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Merchant Shipping (High Speed Craft) Regulations 2022

Volume 824: debated on Tuesday 11 October 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

My Lords, these draft regulations relate to the safety of high-speed craft, which are generally all rapid passenger craft but can be cargo craft. They primarily operate domestically in UK waters, although some operate between the UK and the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and France.

High-speed craft are defined in the International Maritime Organization’s International Code of Safety for High-Speed Craft, SOLAS chapter X. They include some twin-hulled vessels, hydrofoils and air-cushioned vessels such as hovercraft. Examples include the Isle of Wight hovercraft and the Thames Clippers. The definition of a high-speed craft set out in the international documents relates not only to its speed but to its displacement.

These regulations will be made under the safety powers conferred by the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. However, they are subject to the enhanced scrutiny procedures under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as they will revoke the Merchant Shipping (High Speed Craft) Regulations 2004, which were made under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. That is a long way of explaining why these have an affirmative attachment to them; in and of themselves, they are fairly straightforward and mostly technical. They do not implement any EU obligations.

As I have noted, these high-speed craft regulations replace those from 2004 to implement the most up-to-date requirements of chapter X of the annexe to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974, known as SOLAS, affecting high-speed craft. Chapter X gives effect to the high-speed craft codes of 1994 and 2000, which contain the requirements applying to high-speed craft. As their name suggests, these codes were first agreed internationally by the International Maritime Organization in 1994 and 2000, but they have been updated, most recently in 2020.

What do these regulations do? They further improve the safety standard for high-speed craft and will enable the UK to enforce these requirements against UK high-speed craft, wherever they may be in the world, and non-UK high-speed craft when in UK waters. This provides a level playing field for industry. These amendments bring UK legislation up to date and in line with internationally agreed requirements.

The updated requirements of SOLAS chapter X, which these regulations seek to implement, introduce both a new requirement for crew drills on entry to and rescue from enclosed spaces, such as machinery spaces, to be conducted every two months, and the recording of those drills alongside other similar recordings currently kept for fire drills and other life-saving appliance drills. These updated requirements came into force internationally on 1 January 2015.

In addition, the regulations implement two further changes to the codes. First, they introduce updates to the requirements for life-saving appliances relating to rescue boats and life rafts. Secondly, they abolish the current monopoly on satellite service provision to ships, opening the market to any provider meeting the required standards. Both these measures came into force internationally on 1 January 2020.

While many other nations adopt such resolutions into their domestic law immediately, our dualist legal system can lead to delays and a backlog has occurred. We intend to avoid such delays in future by using ambulatory references in our regulations. Indeed, we are using ambulatory references in these regulations to put matters agreed at the IMO into our domestic law.

On the UK flag we have about 30 high-speed craft to which these new regulations apply. There are no foreign-flag high-speed craft operating in UK waters. The 1994 code applies to older vessels and the 2000 code to vessels built or substantially modified in or after 2002.

I believe that is about as much as I can say about these regulations. I have one more thought: they also make amendments to the Merchant Shipping (Fees) Regulations 2018. That is purely to enable fees to be charged for the inspection, survey and certification of these high-speed craft by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. On that note, I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for describing these regulations. As she said, under chapter X of the IMO’s SOLAS convention the high-speed craft codes are regularly updated to incorporate advances in safety technology. That is the reason for these regulations.

The changes the Minister outlined are acceptable to the UK shipping industry, as evidenced by the response to the consultation process. The addition of the ambulatory reference provision to keep UK law aligned with IMO obligations is also welcome. As she said, we hope it will speed up the process as this is just another of those maritime SIs that we should have discussed some time ago.

I understand that many of the changes proposed have already been adopted by UK owners, especially by those trading internationally, because it is in their own interests to do so. I believe that some of them would like to have more advance warning of what new changes are being discussed at the IMO so that they have an idea of what might come through the pipeline.

As the Minister said, these high-speed craft come in many shapes and sizes. I have been slightly mystified as to what the size parameters are, because the only thing I have found relates to cubic metres, and I cannot relate cubic metres to a vessel. She mentioned Thames Clippers, so it obviously comes down to a relatively small craft. An upper limit does not really apply, because these craft do not get to enormous sizes.

Another area for high-speed craft, and one that is rapidly increasing, is in the offshore service sector. I looked this up to see what was going on, and I understand that there is already a High-Speed Offshore Service Craft Code. Presumably, those sorts of craft are not included in these regulations. If the Minister and her advisers could help me with a parameter for these regulations, in relation to the vessels they cover, I would be most grateful.

In the offshore sector there is enormously interesting development going on, with the latest things being all-electric craft that fly on foils. Seen from ahead, you wonder how on earth they manage to go about their business, when the ship is high out of the water and there is just a single foil going down into the water. These are exciting prospects and ones that I hope will lead to great commercial success in future. In the mean- time, I welcome the regulations.

My Lords, it is good to see another small step on the long path facing the Department for Transport, as it tries to catch up with the backlog of maritime legislation waiting to be adopted into UK law. The legendary Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has been watching this process and has produced three reports on this problem over three different Sessions of this House. The impact of this backlog is that the UK is failing, in effect, to live up to its international obligations, which is a matter of concern to many of us—and I think is undoubtedly a matter of concern to the Minister, to judge by what she has said before. Some of her colleagues are not that concerned about international obligations, but I know that she is.

This current lapse seems to be a potential matter of life and death, because these regulations relate to chapter X of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974. Since they also specifically refer to high-speed craft, I assume that there is potential for considerable risk.

I have read the legislation and the Explanatory Memorandum, and I remain a bit confused as to exactly what is covered, because the Explanatory Memorandum specifically refers to

“fire-retardant aspects of construction and fire detection and extinction devices, life-saving appliances (including life-rafts and lifejackets), navigational and stability systems”.

Paragraph 13.3 of the EM refers to these as having

“key implications for safe operation”

and it seems obvious that they do, because they are an area where technical improvements in design and manufacture will have increased the effectiveness of that equipment. But the legislation also talks about people being drunk at sea, obeying orders to leave the ship and so on, so I would welcome clarity from the Minister as to exactly which of these sets of issues we are very late in implementing, if I can put it that way. Several different dates are fired at us in the Explanatory Memorandum. How late are the Government in implementing this? Exactly how much of this is gravely overdue?

When we have discussed other delayed maritime legislation, the Minister has attempted to reassure us that, for various reasons, we have been in effect carrying out the legislation anyway. The noble Lord has just referred to the fact that a craft operating internationally would have had to do that, but those operating just domestically would effectively have been exempt. It seems to me that if we are referring to changes made to chapter X in 2014, we are eight years behind schedule. Have I understood this right? Can the Minister tell us whether there have been any incidents or accidents where the lack of this legislation has been a factor?

The delay in bringing these new powers definitely seems to have been one of the more reprehensible issues that have come from the delay in so much of this maritime legislation, and therefore I am extremely pleased to see that the department is continuing to try to catch up on this issue.

My Lords, we are looking at the high-speed craft regulations—the high-speed craft code. I assume—I may be corrected—that the code is de facto in two parts. There is presumably a part of the code which relates to construction—I noticed the reference to stability—and clearly there is a part which relates to operation. That is a classic division in international transport; it happens in aviation, and essentially, the international code for the construction of aeroplanes is obeyed more or less by every country to the same standard, which makes life very straightforward. There is a code about operation but clearly, that tends also to be influenced by the domestic philosophies of the airlines and operators concerned. Is my assumption that the code divides into two accurate?

Secondly, to what vessels or craft does the code apply? I discovered the formula—I cannot remember whether it is in the Explanatory Memorandum, the regulations or on Google, but wherever it is, how I would apply it did not entirely leap to my mind. However, as I understand it, it relates to volume and it then manipulates that volume to create a speed, which defines whether a craft is high-speed. If it goes faster than that, it is a high-speed craft, and if it goes slower than that, it is not. However, it means that the image of what a high-speed craft is is not self-evident. I understand that the “Queen Mary 2”, for instance, can achieve 30 knots—it normally goes around the world at about 20 or 22 knots. That sounds quite fast, but I believe it is not a high-speed craft. Equally, smaller vessels—the Minister mentioned smaller vessels which operate domestically—which clearly do not do 30 knots are categorised as high-speed craft.

My next question is on whether we have any in the UK; the noble Baroness has already told us that we do. If my conceptual division is right, clearly, this code would apply to how they are operated. I presume it applies to how they are manufactured. The question then is: do we manufacture any of these vessels in the UK? My sense from my Google exploration is that we do not, although I may have misread that. Are we comfortable that the philosophy behind the code has been applied in the original construction of these vessels?

Finally, the code is different. It says in paragraph 7.3 of the EM—and in the code, which I have looked at only very superficially:

“The HSC Codes take more of a risk-based approach than many maritime standards, which tend to be more prescriptive.”

Indeed, it is the history of transport that most specifications originate from simply building the particular transport facility, be it a train, a boat or an aeroplane, seeing how many of them crash, and from each crash you learn something new and put that in a regulation. You end up with a large amount of prescriptive things, and if you do it enough, you get pretty close to the optimum. Indeed, the high performance of aviation recently has shown that this approach works—sadly, with the notable exception of the 737 Max; it took two horrific accidents for Boeing to take its responsibilities seriously.

The interesting point is that taking a risk-based approach to safety, as opposed to a learning-based approach that creates the prescriptive codes, requires a different philosophical approach by the safety regulators. If the Minister agrees with my division between these two approaches, can she say whether the people who now enforce that code in the UK are equipped and educated to move from the prescriptive way of going about these things, which in a sense is quite challenging but really straightforward—it passes the prescriptive feature: it has the right number of this and that and will break or not break at this level, and so on—into the more judgmental or risk-based way and to apply the code in that flexible way? Have they exercised that sort of discretion in a way that can give us confidence? The problem with the risk-based approach is that until you get a mature group of regulators, it is possible for people to make poor judgments under such a code.

I have no further questions. We will support this code being incorporated, of course. While I deplore the delays, I will forgive the Minister because we have gone on about that enough.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in today’s short debate, especially the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for his insight as a relative expert in this area. I will start by trying to help all noble Lords with the definition of a high-speed craft; they may or may not need calculators. A high-speed craft is one

“capable of a maximum speed in metres per second”

equal to or exceeding 3.7 times the one-sixth power of

“the volume of displacement corresponding to the design waterline”

in metres cubed,

“excluding craft the hull of which is supported completely clear above the water surface in non displacement mode by aerodynamic forces generated by ground effect”.

I hope that is helpful.

I did read that definition, so I am not surprised by it. I really want to know what are typical high-speed crafts and what are not. Am I right that the “Queen Mary 2” is not a high-speed craft but that some smaller craft that do 30 knots are designated as high-speed craft?

I will see whether I can get further written clarification of that. My understanding is that a craft knows that it is a high-speed craft, is certified to be such and then falls under these regulations. Clearly, there is a balance between the speed and the displacement. We might come up with a nice little picture of the displacement and the speed, saying whether it is high speed. That might be quite interesting for all noble Lords, as we are unlikely to talk about high-speed craft again any time soon. Let us see how we do.

The other thing I want to cover at the outset is the impact of the delays, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. I think the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said it best; I believe he said that many of these changes are already adopted. During analysis, the UK’s high-speed craft were found to already comply with all the elements of these regulations, which transpose these international safety requirements for high-speed craft from chapter X into domestic law.

There are the two different codes, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, talked about being drunk at sea and a list of other things. Essentially, everything within those codes comes over to domestic law. I got a little confused at this point, so I will go back to Hansard and check that I have properly covered that issue, which I know was raised by both Front-Benchers.

On the delay in bringing them into domestic law, I hope I have been able to reassure noble Lords that all the UK craft were already doing it. The main benefit of the regulations today is the fact that we will be able to enforce them against foreign and UK craft if they are not. The MCA will certainly do that. The delay for enclosed spaces, et cetera—I am sorry; I cannot read my writing—was seven years; that came into force in 2015. On life-saving appliances and the deregulation of satellite services, there was a two-year delay. But as I say, the requirements were already in place and we are not aware of any incidents relating to vessels that did not put these requirements into place.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, asked about high-speed offshore service craft. Indeed, he is absolutely right: there is a completely different set of regulations, which I was going to mention in my opening remarks. I then decided that it would confuse all noble Lords because we would be talking about entirely different vessels which do very important things. I completely appreciate that there is huge innovation going on in that area with electrics and the foils—you only have to look at the America’s Cup vessels to see that they fly. They do not sail anymore; they just fly. It is amazing. But, yes, we are not talking about those vessels, or indeed offshore service craft, today.

I will take the point about advance warning of future changes back to the department to make sure that we have good stakeholder engagement before future changes, either international or domestic, are foisted upon the industry. We want stakeholders to be prepared, and it is obviously really important that we get their feedback as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked whether we manufacture in the UK. Yes, we do—we manufacture hovercraft, and we also have a number of high-speed craft in development. I suspect that these might relate to some of the more innovative maritime things coming through, some of which are very exciting. Obviously, those craft will take account of these regulations, as would any vessel imported into this country before it can be certified.

Turning to the issue of a risk-based approach, I understand where the noble Lord is coming from. However, the high-speed craft codes of 1994 and 2000 have always taken a risk-based approach, so there is no change in mindset among the regulators here in putting a risk-based approach into place. Unless I have misunderstood the issue he raised, we believe that the MCA already operates in that way.

I have one last comment on our favourite topic: the maritime backlog. I recognise that this is one more brick in the wall, which is very good. This is one of the 13 outstanding statutory instruments, and I am sure noble Lords will join me again later this year as we debate some more. We are making progress. As I always say, I apologise, but we hope to get everything done by the end of 2023, which is what we committed to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

Motion agreed.