Government are keen to issue press releases promising action, but are apparently not so keen to deliver on their promises.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire referred to the revised chapter V of the international convention for the safety of life at sea, which is due to come into force through a statutory instrument on 1 July. I understand that the House of Lords is currently scrutinising it. Serious doubts and concerns have arisen, particularly from practitioners in the industry, about the universal ship-borne automatic identification system. Why, given that opposition, are the Government apparently charging ahead with the implementation of that statutory instrument? AIS is a new and untried system. What is the Government's estimate of the costs of evaluating not only the system but training shipmasters, officers and pilots in its operation and maintenance?

I have three short questions. The Minister may have time to respond to them today, but if he does not I should like him to write to me. First, is he aware that the chief inspector of marine accidents, Rear Admiral J. S. Lang, had no direct involvement in the development of AIS, nor did he contribute to the deliberations on SOLAS? Secondly, is he satisfied that the proposed statutory instrument is intra vires in committing the UK to adopt amendments to chapter V of SOLAS, which embrace modern and future technologies for navigational instruments"? Finally, is he convinced that As a signatory of SOLAS, the UK Government is obliged to implement this revision of SOLAS", and that as the UK took part in the negotiations at IMO that agreed the revision of Chapter V, the UK is content with the provisions as they stand"? If so, what is the point of the consultation called for by merchant shipping legislation?

12.15 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson)

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on raising these important matters. I also congratulate him on the clarity with which he raised so many points. He listed a number of chilling statistics of loss at sea. He also gave an excellent summary of the events leading up to the sinking of MV Derbyshire and what has happened since. I associate myself with his words of congratulation to the MV Derbyshire Family Association on their relentless campaigning for improvements to safety at sea.

The debate has given us an interesting tour of the coasts of this country. We have been to Cornwall and to Wales, and we have been down to Dover. I am not sure how much coastline there is in Bolton.

Dr. Iddon

We have a canal.

Mr. Jamieson

Notwithstanding that, I recognise my hon. Friend's enormous interest in these matters. One does not have to come from a seafaring constituency to have a profound interest in these important matters.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) was very engaging and I will try to answer some of his points. Some of the issues regarding the environment perhaps went a little beyond the scope of my responsibilities and the debate. However, he raised the important issue of the shipments of materials from Japan. I can assure him that all the International Maritime Organisation requirements will be met on those shipments. They will be transported in packages that meet all the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency. I can assure him that the Government and my Department are taking a great interest in those matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) made an excellent contribution. As a slight diversion, I should like to congratulate her on her recent marriage. It is not true that the first 20 years are the worst. It is the first 25 years, and I have well surpassed that already. In the event of a major incident in Falmouth or anywhere else that exceeded the abilities of the harbour authorities, the Secretary of State's representative for salvage and intervention would take over the command and control. That was one of my hon. Friend's concerns. That is covered in the United Kingdom's national contingency plan, and it is supplemented by the port marine safety code.

A number of hon. Members raised the issue of flags of convenience. Some flags of convenience give considerable cause for concern, but the main concern is substandard ships, not just the flag of convenience. It may be more meaningful to talk about substandard ships. The UK has been at the forefront of achieving international agreement to improve the safety and environmental performance of ships on whatever register they are placed. As several hon. Members mentioned, the port state control plays an important part in that.

Moving seamlessly to the criticism of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency that was made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), I daresay that any organisation could be criticised. However, Maurice Storey is an outstanding person, and his leadership of the new organisation has been exceptional. The agency is now organised and highly competent and has responded to many of the points that have been made. One of its tasks is the port state control. The hon. Gentleman said that the agency should focus on the riskiest vessels, which it is doing. Another criticism was that more attention should be paid to human factors. Everyone would agree with that, including the agency. If the hon. Gentleman visited the agency and availed himself of the relevant information, he might change some of the views that he expressed today.

Mr. Sayeed

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jamieson

No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has already taken too long, to judge by some faces. I may give way to him on another occasion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser) made some important points about the working time directive and the fatigue experienced by people working at sea. He will know that the UK ratified the International Labour Organisation's convention 180 on limits on hours of work. We will shortly introduce the EC directive on the working hours of seafarers into UK law, and I assure him that the Government place great importance on safety and fatigue.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) made an engagingly short speech, on which I congratulate him. It was a model of how much one can say in a short period. It was so good that I will take up his kind offer of some time ago to visit the Shetland Isles and partake of some of the fine hospitality available in that part of the country. I may visit some time in August, and I should be delighted to see the hon. Gentleman if he is not holidaying in the Mediterranean. He raised the important issue of sea fishing safety. I agree that the problem is the lack of a safety culture. We support the call for fishermen to wear lifejackets, which can now be worn without hindering fishing and moving around on deck. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is working with the industry to change the culture, and we are grateful for the support of the national fishing federations in that work. There is much to he done. The record of safety in the fishing industry is appalling. It has got worse rather than better in recent years, and is of great concern to us.

In the few minutes that are available to me, I want to make some general points and move to some of the important points that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East. It goes without saying that shipping is vital to world trade. It is a growing global and highly competitive business. We should be on our guard to ensure that healthy competition thrives, but not at the expense of safety, which should be our paramount concern. As has been said, bulk carriers have an unfortunate safety record. The Government deplore the loss of life suffered by seafarers serving on them, and acknowledge the contribution made by the Derbyshire Family Association.

The association is now at last witnessing progress as the IMO takes decisions stemming from Mr. Justice Colman's recommendations that will make a real difference to the safety of seafarers serving on such ships. In May, the maritime safety committee of the IMO agreed two new regulations. The first was to install water ingress alarms that can be monitored from the bridge in holds and forward spaces. That issue was raised earlier. The second was to fit pump systems in forward spaces so that they can be operated without the need to traverse exposed and treacherous decks, such as those on the Derbyshire when it went down.

The new regulations could not be more pertinent to the loss of the Derbyshire, which sank rapidly, without warning and without a distress signal. The installation of alarms warning of bow flooding would have given Captain Underhill, the master of the Derbyshire, a chance to take early action to protect his ship. Had pumping systems been accessible, he might have been able to save his ship, issue a distress signal or, failing all else, given his crew a chance to abandon ship. By implementing the regulations, we will afford protection to the masters and crews of bulk carriers that was not available to those on the Derbyshire.

These achievements do not give us cause to relax our efforts. At an IMO meeting next month, the United Kingdom will introduce proposals to update the hatch cover design criteria in the current revision of the 1988 load line protocol, which was mentioned by several hon. Members. That work draws heavily upon the results of model tests that were initiated following the reopened formal investigation into the loss of the Derbyshire, which found that the collapse of hatch covers subsequent to bow flooding had led to the loss.

The Government know that their ability to improve bulk carrier safety lies in reaching international agreement at the IMO. Such agreement is most readily reached when proposed safety measures have passed the test of formal safety assessment to show that they are cost effective. The UK is leading an international collaborative formal safety assessment study on bulk carriers, which will submit its report to the maritime safety committee in December. The study considers an array of safety measures, many of which build on Mr. Justice Colman's recommendations, for both new and existing bulk carriers of different sizes. Many of the measures are passing the test, and I assure hon. Members that the UK will vigorously pursue their implementation aboard bulk carriers.

I should add that the European directive on the safe loading and unloading of bulk carriers will he implemented shortly. It is relevant to my hon. Friends the Members for Dover and for Falmouth and Camborne, as it will ensure that bulk carriers calling at EU ports are loaded and unloaded correctly. That is vital, since stress and/or damage caused to the hull while the vessel is handled in port carries with it the risk of subsequent catastrophic failure at sea.

I should like to comment briefly on human factors, because they underlie much of what has been said today. The large majority of shipping accidents are caused by the human factor, not structural or equipment failures. That is not to say that seafarers should take the blame for the majority of shipping accidents. All too frequently accidents occur because the seafarers concerned are poorly trained or rewarded, badly motivated, or simply overworked with overlong shifts. Too much may have been expected from individual seafarers, and in such circumstances even the best-found ship in structural and equipment terms is a safety risk.

The need to improve the standards of training for seafarers has been recognised for some time. It might surprise many to learn that until fairly recently there was no international mandatory requirement for basic safety training, and nor were the necessary maritime skills specified. That has been addressed by the IMO in a revision of the international convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers, which is now in force internationally. I hope that that covers the points made about that matter.

The problem of seafarer fatigue through overwork, which is a frequent contributor to marine accidents, has also been addressed. A European directive placing limits on seafarers' hours of work will come into force shortly.

Mr. Moss

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jamieson

Several important matters were also raised in the debate, but little time—perhaps only 15 seconds—is available.

Mr. Moss

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jamieson

If any hon. Members want further to raise any of those matters with me, I shall endeavour to provide an effective response.

Mr. Moss

I have a quick question.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (in the Chair)

Order. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) should not heckle the Minister from a sedentary position.