This week is the Department for Transport's second Maritime Safety Week, bringing the sector very much into public view, with a focus on the prioritisation of safety for seafarers. The UK Government has also used this week to launch its first Maritime Safety Action Plan, which begins by emphasising how important maritime safety is:
"Maritime safety is fundamental to the success of the United Kingdom. As an Island nation we rely on the maritime industry to deliver up to 95% of our imports and exports and much of the food, fuel and materials we need not only to prosper and drive economic growth, but for our basic daily needs."
Among the wider Brexit debate about what our future trading relationships will look like, this is a timely reminder of the importance of the maritime sector, and of the safety of those who serve in it, for enabling that trade.
The Maritime Safety Action Plan has been drawn up by the DfT with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) and the free General Lighthouse Authorities, including Scotland's (and the Isle of Man's) Northern Lighthouse Board. The Plan emphasises the need to guard against complacency, work in partnership, and crucially, get safety messages and campaigns out to those who need to hear them and take action.
It addresses the maritime sector in general and the fishing industry in particular, recognising the hazards in that area of work. The statistic of 45 deaths while fishing in the UK since 2012 is a stark reminder of the potential for significant improvement in that sector. The Plan notes the UK's implementation of the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (ILO 188) as being a positive move, setting a benchmark for living and working conditions for fishermen and providing the same protections for all.
The Plan also notes we can learn from good and collaborative practice in other areas of the marine industry such as the ports sector, citing the development of the Port Marine Safety Code and the related Guide to Good Practice. To that I would also add that the maritime industry could also benefit from looking at those parts of the sector which service the offshore oil industry, which for years has collaborated in the Marine Safety Forum to actively promote safety within the marine sector of the oil and gas industry, and also that industry itself. The "time out for safety" practice in the North Sea could well be developed, at very little real time cost, much more widely across the industry. In some parts of the sector this may be a matter of culture, which is why the UK Chamber of Shipping has just approved its Safety Culture Charter which aims to promote and adopt a positive safety culture within member organisations, leading from the top down, so as to reduce the number of accidents and incidents at sea.
In the many marine accidents and incidents I have dealt with over the last 25 years, involving all sorts of craft ranging from oil tankers and oil rigs, to bulk carriers, coasters, tugs, fishing boats, yachts, RIBs/speedboats and even jet skis, I have witnessed good practice and good policies, but I have also seen instances where these have not been followed, and simple, repeat tasks carried out with an awareness of safety unwittingly overlooked. Each accident or incident provides an opportunity for learning. The challenge for all of us in the maritime industry, from Government level down, is to make sure that the right communication methods are used to ensure that important messages are heard and understood by those who will benefit most from them. Among the potentially confusing morass of regulation, distilling the key safety messages round our coastal ports and smaller communities, and to the bridges of the vessels which sail to and from them, will be an important part of delivering the Plan.
It may seem surprising that for a nation with such a proud maritime history, this is only our second Maritime Safety Week, but let's not dwell on the past, but look to the future and build on the positives of the partnership that has developed the Maritime Safety Action Plan, and in our different roles in the industry all play our part in achieving that plan and reducing accidents, deaths and injury.
Duncan MacLean is head of the Shipping and Marine team at Brodies LLP, and has 25 years' experience of dealing with maritime incidents for national and international shipowners. He plays an active part in a number of industry bodies.