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Merchant Shipping (Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers) Regulations 2022

Volume 823: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Merchant Shipping (Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers) Regulations 2022.

My Lords, these regulations relate to the safety of bulk carriers: ships which are vital in the trading of world commodities. Bulk carriers transport, in bulk, unpackaged cargo such as grain, coal, iron ore and cement.

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 (Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers) Regulations 1999—which I will call “the 1999 regulations”—which were subject to minor amendments made by Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.

As noted, these regulations will replace the 1999 regulations in order to implement the most up-to-date requirements of chapter XII in the annexe to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974—known as SOLAS—affecting bulk carriers. The regulations will further improve the safety standards for bulk carriers and will enable the UK to enforce these requirements against UK ships wherever they may be in the world, and non-UK ships when they are in UK waters. The amendments bring UK legislation up to date and in line with internationally agreed requirements.

The updated requirements of SOLAS chapter XII, which these regulations seek to implement, introduce restrictions on bulk carriers on sailing with any hold empty. This relates to stability because, should the empty hold flood, the dynamic effects of water in the hold could cause the vessel to capsize. The regulations also set the standards that an owner must meet for the inspection and maintenance of bulk carrier hatch covers, which is critical to ensure the watertight integrity of the ship.

The regulations require bulk carriers that are less than 150 metres in length to be fitted with a loading instrument capable of providing information on the ship’s stability, assessed against the ship’s design limits, to ensure safe loading. This requirement is already in place for bulk carriers of 150 metres or greater in length but is now extended to all bulk carriers.

The regulations require bulk carriers of double-side skin construction to comply with the same damage stability requirements as single-side skin constructed bulk carriers. Previously, and in the current 1999 regulations, there were no set damage stability requirements for double-side skin bulk carriers, as their design was less prevalent than it is now.

The updates also include requiring these double-side skin constructed bulk carriers to comply with requirements to have sufficient strength to withstand flooding of any single cargo hold to the water level outside the ship, as well as providing technical details regarding the construction standards for these ships, and an amendment to the survey reference to recognise the enhanced programme of surveys for bulk carriers.

The regulations also include standards and criteria for side structures for bulk carriers of single-side skin construction. These standards include requirements for the thickness of the side of the ship.

All the updated requirements are important for ensuring the safety and stability of bulk carriers and they increase safety standards to be in line with these international requirements. Introducing the requirements in these regulations will enable the UK to enforce them on bulk carriers that sail within the UK’s waters and do not meet these important safety standards.

The regulations apply to seagoing bulk carriers of 500 gross tonnes or more. They make some direct references to the provisions of SOLAS chapter XII. These references are made ambulatory so future updates to the referenced provisions will be given direct effect in UK law when they enter into force internationally. This assists in keeping UK legislation up to date with international requirements in this area.

To conclude, approval of these regulations would ensure that the UK meets its international obligations. The UK has already agreed to the amendments in the International Maritime Organization and these regulations will ensure that the UK is able to enforce the requirements. Ultimately, the regulations improve the safety standards for bulk carriers. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing this very important instrument. It is quite complex and long. The problem which caused these new regulations to be introduced was the tragic sinking of the MV “Derbyshire” in 1980—the noble Baroness is shaking her head, but I think that is what it says in the briefing—and it is now 42 years later. What has happened in the meantime? I hope this is not another of the potential regulations from the marine section in her department which seem to have been delayed and which we have discussed before. These regulations are very important and I would like to know what has taken so long. I am sure the Brexit negotiations have had something to do with it.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right in what she says about the need for stability, double-skinned vessels and fixed covers. I would be grateful if she could confirm whether the regulations apply to what are generally towed barges—I would call them barges, but I suppose they are vessels, technically—such as those used for disposing the Crossrail spoil down the Thames about five years ago. Because they were moving on the tidal sea, they had to have covers that were strapped down, which was absolutely right, and I am sure they all complied. But there are now people doing business around the south-west who believe they can profitably rescue lithium ore from some of the mines or beaches of Cornwall. One such proposal was to take this in a vessel around Land’s End for processing in one of the ports on the south coast. I trust that that kind of transport is covered by this instrument, because it is pretty rough around there and these are very important safety rules.

I will not go through the whole instrument, because that would take a very long time and be very boring, but Part 4 on enforcement is interesting. It lists 10 different regulations, which are all to do with enforcement and which all, with one exception, apply to the owner and the master. Who does the enforcement? If the owner or master is found guilty, what level of fine would be applicable? I assume there would not be a prison sentence, but perhaps the noble Baroness could confirm that.

I have a slight problem with the way some of these things are enforced. Some years ago, I was a member of the harbour commission in the port of Fowey in Cornwall, which, of course, welcomes china clay ships and exports bulk ships—which are obviously covered by the regulations. It is not one of the cargoes referred to, but it is a dry cargo and a powder, so I am sure it is included.

One day, somebody came in and said, “We’ve just seen a Russian ship come in ready to be loaded with china clay, and we’ve seen a hole about six inches large in the bottom of the hull with a couple of rags stuffed in it.” The tide was wrong, so everybody could see it as they went past. If it had been a different tide, heaven knows what would have happened. The ship probably would not have sunk, although it would not have helped the china clay very much.

On enforcement, it is clear that most of the initial reports will come from the harbours and ports where ships come and go. I have come across this in other parts of harbours legislation. Some ports are, one fears, not very enthusiastic about reporting small defects for fear that the ships or cargo might not come back and they will lose income. Obviously, the MCA deals with it when it reaches it, but it clearly needs to know about it.

It would be interesting to know whether the Minister has any information on how many such incidents have been reported in the past few years, how many were against British-registered ships, of which they probably are not many any more, and how many were against foreign-registered ships. It is terribly important that the regulations, which I thoroughly support, are enforced fairly but comprehensively in every port, big or small, around the country. The regulations are very good, I look forward to the Minister’s answers and I congratulate her on, eventually, bringing this instrument forward.

My Lords, I welcome the legislation being updated to ensure that we meet our international safety obligations for bulk carriers; it is clearly right to do so. There was an eight-week consultation, which elicited only one response, resulting in no changes, so it is good that there was full consultation.

However—the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, covered this point—there seem to have been no substantive amendments to the regulations since 2004. The 2018 amendments were minor, yet the design of bulk carriers has been transformed since the turn of the century, and ships are much larger, so it is extremely important that our legislation is up to date. We welcome the fact that this SI sensibly establishes a system for keeping us in step with international standards for the future.

The Explanatory Memorandum, at paragraph 3.2, explains the conclusions of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which discovered a massive backlog of EU maritime legislation that had never been incorporated into UK law. This seems to go back more than a decade, which suggests that we have not been internationally compliant, which would be a worrying situation for a maritime nation. I therefore ask the Minister whether what I have just said is true; I should appreciate confirmation.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made a number of points, one of which was about enforcement. I have two questions on that. As I understand it, there are 28 bulk carriers registered on the UK flag, and they are all, apparently, already compliant. Paragraph 4.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum says that bulk carriers registered under other flags must also comply while in UK waters.

Worldwide, there are many thousands of such bulk carriers. It would be helpful for the Minister to say how many carriers under other flags are entering UK waters, let us say in the course of a year, and what checks have been done and will be done to establish that they comply with the convention. Clearly, in the context of many thousands of bulk carriers across the world, only 28 are registered with a UK flag.

Secondly, the statutory instrument has a long and complex list of exceptions in Regulation 7. Is the Minister convinced that it will be effective given that number of exceptions, and are they all based on international precedent and regulations which are adopted elsewhere? In other words, is that list of exceptions our list that would apply only to this country, or are we establishing exceptions based on what other countries also do?

I welcome generally the statutory instrument—the proposal is absolutely right—but it has raised a number of questions and it would help if they were clarified.

My Lords, I welcome the draft regulations to revoke and replace the Merchant Shipping (Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers) Regulations 1999, to ensure that the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 is fully implemented.

These regulations affect bulk carriers and enforce chapter XII requirements, such as standards and criteria for construction, inspection and maintenance of both UK-flagged and non-UK flagged vessels. On this, can the Minister confirm what discussions the department held with international counterparts to ensure that non-UK flagged vessels are aware of these changes? It is important that these are fully incorporated into domestic statute, in part so that they can be enforced but also to act as a deterrent, which will make bulk carriers safer, including for the benefit of seafarers. On the issue of seafarers’ safety, can the Minister confirm that the department worked with trade union representatives in the development of these regulations?

There are, of course, limitations to the application of the regulations; the requirements for bulk carriers of double-side skin construction cover only those constructed on or after 1 July 2006. Is the Minister able to provide an estimate of what proportion of carriers are therefore covered? I welcome the regulations and I hope that the Minister can provide some clarification.

I know absolutely nothing about bulk carriers; I have to admit that it has really stood in my way in this House. There is a fair old gap on this occasion, so I went to my friendly Google and came away terrified. It seems that these ships face a worrying variety of hazards. We had the “Derbyshire”, which is a story relevant to today. In a sense, the problem with these regulations is that they are about complying with somebody else’s regulations. I feel that to some extent it would be useful if there could be some overview of how safety has improved. In particular, is there anything outstanding? Do we know of risks that are not covered but which ought to be addressed, simply because they have emerged through recent design changes, different cargoes, and so on?

Secondly, can the Minister give a few words of comfort about the many ships which, I assume, were constructed before 1 July 2006? Are those ships safe on the seas and in our ports?

I thank noble Lords for a short but very interesting discussion. As I stand up, I know that I cannot answer all the questions that have been posed and will therefore write. However, I will take a pretty good stab at some of them.

Let us first address the elephant in the room, mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Shipley—the maritime backlog. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is absolutely rightly holding the department’s feet to the fire on this. My colleague in the other place, the Maritime Minister, has had lengthy discussions with the SLSC to reassure it that we are working through the maritime backlog as a priority. Not only Covid but some Ukraine legislation have meant that we have not been able to go as quickly as we would like. Much of it is to bring UK domestic law in line with existing international maritime convention standards. Many of these vessels are international and will therefore comply with them anyway, because they are international standards, but I accept that we need to make sure our UK domestic law is up to date so that we can enforce these standards in our ports at home.

These regulations are one of the 13 outstanding statutory instruments identified as the international backlog. This April, the Maritime Minister updated the SLSC to confirm that there are just nine left. If this is passed, we will be down to eight. We committed to the SLSC that we would be on target to clear the backlog by the end of next year and we are still on target to achieve that. Noble Lords can expect to look forward to many debates like this in future.

I turn to some of the questions raised by noble Lords, starting with a question from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. He asked about the discussions we have had with international counterparts to ensure that non-UK flag vessels are aware of the changes. As noble Lords have pointed out, these changes were developed and agreed in the international forum—the International Maritime Organization—over 14 years ago. The UK was fully engaged in those discussions, supported them and helped to shape the standards we now have. Given the international nature of shipping and the discussions that have been going on in the IMO for some time, the Government expect that non-UK flag vessels will be aware of these long-standing measures, and we fully expect them to be compliant.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked whether the department works with trade unions on seafarers’ safety. It is absolutely right that we make sure we have connections with the trade unions. The consultation for this document, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, pointed out, elicited just one response, from the Law Society of Scotland, to raise a point of clarity around the use of the ambulatory referencing. We did not get a response from any trade unions—and we sent reminder emails out—but I sense they would have felt, “But we already inputted that when they were discussed at the IMO.” The International Transport Workers’ Federation, a non-governmental organisation with observer status at the IMO, was involved in the discussions leading to the development of the policy, so I am content that the views of workers will certainly have been taken on board.

On the requirement for bulk carriers of double-side skin construction covering only those constructed on or after 1 July 2006, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, pointed out, there are 28 bulk carriers on the UK flag. Three of these, two of which are of single-side skin construction, were built before the requirements came into force. We believe that the 28 vessels are already compliant with the requirements of the regulations and additionally are all classed with the International Association of Classification Societies, which has already implemented the international requirements within its own rules. So I do not think there are any ships of this type floating around which are not within the standards.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked about enforcement. He is absolutely right: the MCA does enforcement. We very much hope that the ports would collaborate with the MCA to ensure the safety, security and well-being of all workers at sea and the vessels they work in. If things are found not to be in accordance with the standards, there are very significant penalties of unlimited fines in England and Wales and fines up to the statutory maximum in Scotland.

The noble Lord also asked how many incidents had been raised so far. We have not enforced this in the past, so we do not have any historic data. However, clearly, we will keep an eye on this to see whether it is a particular problem. I suspect it may not be the biggest issue faced by the MCA, but we will keep an eye on it.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked a perfectly reasonable question that I am very embarrassed that I do not have the answer to about how many carriers of this type turn up in UK ports every year. I do not know, but I am going to find out. We will also find out how many checks are done and the level of enforcement from the MCA that goes on.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned the MV “Derbyshire”, which was a very tragic loss that took place a few decades ago. The 1999 regulations implemented the bulk carrier-specific SOLAS requirements made at the International Maritime Organization in 1997. Then, following the publication of the report into the sinking of the MV “Derbyshire” in 1998, the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee initiated a further review of bulk carrier safety and adopted amendments in 2002. These were implemented in 2002 and the UK’s 1999 regulations were amended accordingly. The proposed regulations replace the 1999 regulations by updating the requirements and introducing these further measures.

The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, suggested that we might have an overview of maritime safety improvements. I am going to take that back to the department, because it might be quite an interesting thing to do; it would give noble Lords an indication of where we are now, both domestically and internationally, and how that fits into the backlog, so that we can see what is coming down the track and where we have come from. I will take that away. I hope noble Lords will forgive me; it may not be before recess. We might need the summer period, but when we come back in September, maybe we could even get some maritime officials together to have a chat about maritime safety. That might be a nice way forward.

I have a couple more points to address. On the exceptions, yes, they are all international exceptions; that is absolutely right. I think I have now dealt with everything, but of course we will go over Hansard. I have in my mind something to do with lithium and Crossrail spoil, so I want to make sure that that is not something I need to respond to.

Can I clarify a point on exceptions? The Minister might wish to write. The question I posed was whether we are in line with the international approach to exceptions or whether the list of exceptions in Regulation 7 is unique to the United Kingdom.

It is international, but we will check; if it is not, we will write. The noble Lord can assume it is international unless he gets a letter from me telling him it is not. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.