§ Dr. Whitehead
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will assess the advantages of introducing guidelines for safe ferry departures from port in inclement weather independently of the captains of the ships concerned. 
§ Ms Glenda Jackson
I have asked the Chief Executive of the Marine Safety Agency, Mr. Robin Bradley, to write to my hon. Friend.
Letter from R. M. Bradley to Dr. Alan Whitehead, dated 20 January 1998:The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions has asked me to reply to your Question about guidelines for safe ferry departures.The decision to sail should always lie with the master of the vessel. He is best placed to make such a decision on account of his knowledge of the ship and its area of operation, his experience and professional judgement, and in the exercise of his responsibilities. The importance of the master's discretion for safe navigation has been recognised in recent amendments to the SOLAS Convention, prompted by the ESTONIA disaster. These require that the master is not constrained by commercial pressures from shipowners and charters from taking decisions necessary for the safe navigation of his ship.New regulations require that all limitations on the operation of the ship are readily available to the master on board the ship. These limitations must include any restrictions on areas of operation, weather restrictions, sea state restrictions, and restrictions on speed and permissible loads. In addition, early implementation of the 455W provisions of the International Safety Management Code on all passenger ferries operating in Europe requires a proper assessment to be made of actual and expected weather conditions, using both official forecast and direction observation, before the ship sails.I am satisfied that adequate information is available to the master to allow him to decide if his ship should set sail and may navigate safely, that in the interest of safe operation the decision must rest with the master, and that there are safeguards to protect his discretion.