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October 22, 2009

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Push to give marine safety watchdog more authority

A Labour MP is campaigning for safety recommendations made by the

Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) to be legally binding.

David Cairns MP told the Commons on 20 October that despite the MAIB’s status as a statutory body, its recommendations have no force in law and can be “ignored with impunity”. He went on to outline his Marine Accident Investigation Branch (Reports) Bill, which would address this issue “within a proper framework for implementation and appeal”.

He added: “It should not be left to the discretion of companies or organisations whether or not to comply with key safety recommendations made by the very body whose job it is to determine the cause of accidents and to prevent them in future.”

Mr Cairns referred to the case of the Flying Phantom, which capsized in thick fog on the River Clyde in December 2007, claiming the lives of three men. He said an ongoing dispute between port operator Clydeport and trade union Unite as to whether or not the port had complied with the recommendations set out in the MAIB report into the accident showed how the “grey area we currently occupy serves no one at all, least of all the companies and organisations involved”.

He concluded: “I fully understand that there are complex legal issues at stake and the fear that if companies thought liabilities would flow from an MAIB report, they would not cooperate as fully as they do now, but that is just too bad. The current situation is absurd and should be changed by means of a simple amendment to the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.”

A spokesperson for the Chamber of Shipping told SHP: “The role of the MAIB is to establish the causes of an accident without attributing blame. In order that it can do this, it is essential that persons involved in accidents can speak freely to MAIB investigators without fear of reprisals or prosecution.

“The proposed Bill would undermine this process, as companies and crew members would be inhibited from providing the necessary information — making the job of the investigator more difficult. Mandatory stipulations constructed in this manner would inevitably cut across existing international regulation and undermine global standard-setting.”

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