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Safety At Sea

Volume 204: debated on Friday 28 February 1992

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9.35 am

I have here a petition I wish to present to the House on behalf of Jennifer Vibert and some 14,000 people. When this petition was presented to me, I was told that each and every signatory had read it carefully. The petition is concerned with the safety of seamen and has come about as a result of the great grief felt by the surviving families of the young crew of the Wilhelmina J, which was sunk almost a year ago. The petition has come about also because those bereaved families feel that the lessons of that tragic accident have to be learnt and they wish their concerns to be brought to the attention of Her Majesty's Government. It is for that reason that I am presenting it here today.

The petition reads:
The Humble Petition of Jennifer Vibert and families of the victims of the—Wilhelmina J", Sheweth that:—(i) unlike the employees of many shore-based companies, merchant seamen and fishermen are not necessarily covered by personal insurance. Yet in an industry with such high risk to its workers, this appears to be a major flaw in the maritime legislation. We therefore propose that Her Majesty's Government introduce legislation which insists that all Shipping Owners are responsible for their employees being covered by adequate insurance in the event of personal injury or death.
(ii) Her Majesty's Coastguard perform an impeccable service by monitoring shipping movements and organising search and rescue operations, within their prescribed areas. However in many cases this area is uncertain. We therefore propose that each Coastguard station is aware of the area of territorial water under its jurisdiction, that an overlap whereby both stations are required to maintain an interest in the movement of a vessel until the receiving station accepts responsibility, as in the case of Aviation Control.
(iii) Having identified an infringement of the Maritime Law, Her Majesty's Coastguards are powerless to take any physical action, unlike their French counterparts. By name and definition the Coastguard are the guardians of our coasts. We therefore propose that Her Majesty's Government supply the Coastguard with the necessary equipment, or access to such, to enforce the powers entrusted to them in protecting all vessels at sea and bring to account those who break these laws.
(iv) The English Channel is said to be the busiest waterway in the world, but without any form of policing to ensure that all laws are adhered to. Because of this many "Masters" comply only when they deem fit to do so, sometimes ramming and sinking smaller vessels, then hiding behind the "International Waters" clauses. We therefore propose that the Merchant Shipping Laws be changed to combine the English Channel shipping lanes with both English and French territorial waters. Thereby placing all traffic under the jurisdiction of the respective coastguard.
This is a detailed petition, arising out of the great concern of the families of the bereaved. The petition ends:
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House protect our seamen and fishermen in our coastal waters from unnecessary dangers, and your Petitioners as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.

To lie upon the Table.