The UK Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP), Hugh Shaw, defended new European place of refuge guidelines today during London International Shipping Week. He said “peer pressure” and more transparent information requirements will overcome political interference during place of refuge decisions.
The European recommendations, which are due to be published at the end of this year or in January 2016, will introduce methods to increase the speed and effectiveness of casualty responses.
Provisions include the policy of ‘no rejection without inspection’; the need for a state to provide a rationale if it rejects the call to provide a place of refuge; a division of areas into search-and-rescue regions to clarify which state is in charge of a casualty; and a list of regional contacts for salvors and owners to approach in the event of a casualty.
However, one insurer attending the marine casualty seminar organised by Hill Dickinson, raised the concern that recommendations were too weak to effect change.
“While these are a very good way forward and to be encouraged, they are only guidelines [which] unfortunately, are useful but sometimes ignored simply because they are guidelines,” he said, and highlighted The Fair Treatment of Seafarers as an example. He asked for reassurance that the advice “will be observed by all European states”, or alternatively that they be toughened up via a form of “partnership between industry and governments”.
Shaw replied that response authority personnel across Europe have meetings with their regional counterparts “at least twice a year” and that there would be “peer pressure from state to state” in the case of an incident.
“If there is an incident in French waters, there is an expectation for me to see [French authorities] following the plan, and vice versa,” said Shaw, adding, “I think these relationships will be more of the driving force” of the guidance and will provide the “impetus” for its implementation.
Shaw said he had been surprised by the level of engagement in the recommendations from European states, “All the states have been attending the [Table Top] exercises. There is that motivation to do something,” he said.
Mark Hoddinott, general manager at the International Salvage Union, told IHS Maritime that his observations during a recent meeting in Brussels about the guidelines confirmed this. “Peer pressure is clearly working, and that is a good thing,” he said.
Political intervention during a casualty response is often the greatest challenge facing salvors worldwide. Salvors, shipowners, and insurers face negotiations with numerous authority bodies, many of which have no marine knowledge.
Shaw said he expected the new guidelines to greatly reduce this challenge.
“Up until now, states have been saying ‘no’ without giving any reason whatsoever. Perhaps thinking that someone else will say ‘yes’. But under the new guidelines it’s going to be harder to use political sway [to reject a place of refuge request] if [the state authorities] haven’t been able to support the refusal with actual risk assessments and inspections from the vessel itself,” which will be shared with all relevant parties, said Shaw.