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Merchant Shipping (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) Regulations 2022

Volume 826: debated on Tuesday 6 December 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Merchant Shipping (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) Regulations 2022.

My Lords, these draft regulations implement amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers 1978 into law. They update the training requirements for seafarers on specific types of ship and make further provision for the approval of training providers, including express powers to suspend or cancel approvals, and to make provision to allow the Government to charge for those approvals.

The STCW amendments came into force internationally on 1 January 2017 and 1 July 2018, and the draft regulations were laid before your Lordships’ House on 31 October 2022. They revoke and replace the current regulations implementing the STCW convention, the Merchant Shipping (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) Regulations 2015. As such, they restate existing regulatory provision in this area, and make new provision.

The International Maritime Organization adopted the STCW convention in 1978; it came into force internationally in 1984. The IMO is a specialised agency of the United Nations and is responsible for facilitating the development of international rules for shipping. The STCW convention and code—an integral part of the convention—contain standards of competence for seafarers internationally. Because human error is recognised as the cause of a large percentage of maritime casualties and pollution incidents, the STCW convention addresses this problem by providing minimum standards of knowledge, experience and professional competence for seafarers.

The United Kingdom is a member of the IMO and a signatory to the STCW convention, to which there are a further 164 parties, estimated to represent the vast majority of global shipping. Being a party to the convention allows the UK to issue internationally recognised seafarer qualifications, which means that UK seafarers can work on ships that operate internationally. Since its entry into force in 1984, there have been a number of revisions to the STCW convention. These latest amendments came into force on 1 January 2017 and 1 July 2018. As a party to the convention, the UK is required to implement these amendments into UK law.

The STCW convention amendments being implemented in the draft regulations relate to training for seafarers serving on ships subject to the International Code of Safety for Ships Using Gases or Other Low-flashpoint Fuels—the IGF code—and seafarers working on passenger ships. These specialised ships require seafarers to have additional training and certification to demonstrate competency appropriate to the responsibilities undertaken by those seafarers on board. This additional training will allow United Kingdom seafarers to take up employment on these ships.

These updated and improved regulations will enhance the employment opportunities for UK seafarers by ensuring a modern training and certification structure that reflects the current and future needs of shipping. This includes: clarifying the definition of “seafarer” to ensure that all persons, including non-employed crew, engaged in the operation or navigation of a pleasure vessel of 24 metres in length or over—or 80 gross tonnes or over—are subject to the regulations; clarifying the position of the Secretary of State in relation to the approval of training providers, ensuring that approvals may be suspended or cancelled where appropriate to do so by providing express provision; introducing a charge for the approval of training providers to ensure that the MCA can approve and monitor training providers who deliver the training required by the STCW convention, in line with the principle of public authorities recovering money spent on services, which would otherwise fall to the taxpayer; and, finally, providing powers to approve equivalents and alternative certification, as permitted by the STCW convention.

Enhancing safety through improving the regulatory regime for seafarers’ training will complement the department’s nine-point plan to support seafarers and introduce new powers to protect maritime workers. Furthermore, these regulations allow the UK to grow its high-quality seafarer training brand worldwide, at the same time as supporting the Government’s Maritime 2050 strategy to support quality training initiatives that raise the standards for seafarers across the globe.

The Government fully supported the development of the STCW convention amendments in the IMO, and the UK shipping industry was consulted throughout their development to ensure that they are modern and fit for purpose. The Government’s proposals for implementing the convention amendments and additional regulatory provision by way of this statutory instrument were the subject of an eight-week public consultation. The MCA has refined the proposals based on the comments received, but no substantive changes have been required.

These regulations will be made under the safety powers conferred by the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, as well as prevention of pollution powers contained in the Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution) (Law of the Sea Convention) Order 1996. The draft regulations also make amendments to the Merchant Shipping (Fees) Regulations 2018. This is the part that allows the MCA to charge for the approval of training providers. The draft regulations are subject to the enhanced scrutiny procedures under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as they revoke the 2015 STCW regulations, which were made under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. The regulations do not themselves implement any EU obligations.

These draft regulations implement amendments to the STCW convention for seafarers and improve the regulatory regime by raising standards of training and education. The draft regulations will continue to allow the United Kingdom to maintain its role as a world leader in seafarer training and education. I commend these regulations to the Committee and beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining these new regulations that, as she has explained, implement amendments made to the STCW convention. I think we were all taken aback by the size of these regulations; in fact, if I took time to read right through them, it might take almost as long as these regulations have taken to reach this House. We are playing catch up again, but I am pleased that we are now getting on with it, and I have no real queries with the regulations.

I see that pleasure craft are included, and I think there are limits. I cannot remember what the length and tonnage is for pleasure craft, and I have not had the time to work it out, but could the Minister tell me if it brings the Thames Clippers operating on the Thames here into the remit of these regulations?

My Lords, I also congratulate the Minister and her officials. I think I should also congratulate the MCA, which has probably done most of the work and produced some amazing documentation; I think we are all very grateful to it. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, says, it has taken a lot of reading and I will not go through many of these things, but I have a couple of questions for the Minister.

First, concerning the heading “Application” in Part 2, the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, asked about the Thames Clippers. I saw that the minimum weight was 80 gross tonnes and the length 24 metres. Which ships on the Thames does this apply to, as he asked? We debated life jackets on ships some time ago and I trust that has all been sorted out.

I have another question on this section. We see that it does not apply to foreign- registered vessels, which we know, but in Regulation 5(2)(e) we get an exclusion for

“wooden ships of primitive build”.

Can the Minister say what a wooden ship of primitive build is? Does it have to be over or under 24 metres? Is it powered by sail or motor, and where does it go? The only criterion seems to be that it should have a UK flag, if it ever had one. I do not know about that, but I suppose my concern is that these regulations go into great detail. I notice that only 25 UK-registered ships are owned by small businesses, and you can understand why: if they have to plough through all this and comply with it, the answer is they probably will not. That is quite a worry.

I am not sure how much of these provisions will apply to foreign-registered ships in UK waters. Does anybody check on those? Do the other ports of registry for ships have similar requirements to this—let us hope they do—or will we have one law for the British ones and one law for the rest of the world? As the Minister said, we want to encourage UK-registered ships but if this is the only country of registration that requires 200 pages of documents to be gone through, that is hardly an incentive.

Finally, I have often raised the question of enforcement before on different things. The Minister mentioned human error in her introduction. There have been a couple of interesting accidents with ships this summer, including the MV “Alfred”, which seemed to hit an island in Orkney on 5 July. One has to question how, in broad daylight, that happened with safe manning. I am sure we will see the results of an inquiry into that. I hope that in implementing and enforcing these regulations, the MCA will be given enough staff and resources to do it properly—it will be largely down to them—so that we have a good reputation for following these regulations, rather than just publishing more bits of paper.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for her helpful introduction and exclaim, as others have, at the huge challenge that these pages offer to those who have little or no expertise on what is clearly a vital matter. This is a doorstep of regulations, Explanatory Notes and, shall we say, additional pages. Taking into account the principle that the Executive are to be questioned and held to account, which in this instance is virtually impossible by what might be called a Back-Bencher, I want to ask the Minister about the importance of training, which is now a priority for all Governments in succession.

I am looking at page 37 and its references to nautical colleges. Might the Minister say who reports to her department regarding assessment and inspection there? Does she know, or is her department able to say, how many nautical colleges there are? Is it possible for her to say what the number of students is in the average nautical college? Where might they be located?

On that basis of attempting, in principle, to question the Minister, I say that time is of the essence so I shall sit down.

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for her introduction. I declare an interest as the chancellor of Cardiff University, which runs courses on maritime law, shipping, logistics management and transport education—all pretty intrinsic to the topic that we are looking at this afternoon. As has been said, these regulations relate to the updating of the STCW convention, which was the first international treaty to establish basic requirements and qualification standards for seafarers. However, we have come a long way since then, so the delay in this latest update is, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said earlier, unfortunate.

The regulations update previous regulations; they are therefore important in enabling UK ships to trade and UK seafarers to work internationally. They are welcome because they broaden the scope of the 2015 regulations and, as has been said, now include pleasure vessels. Does this mean that the regulations will include people crewing their friends’ yachts, for example? If so, how large does the yacht have to be before it comes into scope? It has always surprised me that so little experience is required before people put to sea in leisure boats of one sort or another, because we require so much of individuals before they are allowed to drive on the roads. We require very little of people before they set off towards the horizon on what is basically a road that moves up and down unpredictably. However, being serious about this, if these regulations start to extend to new categories of people, they will of course have an impact on small businesses that build, sell and maintain boats.

There are very detailed specifications here for training providers, so my question for the Minister is this: where precisely does all this detail come from? Obviously, it comes via the IMO and is set out under the auspices of the MCA, but how exactly is it aligned internationally? Is it identical from one country to another, or are we able to vary our standards and specifications? In the past, we would have aligned ourselves with the EU rules, but of course that no longer applies, so how much freedom do we have to interpret the standards?

Paragraph 12 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to a specific impact for the instrument of “£1.6 million per year”, but there is absolutely no detail as to how that figure was reached. What does it mean? How did those who write the EM get to that figure, because there has been no full impact assessment on the grounds that the instrument does not really affect small business? I would be interested to know the calculation, or at least the basis for the calculation, there.

Finally, I take the opportunity to thank the Minister for a copy of her letter to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the chair of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. That sets out in detail, item by item, the overdue maritime legislation. I congratulate the Minister on making progress with this. It does not look good but it looks a great deal better than it did a few months ago, so clearly a lot of hard work has gone into it. I have a couple of questions about the ones we have not dealt with yet. For speed, I will refer to the itemised numbers on the Minister’s list. We are told that items 8 and 16 are expected in March next year and item 9 by mid-year—let us be generous and call that July—but items 11, 12, 13, 18, 19 and 20 all just say “2023”. I would be grateful if the Minister could give us a little more detail. Do we have a whole calendar year still to wait for those six important pieces of legislation that are already seriously overdue, or can we realistically expect them to come through mid-year? What will the Government do to ensure that we keep up with maritime legislation more efficiently in future?

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. The Government are right to make further provision for the approval of training providers, including powers to remove that approval and to make provision to allow the Government to charge for approvals.

Across the world, 90% of global trade is made possible by the maritime sector, which is why it is so important that it is properly regulated. Highly skilled seafarers are incredibly important to the sector, and anybody with responsibility for safety at sea must be trained. I therefore welcome these amendments to the 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers.

However, I would appreciate clarification on three minor points. First—I think this question has already been asked—the Explanatory Memorandum says:

“The impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies is estimated to be £1.6 million”.

Can the Minister provide a breakdown of this? Secondly, has the department collected information on how many other parties to the 1978 convention have implemented these amendments? Finally, just yesterday the department published new merchant shipping regulations. Should the House expect further merchant shipping legislation next year?

One or two speakers have commented on the size and thickness of the document. I compare it with the similar regulations for an airline pilot; they are substantially the same volume. In his career a commercial pilot is required to understand them all and, essentially, absorb the basic principles. This is what keeps aviation safe, and I am sure this is what will keep seafarers safe. The hazards are very similar. Aeroplanes are in the air, and therefore are intrinsically dangerous because they might meet the ground in an unscheduled way, but they can usually avoid difficult situations by virtue of their speed. Ships are much more vulnerable, in a separate way, being at sea and subject to the weather and the elements and not having the provision to run away from trouble in nearly the same way as aircraft. The responsibilities that the senior people on ships have, particularly with the enormous numbers of passengers that some ships carry, are about right.

I also heard some words which might be taken to say that somehow these standards might be reduced to facilitate more ships accepting regulation under a UK flag. That would be totally wrong. I have not read them all, but I read the process that created them and it seems that they are the right standards and that we should not move from them. They will make shipping safer, and that is an entirely good thing.

My Lords, I am grateful for such a fine turnout in this short debate on maritime safety standards. I will, as ever, try to answer as many questions as possible and will write with further information in due course. I will start with the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, about the size of the regulations because he is right: they are a weighty tome. The reason for this is that in our discussions with the industry it was felt that revoking the 2015 regulations and putting them all in one place would be the better option rather than having some sort of supplementary regulations to the originals, which, quite frankly, may have been confusing. As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said, it is expected that people will read and understand these regulations, and having them all in one place is beneficial. Many of the regulations will not have changed. Seafarers also have the support of merchant shipping notices, which come from the MCA, and of their professional associations in understanding the applicability of the regulations to what they do.

A second question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, was about the number of nautical colleges. There are 160 UK approved training providers and nine nautical colleges: Plymouth, Southampton, South Shields, Fleetwood, Lowestoft, Glasgow, Portishead, Shetland, and Grimsby. They take about 1,500 people a year, so this is quite a significant industry and of great benefit to the UK maritime sector. In addition to the colleges and the approved training providers, tens of thousands of safety courses go on all the time.

On the applicability of the regulations, one of the things that might be slightly missing from the discussion, and perhaps I did not explain it well in my opening speech, is that the vessels need to be seagoing—so, of course, Thames Clippers do not count, unless they have got lost, but they have high standards and I am not concerned about the level of safety on Thames Clippers. The regulations apply to pleasure vessels. They were not included in 2015 regulations, which is one of the things that these regulations fix, as is right.

I will have to write to noble Lords about whether you can crew your mate’s 24-metre pleasure vessel. I do not have any friends with a 24-metre pleasure vessel. We will have to write about whether having ad hoc people on board to help out is okay or whether they too should have the right training.

I turn to the international nature of these regulations and maritime in general; this picks up point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. Shipping it is so amazingly global. It does not make sense for one country to set standards that are different from those of another country. The UK is very much at the forefront of improving safety and welfare for people at sea. That is why we speak to our colleagues in the IMO to make sure that these standards are appropriate.

Noble Lords may have noticed that we have included ambulatory references in the regulations. This is now becoming fairly commonplace when dealing with IMO-type regulations. It does not mean a lack of scrutiny; it means that we engage with the industry and reach agreement with the IMO to improve standards over time. I am afraid I do not have the number for the other countries that have already put this into place, but I will endeavour to find out. I will come on to the impact on the UK of the slight delay in getting these in place.

I think the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the impact on small businesses. A number of elements in the new training certification regime will help small businesses. For example, in these regulations we have introduced alternative certification, such that if you are certified to operate one smaller vessel, you can take that certification and use it for another vessel. That is particularly good for small businesses that might operate a work boat, a tug, a yacht or all sorts of different things that need essentially the same skills. One would not want to recertify for every single type of ship. We have tried to ensure that small businesses are appropriately covered.

I have failed to get a response in time from my officials on wooden ships of primitive build. There was something about not being propelled mechanically and something about a sail, but I am not quite sure that I nailed it, so I will have to come back on what a wooden ship of primitive build is in real life.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, always mentions enforcement and compliance, which are key in the maritime world. It is the role of the MCA, on behalf of the Secretary of State, to make sure that the certificates of competence and equivalent competency, where appropriate, are issued by approved training providers. It is key that they are. They are revalidated every five years, so compliance is checked again at that point. The MCA also periodically monitors and evaluates training providers. It is good that there is the ability in these new regulations to remove approval, although we do not expect that to be commonplace. There are appropriate sanctions available, including, as one would expect, criminal sanctions.

This is not only for UK-flagged vessels; foreign-flagged ships visiting UK ports will be inspected by port state control officers authorised by the MCA to check that they carry the relevant certificates and comply with the convention, as noble Lords would expect.

I accept that there has been a delay in bringing this forward and implementing the convention amendments, but I assure noble Lords that there was no direct impact on seafarers or passengers as a result. The department issued interim guidance to explain the training needed to meet the new requirements in the STCW convention. The guidance detailed the training and certification requirements for personnel working on ships subject to the IGF code and those working on ships operating in polar waters—that was put into place by different regulations, as noble Lords will recall—and the new requirements for those working on passenger ships. We worked with stakeholders to ensure that the training was to the required standard. It should be noted that the passenger-ship training was fairly company-specific; the MCA communicated this requirement to UK-flagged vessels through the guidance and in its day-to-day engagement.

Recent audits by the IMO and the European Maritime Safety Agency accepted that UK-issued certificates could continue to be accepted provided that we were in the process of implementing these latest amendments. Therefore, I do not believe that there has been a gap that would have impacted the safety of passengers or the ability of UK seafarers to work overseas.

Noble Lords have mentioned my favourite topic— the maritime backlog. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, noted, we are making progress. Unfortunately, I cannot tell her any more on the timeline for those in 2023. It will just be a pleasant surprise when they arrive. As they come closer to being laid, perhaps I will be able to give her a little more information. I have written to the SLSC in some detail about the backlog and how long we anticipate its clearance taking. It certainly still looks incredibly possible that it will be by the end of 2023. I think we would all celebrate that moment; I will thank the MCA for all its hard work.

On the impact assessment, I do not have any further information about the net cost to business—that is, the £1.6 million per annum. Much of the work we have done has shown that the industry was already compliant but I will write to noble Lords with further information.

I do not seem to have anything else to say; that means that there will be elements in writing, unless—oh, the noble Lord, Lord Jones, is looking at me expectantly.

Motion agreed.