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Shipping Safety (English Channel)

Volume 894: debated on Monday 23 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he has any plans to introduce new safety regulations for supertankers and VLCCs operating in the English Channel.

Not at present, but the safety of large tankers operating around our coasts is being carefully studied. Improvements have been and continue to be implemented and we are in close touch with the French Government regarding Channel safety.

Is the Minister aware that many of the supertankers now passing through British waters operate under flags of convenience? As a result they sometimes tend to have inadequate safety regulations on deck as well as poorly qualified officers on the bridge. In view of the enormous environmental damage which could happen if a supertanker collision occurred in the congested waters of the Channel or the North Sea, will the Minister urgently seek to tighten up all the relevant safety regulations and will he also consider following the Canadian example of establishing a system of ship traffic control comparable to the air traffic control procedures which have been in operation for many years?

So far as the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question is concerned, we are certainly anxious to consider any constructive ideas wheresoever they may arise. So far as flags of convenience are concerned, my Department has said on a number of occasions that what it is really concerned about in this respect is substandard ships. Indeed, an initiative has recently been taken at IMCO in that respect, as the hon. Gentleman may be aware, in order to enable us to identify substandard ships and to take effective action against those that are identified. Certainly we are concerned about the adequacy of the training of those who serve on board tankers, and, indeed, any other ships. Regarding ships, I should add that a short while ago my Department established a study group designed to consider the construction and operation of tankers which might contribute to hazardous situations. In that respect it is considering the questions of hull strength, crew training and operational methods.

It is clear from the Under-Secretary's reply that he has gone into this matter in great detail, but there is one point about which I am not clear. As international law exists, surely our jurisdiction can operate only within territorial waters. Is the hon. Gentleman doing anything about that point?

This matter has certainly given us a great deal of concern, and I have been studying it with my officials. We have taken certain initiatives, but it would be premature at this stage to discuss how we shall seek to enforce our jurisdiction. It may have to be by voluntary arrangements. However, it would not be right for me to go into the matter in detail at this stage.