An NFFO delegation recently met with Transport Minister, Robert Courts MP, to make the case for a review of the way that the Under-15m Safety Code is currently being applied. The Federation has received multiple approaches from fishermen “at the end of their tether” as the MCA applies the new regime introduced in September last year.
The meeting was convened by the Shadow Fisheries Spokesman, Daniel Zeichner MP, who has heard of cases at first hand during his port visits to the East Coast and the South West.
At the outset of the meeting with the Minister, the Federation emphasised its absolute commitment to improving safety across the whole fleet. It pointed, however, to the unavoidable conclusion the code is being applied in a way that is giving rise to multiple examples of extreme stress from the small-scale fleet as vessels face inspections under the new rules. Daniel Zeichner read out an email from one fisherman whose livelihood had been put at jeopardy despite a 45-year career without incident and who was, along with his family, under extreme stress as a result.
The Minister listened courteously and asked a number of forensic questions, as would be expected from someone who trained as a barrister. The NFFO’s central message was that the code is young but already it is clear that the way it is being implemented requires a different approach.
The Minister committed to examining the issues raised during the meeting and the Federation expressed its willingness to work closely with the MCA and the Department on improvements.
Charles Blyth, recently appointed as the new NFFO Safety lead, and who has a background as a naval architect and MCA surveyor, highlighted the Federation’s central concerns and suggestions for improvements.
- The roll test stability assessment in the New Code of Practise (which is only indicative and not an objective means to test a vessel’s stability) is resulting in perfectly capable vessels with faultless safety records being tied up or forced to spend significant amounts (£6-8000) on stability book and MCA approval. – MCA should revise this policy and allow for compliance with alternative stability assessments such as Heel test and/or Offset load test to help reduce economic impact on industry
- Previously certificated vessels are being required to alter their original design (often against manufacturer recommendations) to adhere to the CoP. Fisherman are concerned that this blanket approach may make certain vessels less safe and create over reliance on machinery (such as bilge pumps) which can fail. – Specific water freeing arrangements should be considered on a risk based, individual approach by MCA, taking into account their original designs purpose, fishing method and area of intended operation.
- Fisherman are annoyed at the significant time and expense (£147 per hour) they are currently facing when waiting for specific outcomes such as stability approval and decisions relating to individual vessels. There are many instances of stability approval taking years to complete. – MCA should agree to set a service standard on their work for stability; one week to make decisions, especially when vessels have been tied up by the MCA is reasonable.
- Fisherman are confused when faced with new stability chapter and how to present vessel for stability assessment. If they fail, they are expected to pay for a second visit- this can mean a big economic impact for small scale fisherman and coastal communities. – MCA should waive charges for return visits for stability purposes for under 15m FVs.
- There are concerns about the unfair use of detention for lack of compliance with new CoP– MCA should only detain/ remove certification in the most extreme cases and ensure that all other possible avenues of compliance are sought before such drastic action; i.e. restricting loading, limiting area of operation etc.
- Fishermen are being overwhelmed with complex information sources and the new CoP language (e.g. there are 4 different definitions of a ‘new vessel’) -MCA should pursue a simplified CoP with assistance given to FV owners as to what the new CoP means for their vessel. The amount of information sources should be consolidated (information regarding the roll test and what it means for a vessel is currently spread out over 4 different documents) and be written in a way that can be easily understood by fishermen
- There are concerns with the attitude and lack of engagement of surveyors used to inspect fishing vessels. Many fishermen are very anxious about their vessels being tied up for reasons they don’t understand, leading to lack of income, job losses, economic impact in coastal communities – MCA should offer human element training for surveyors to help them engage and work alongside fisherman to improve safety. The employment of surveyors with backgrounds other than large vessel merchant shipping (e.g ex FV skippers) to assist in MCA inspection should be explored
The Federation will be engaging with the MCA on this agenda in the coming weeks and months and following the meeting is hopeful of enlightened political guidance from the top.