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Passenger Ships: Evacuation, Search and Rescue Plans

Volume 791: debated on Wednesday 23 May 2018

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the evacuation, search and rescue plans for large United Kingdom passenger ships operating in distant locations.

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to start this short debate on a subject which has interested me for a long time. I declare an interest as president of the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots’ Association. Coincidentally, last night I attended the association’s annual general meeting in Bristol and was given a great deal of help and updated briefings from pilots who have worked as pilots or skippers in the Arctic and the Antarctic. My concern is for the passengers and crews of ships that are a long way away from potential rescue if something goes wrong.

People have been travelling the oceans for centuries, but what has happened more recently is that the northern route around the Arctic Circle, both outside and inside it, is now being opened up for cargo and cruise ships, while the South Pole route is probably just for cruise ships because not much cargo will travel that way. However, I have discovered that there are navigation difficulties at both of the poles. The charts are now out of date because no one has felt the need to update them. I am told that in the Antarctic there is a problem because different countries are laying claim to different parts of the territory, which is making the sharing of equipment for navigational surveys difficult, and that is extremely serious. The other issue is that GPS does not work as well at the poles because again there is less demand and fewer satellites. Moreover, the obvious problem is that the water temperature is much lower close to the poles, so the problems of survival in a life raft are more acute.

Just over a year ago I received an interesting Answer to a Question I tabled from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, on the regulations and procedures for evacuating ships. He pointed out something that I think all noble Lords know: requirements are laid down in chapter V, regulation 7, of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea—SOLAS. I understand that there is a newer polar addition to that, which perhaps we can examine later. I have two questions: are they adequate for the modern situation, and who enforces them?

So what has changed? The first change that we all know about was when the “Costa Concordia” hit the island of Giglio in January 2012. A massive loss of several thousand people who could have died in that incident was avoided because the ship landed on a kind of rock sticking up and was then prevented from slipping down into very deep water. A lot of people have been asking questions about that ever since.

We are entitled to ask what has changed. Global warming is giving us easier access to the poles; there are stronger icebreakers, and there is a massive increase in the number of people going there in cruise ships. I know that at some of the ports around this country there is an increase in the number of cruise ships calling of 10% or 20% a year. Where they go we do not quite know; they do not all go to the poles but on the other hand there is a massive growth.

The other aspect is that an awful lot of customers, probably on the more expensive cruises although maybe not on the very biggest ones, want to go where no one has been before so that they can tell their friends. You can understand that but it puts pressure on the skippers and the navigation crew to see whether they can achieve that rather than, for example, withdrawing because the weather is not quite right.

One of the pilots last night referred to one of the first crossings north of Canada and the US by the cargo ship “Nunovik” in September 2014 with an icebreaker escort. The skipper decided that he was not going back that way in October because, as he pointed out,

“in early November, we would have been about 1500 miles from the nearest other vessel, west or east”.

If something were to happen to one of these ships, passenger or freight—a navigation error, a fire or whatever—getting passengers, some of whom cannot walk up and down stairs, into life rafts could prove difficult. However, assuming that they can get into life rafts—with covers, admittedly—they would be in water with a temperature of perhaps 1 degree. How are these people to be rescued? Helicopters would probably not be close enough and aeroplanes would be no good.

Many cruise ships take this issue seriously and have on board several navigators, including ice navigators. The “Crystal Serenity” was recently escorted by the RRS “Ernest Shackleton”, a proper polar-class vessel, so at least some shipping companies are taking precautions. However, I am concerned that they are not all doing so.

What are we going to do about it? The statistics on how many ships are going across the top are that in 2010 there were four and in 2014 there were 53. That again shows an exponential growth. Whether it is for political or tourism reasons I do not know, but it is happening.

Some pilots are drawing their own charts and sending them in to the hydrographic department, which is excellent as long as the information is shared. It needs to be done and a proper polar navigator or two should be on board.

The pressure on the cruise ships to go to these places is high, which we can understand, but there is also pressure on them to reduce costs. I have heard that some do not want pilots on board because they cost money. I have also heard from friends who have been on cruises that, yes, they have a drill after they have left port but everyone carries on drinking and talking and no one listens—that is human nature. We are all probably guilty of that on occasion—not that I have ever been on a cruise ship—but we need to consider it.

We have got to find solutions; it is no good stopping people from going on these cruises, and clearly we need up-to-date charts. I hope that the Minister, when he responds, will say that he and the Government will do all they can to make sure that the international organisations responsible take this issue seriously.

Using icebreakers is another good idea, but the issue that is worth consideration is what I would call a cruising company. If two ships were required in the same area, if something happened to one—I cannot say that it never will because it might do one day—then at least another ship that might be able to provide assistance would be close at hand. The Minister will probably say that this is all a matter for SOLAS and the IMO, but the UK has tremendous experience in dealing with these organisations. We have a lot of influence; I know a lot of people on various committees for this.

I hope that the Minister can use his good offices to challenge some of the issues that have not come about and speed up the necessary changes so that we can make a much better job of ensuring the safety of passengers and crews on these ships.

My Lords, I am tempted to say,

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, seems to have a knack for coming up with debates just before a recess when the House is sparse. Nevertheless, I welcome him bringing forward this very important subject. As he said, the cruise business has expanded enormously and we are always faced with the potential of a horrific accident at sea, which I hope will never happen.

I have been associated with the cruise business since about 1990. I worked with an organisation called Cruise Europe for about 14 years, which was set up to try to bring more cruise ships into northern Europe. It was an association of port members. We started with 25; when I left, we had over 100. It has gone from strength to strength. What astounded all of us was the enormous increase in the cruise business, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. As a result of that growth, ships have become ever larger, not only to cope with increased passenger numbers but to take advantage of the economies of scale.

The question of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, refers to large UK passenger ships. In my book, there are only about five of them because a lot of the so-called UK ships are registered in Bermuda. However, if we look at the ships on order at the moment—including deliveries so far this year—I have worked out that approximately 37 new ships will be completed by 2026, carrying 4,000 to 5,000-plus passengers. Passenger numbers are difficult to work out: a ship will have a certain number of passengers in a single-berth occupancy, but you can have double, triple or even quadruple-berth occupancies. Those make larger ships capable of carrying up to 7,000 passengers, with a crew of perhaps 2,000 on top of that. We are talking about 9,000 people.

In effect, these new large ships have become floating resorts. They tend to operate in areas that cater for the mass market, and not so much in the remote areas about which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked. They have extraordinary features and compete for the latest ones. I noticed that one of the new ships has a go-kart track, but we have had climbing walls, surfing things—you name it. It is all getting quite extraordinary.

Huge strides have been made in safety during the past 10 or 15 years. The industry has learnt lessons from disasters such as the ferry “Estonia” and even the Kings Cross fire. Ships are in many ways very much safer than they used to be. The noble Lord mentioned the “Costa Concordia”. That to my mind was simply human error. The captain was behaving in an extraordinary way and I could never see it happening in a British ship. If I had been an officer under him, I would have made certain that I knew where the ship was and would have told the captain, “You’re standing into danger”. That did not happen because the culture on board the ship was that nobody dared counteract the captain—and he was busy talking to his mistress. There have also been disasters with the Carnival company and generator fires in the Caribbean. One of the biggest problems to occur is if a ship loses all its vacuum toilets.

The noble Lord mentioned SOLAS. Partly as a result of “Concordia” but also of incidents before that, the new SOLAS regulations and the polar code have made an enormous difference to ship design and ship safety. Large passenger ships are designed for improved survivability, based on the age-old principle that a ship is its best lifeboat—so you do not get off until you know that it is about to sink. The regulations have brought in new casualty thresholds, providing for safe areas with essential systems, orderly evacuation and abandonment, medical care in such safe areas, and shelter from heat stress by means of light and ventilation. There is also a “seven days get home” provision. Some ships have new podded propulsion, retractable in some cases, which might get a ship home, but that is only a seven-day facility which does not help much in the Arctic, Antarctic or the middle of the Pacific.

I can testify to the principle that the ship is its best lifeboat. I was in the 1979 Fastnet yacht race, where we were taught, “Never leave your yacht until it is actually going underwater”. A lot of people got into the life rafts, which proved to be unsuitable, and drowned as a result.

The polar code also tightens up on safety requirements and operating in extremely cold temperatures et cetera. I shall not talk too much about the polar aspect, because very large ships do not often go into such areas. I have a feeling that the Arctic treaties do not allow ships with a certain number of passengers on them. They are simply not allowed to land, because they would trash the ecology. As a result, the ships that go there tend to be much smaller; indeed, a large number of what I would call expanded yachts are being built at the moment, designed specifically for the Arctic and the Antarctic.

On evacuation, these very large passenger ships have extraordinarily large lifeboats. The “Britannia”, which is the P&O cruising ship and one of our largest, has lifeboats capable of carrying 350 people. The two new ships which have been ordered for P&O Cruises, to come in in 2020 and 2022, have lifeboats that will take 440 people—incidentally, they will be powered by liquefied natural gas, a feature being introduced to cut down emissions. I understand that work is being done also on developing very large inflatable chutes, rather like those you come out of an aircraft on, that can carry 500 passengers and even have a small engine allowing them to move clear of the ship. The idea would be to have one of these on either side of a ship. That is fine if you are in the North Sea or the Caribbean, but not a lot of use in the middle of the Pacific, where one of these things is not going to get you very far.

Another thing that is being worked on is that crews are being trained in crowd management: that is very important when you have to evacuate a ship in an emergency. I mentioned the Pacific just now: another problem arises that is not necessarily anything to do with a ship, but if it happened near a small island, could that island cope with 6,000 or 8,000 people? Would it have the facilities or even the airlift capacity to deal with that? Communications have come a very long way recently and there is no problem remaining in touch. I think that a British ship, if it were to suffer a major problem, would probably immediately communicate with Falmouth coastguard, which is well practised in co-ordinating international rescues.

I am satisfied that the UK cruise companies, which have always enjoyed a very high reputation with regard to safety, have robust risk management structures. It is in their own interest to do so, because a modern, large cruise ship will cost approaching $1 billion. To put that slightly in context, Mr Abramovich’s new yacht cost about the same but he does not carry 8,000 people. The other reason companies look so closely at these things is because the adverse publicity and potential loss of business that could arise from a serious casualty could affect them very greatly. What is surprising is that the “Concordia” accident had comparatively little effect on the Carnival Corporation’s profits: it did not seem to put off the appetite of those who wish to take a cruise.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing this debate and I bow to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for his very expert knowledge of the cruise industry. I am not a maritime person, but I have been a manager in extremely dangerous industries where a small slip can kill 100 people easily. Always, after it happens, a lot of wisdom is poured forth in the press—but preparing and running a system of any sort where risk is minimised is actually a painstaking process. I have always been amazed, for example, when I have been involved in airport evacuations that planes are evacuated by 90 very fit young people on the airline’s staff who can get out quickly because they know what they are going to do. In fact, in many cases we are carrying geriatric people whose ability is very much at risk.

I want to say first that safety is not about bureaucratic tick-boxes; it is about practical things such as frequent exercises and drills, and well-led, competent staff who are able to communicate in language that people can understand, bearing in mind that those people are going to be very frightened if any incident arises. It is about safety equipment being ready for use on demand. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made reference to the fact that often at safety briefings people cannot even spare a moment away from their drink to listen. However, it is extremely important and I know that companies such as Saga pay a lot of attention to it and to the nature of the people they are carrying. It is also about alarm systems and off-site communications for summoning help from wherever it may come.

Risks, as the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Greenway, said, are made greater by distance. Of course, risks such as fire need to be minimalised when ships are built—I think that is what the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said. That is the time for thinking about hull thickness. Who is responsible in the UK for checking such things and seeing that they are carried out? Is there a sort of building inspectorate for ships, if such a thing exists? Who actually tests the ships? Whether they sail under the flag of Bermuda or of the United Kingdom seems rather irrelevant when many of the people on board are from the UK. It is the people we should be considering, not where the ship is flagged.

Ships that sail from Britain’s ports can be subject to regular inspections. Can the Minister confirm that these inspections are carried out regularly and that there are sufficient quality staff to do this, with all posts filled? It is no good having an establishment of 20 if you have only 10 competent people to go and do this very important work. Next, if the ships call anywhere in the EU, I presume that we can rely on the fact that similar, or the same, regulations are in force there. But when or if we leave the EU, will we continue to have access to the benefits of such checks carried out elsewhere? Do the Government have any concern about these standards being checked elsewhere? We can probably rely on what is done in the EU and in certain other countries, but if owners of ships are able to flag them out to less compliant regimes, what effect will our regulation have?

Time is very unforgiving when tragedy strikes, be it fire, collision or another accident. The search and rescue services of every country need to be ready, tested and fit for purpose. We seek assurances from the Minister that this applies not just in the UK but, more particularly, as other noble Lords have said, in remote and unfriendly climatic conditions. The “Costa Concordia” accident happened close to the shore in a benign climate, yet 32 people lost their lives. Any similar accident far removed from population could see a catastrophe.

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for initiating this debate, except that it is a bit unfair. He admitted that he had taken an interest in this issue for some time, while I know that the Minister has an army of civil servants to help him, but all I had was Google.

The first question I had was: is there a problem? The “Costa Concordia” clearly shows that a catastrophic event can occur. However, how frequently might it do so? It is a long time since a catastrophic event occurred on a large ship. Being interested in safety, I therefore went behind the catastrophic events to look at precursor events and alighted upon the “Queen Mary 2” as a British ship—so you would think, although it is actually registered in Bermuda—to see whether it gave some indication of accidents and incidents that might lead to catastrophe. I have taken my data from a website called CruiseMapper, which seeks to list all events on cruise ships.

The “Queen Mary 2” was introduced into service in 2004 and I have found three events which stood out in my mind. At 1.30 am on 15 August 2008, during a westbound transatlantic crossing from Southampton to New York, the vessel experienced a total power loss which lasted for one hour. This ship is electrically powered, so a total power loss meant that it was drifting. At 4.30 am on 23 September 2010, while operating in the Mediterranean and en route to call at the port of Barcelona, the vessel experienced a total power loss—the shut-down of all four main engines—and an electrical power outage. The incident was triggered by a deteriorated capacitor within the harmonic filter which caused an explosion. The electricity was restored in 15 minutes, but the power loss lasted for one hour until the main generators were restarted. The third incident I found took place on 12 December 2015 when the ship suffered a small engine-room fire. It was quickly extinguished and no injuries were reported. The incident resulted in a temporary loss of power and the ship drifting.

This ship carries more than 3,000 passengers. Drifting in a nice, quiet, calm sea is a benign event, but drifting in the middle of the North Atlantic in a storm is far from a benign event, and drifting off a hostile coast is clearly potentially catastrophic, so it seems that we have a problem. I tried to get a feel for the incidence of the problem. The ship has been in service for 14 years. I reckon it does an average of 50 cruises a year, so that is 700 cruises in that time and you have a 1:250 chance of being on the “Queen Mary 2” and having a total power loss, albeit so far they have been benign and short, so there is a risk.

Are there standards? Who sets the standards? Once again, Google tells me: it is the Maritime Safety Committee of the IMO. Does the UK participate in that committee? How are the standards enforced? What responsibility does the UK have outside the UK search and rescue zone? I ask that because it is not clear to me whether there are any UK large cruise ships. I was fairly shocked to discover that the “Queen Mary 2” is registered in Bermuda. Most of the ships I looked up on Google are not registered in the United Kingdom. If we have UK ships, how are the safety features in the regulations tested? Are there physical tests of the lifeboats? Do they run through the procedure for getting 3,000 people off the ship? How are safety events recorded? As I understand it, the United States has a marine accident reporting requirement run by the US Coastguard. Do we have a similar system?

I am sorry I cannot inject this with party-political excitement, but there are so many outstanding questions that I first need to be better informed, so it is in the Minister’s court.

My Lords, I am not sure whether I should be flattered as I find myself the third choice to be press-ganged to be on board today, with the tiller having been handed over to me as my noble friends Lady Sugg and Lord Young are unable to be at the helm, but I am certainly very pleased to respond to this short debate.

I start by declaring a keen interest. I have been a passenger on an expedition ship. The first time was in 2016 when I went to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Elephant Island and the northernmost tip of Antarctica. It was an epic, life-changing trip. The second time was last summer when my wife and I went to the Arctic in the same ship, following in the footsteps of Sir John Franklin. We went through Lancaster Sound and much of the Northwest Passage to the Boothia peninsula and eventually flew back from Resolute. It was another epic trip, and we were told that more people have climbed Everest than have been to that part of the world, so I know a thing or two about how it feels to be a passenger on a ship to remote areas.

As we are having a debate about the safety of passenger ships, let us consider this. When Sir John Franklin set off in 1845 from the Thames in HMS “Erebus” and HMS “Terror” to great fanfare to search for the Northwest Passage, nobody could have imagined the disaster that would befall them. All 129 men perished, with eventual evidence of cannibalism prevalent. No fewer than 36 expeditions were launched over a decade to find the men—there was of course the pride of the Empire to uphold. More men perished in these expeditions than were lost with Sir John. However, I am pleased to report, and it should be some comfort to Peers, that the safety of ships and the ability to respond have been transformed in the intervening years, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for giving the House the opportunity to explore this important topic. Today, the popularity of cruise holidays continues to grow and, in response, not only are cruise ships getting bigger, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, but the range of destinations is increasing. Therefore, it is right and proper to give careful thought to what additional challenges are presented in the event of an incident.

As the noble Lords, Lord Greenway and Lord Tunnicliffe, said, there are currently eight UK registered international trading passenger ships that carry 2,000 or more persons—that includes passengers and crew. One of these ships is capable of carrying more than 5,000 persons. Within the Red Ensign Group of British shipping registries from our overseas territories and the Crown dependencies, Bermuda has three passenger ships capable of carrying 5,000 or more passengers. However, as has been pointed out, there are many more large ships flying the flag of another nation, and the order books for these vessels are full. Very soon a ship such as the “Queen Mary 2”, large at her time of launch, will not be in the top 50.

To answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, there is no definition in international regulations of a large cruise ship. There was a discussion at the IMO on this matter following the “Costa Concordia” incident. However, it was agreed that passenger ships, whether carrying 1,000 or 5,000 persons on board, should be treated equally in respect of safety standards.

For interest, the five largest cruise ships in the world are the “Symphony of the Seas”, the “Harmony of the Seas”, the “Allure of the Seas”, the “Oasis of the Seas” and “MSC Meraviglia”. These ships range from 170,000 to 230,000 gross tonnes and carry between 5,700 and 6,700 persons on board—so sizes are indeed increasing. UK citizens are busy enjoying their holidays on those ships as much as they are on UK ships. Therefore it is so important that the safety of these vessels is regulated internationally so that there are reassurances that, whichever ship you choose, your safety will remain the same.

A wide range of challenges can have an impact on safety: natural forces, such as extreme weather, and accidents and incidents such as fire, collision, and grounding. Let us also mention—how shall I put this euphemistically?—plumbing malfunctions, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, alluded, as well as security concerns and piracy. Over the years, technical innovation, backed by international regulation, has done much to reduce the risks and consequences of these challenges.

Therefore, the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raises is not only important but absolutely core to the mandate of the International Maritime Organization, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. We should all be proud that it has its home a short distance across the river from this House.

The main global instrument that addresses the safety of ships is the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, which has been mentioned. One hundred and sixty-three states are party to SOLAS, and they are responsible for 99.45% of global ships by tonnage—so the IMO safety coverage is truly global.

SOLAS in fact predates the IMO. Its origin was a response, led by the UK, to the loss of the “Titanic” in 1912. Key to its provisions was setting the number of lifeboats and communication procedures to ensure the effective use of radio equipment to call for help. The technology may have changed but the issues remain the same.

The international community accepts that evacuation is the last resort and that the vessel itself should be the passengers’ best lifeboat—I picked up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, about the dreadful 1979 Fastnet race, when some people left their boats. However, we will also never forget the “Titanic” disaster. While our policies are based on enhanced survivability, we should never think any vessel is unsinkable. This was brought home to us all a century on from the sinking of the “Titanic” by the tragic loss of the “Costa Concordia”, to which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, alluded. Once again the international community learned lessons from the loss, and took action.

For example, there have been enhancements to the requirements of “safe return to port”, which allows ships’ captains to navigate a damaged ship to safety, and with respect to SOLAS, which deals with the provision for passenger vessels to undertake regular drills at least on a weekly basis. For large passenger ships, the IMO adopted measures to include the need for passengers to undertake safety drills to familiarise them with evacuation procedures either before departure or immediately after. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, wanted to know a little more about lifeboats. In accordance with SOLAS, “abandon ship” drills take place every month. Each lifeboat is launched and manoeuvred in the water by its operating crew at least every three months. During the three-month window, the crew maintain lifeboats. It should also be noted that, on most passenger ships, lifeboats can be used as tenders to take passengers ashore for excursions, and as such the lifeboats are lowered and manoeuvred far more regularly than SOLAS requires.

I want to focus on a bit more detail. First, the safety of the ship begins at the design stage. In the context of our Question today, computer modelling plays an important role. It can predict the behaviour of passengers, which influence different designs—for example, who may be in a particular state of mind, depending on the incident, in terms of how they move through a space. This modelling for large passenger vessels helps to ensure that, if necessary, the passengers can evacuate the ship quickly and safely. The UK took a significant role in the international debate, which led in May 2016 to the mandatory requirement for the computer simulation of evacuation applying to all passenger ships, not just those of a roll-on roll-off design. UK officials were active participants in developing international guidelines on how this evacuation analysis for passenger ships should be conducted.

Secondly, during the construction of new vessels, surveyors from its future flag state will supervise the build to ensure that the quality of the construction meets international requirements. Thirdly, we need to ensure the safe operation of the ship, and here the training of the crew is all important. The convention for seafarers’ training, certification and watch-keeping mandates specific training requirements for crew on passenger ships—in particular, training in crowd management for use in emergency evacuation.

However, despite all these actions, things can and do still go wrong. We need to reduce or mitigate the likelihood of incidents. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, focused on this in his speech, and I hope to cover some of his points from a marine perspective. First, there is the need to plan and prepare by the operator. Operators of passenger vessels are required by SOLAS—chapter 5, regulation 7, which has been mentioned—to have plans for dealing with emergencies at any location where their vessels operate. These form an integral part of any response, especially with regard to assisting passengers and crew involved in an incident with, for example, humanitarian aid, assistance and repatriation. Her Majesty’s Coastguard is the single point of contact for large passenger vessel search and rescue co-operation plans and provides these plans to the relevant SAR authorities in the event of an incident to a UK vessel anywhere in the world. It is the responsibility of the state within whose waters the vessel is in distress to co-ordinate the response. However, HMCG will provide support to that state and take steps to ensure that the response is adequate through its own communications and co-ordination capabilities.

I want to give a little more information about search and rescue, although time is running short. It was derived at the SAR convention in 1979 in Hamburg, and was aimed at developing an international SAR plan so that, no matter where the incident occurs, the rescue of a person in distress at sea will be co-ordinated by an SAR organisation, and where necessary by co-operation between neighbouring SAR organisations. We have memoranda of understanding to cover the area outside our own SAR to assist neighbouring countries, which include an Irish SAR to cover areas around Ireland and the Irish Sea, a French coastguard for the English Channel, and Canada and the USA for the Atlantic. There is a bit more to say on that.

I shall now focus on the process for those in distress calling for assistance. We have moved from the simple wireless set on the “Titanic” to the modern satellite communications of today. In the early 1990s, the IMO adopted the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System. A key feature is that it ensures the ability not only to alert search and rescue authorities ashore but also for nearby ships to be involved in the response. The IMO is currently updating the GMDSS to ensure that it continues to make best use of the latest technology.

Let us consider those who receive the call for help and those in charge of search and rescue. While many of the improvements to safety have come as a response to things going wrong, it is good to see that the IMO does not rely on a purely reactive approach. I am pleased to report that, in January 2017, there was a mandatory code for vessels operating in polar waters in response to a growing number of these vessels. This code provides a number of additional requirements for vessels operating in polar waters to provide additional environmental protections.

Time is running short, and I shall cover a couple of questions, but I shall also write to all noble Lords in this debate, because there is an awful lot more that I would genuinely like to say. Some most interesting and important points have been raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, raised the point about the Cunard vessel “Queen Mary 2”. I am still investigating about the alleged cut-out of the engines. I am not aware that this has happened, so I want to find out more about it. As has been mentioned, the “QM2” is flagged with Bermuda and the UK’s MCA, on behalf of the Secretary of State for Transport, oversees the Red Ensign Group. I hope that I will respond with some information on that.

As I said at the start of this speech, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raises an issue of great importance—and, as mentioned too, it is close to my own heart. The process of enhancing passenger safety is an ongoing one; new challenges arise as technology develops, but equally new solutions arise too. This Government have the responsibility to ensure the safety of UK ships, but in such a globalised sector as shipping it is international regulation that delivers that objective. We are committed to remain proactive, and will not just react to tragic incidents.

House adjourned at 6.17 pm.