§ Mr. Ainger
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress is being made by his marine accident investigation branch with its investigation into the grounding of the Sea Empress off Milford Haven on 15 February and the subsequent salvage operation; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Sir George Young
The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has assured me that the investigation is progressing satisfactorily. The inspectors have interviewed many of the people from whom they need to take evidence and this process is continuing. All parties are co-operating with the inspectors.
There has been a good response to the public notices placed in the press inviting people to make representations to the inspectors which would assist them both in determining the circumstances and causes of the grounding and in relation to the subsequent salvage operations. The chief inspector has received 35 detailed representations and a further 63 letters from people, some of whom wish to give evidence to the inspectors.
The chief inspector's target for investigations of this kind is to submit his final report to me within 12 months of the date of an accident. Within this time, he has to carry out a consultation process on the draft, a statutory requirement which normally takes two months or more. If at any stage of the inquiry the chief inspector feels that he can usefully and properly publish interim recommendations, he will do so.
In order to carry out the investigation speedily and thoroughly, the chief inspector tells me that he has appointed five of his nine inspectors to the investigation.
I hope to publish the chief inspector's final report as soon as possible after receiving it.