In Scotland, ferries act as a critical transport link, and also provide a unique and important tourism experience. Due to their importance and wide use in the transport industry, it is crucial that the safety of passengers on ferries remain of paramount importance and that the law provides adequate protection to ensure this safety.

The Merchant Shipping (Inspection of Ro-Ro Passenger Ships and High-Speed Passenger Craft) Regulations 2023 came into force on 5 October 2023.

The new Regulations revoke and replace the Merchant Shipping (Mandatory Surveys for Ro-Ro Ferry and High Speed Passenger Craft) Regulations 2001.

Applicability of the Regulations

Although the Regulations are only enshrined in law within Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, they have wider territorial application.

The instrument will apply to ro-ro passenger ships and high-speed passenger crafts.

Section 2 defines a ro-ro passenger ship as a ship carrying more than 12 passengers that has the capacity to allow road or rail vehicles to roll on and off the ship. A high-speed passenger craft is defined as a vessel carrying more than 12 passengers, which is capable of reaching a set speed calculated with reference to Chapter X of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 (SOLAS).

The situations under which the Regulations will apply to these vessels are when:

(1) The vessels are UK ships, regardless of their location.

(2) The vessels are not UK ships, however they are within UK waters and operate a regular service between a UK port and a port in a country that is not a Member State of the EU.

(3) The vessels are not UK ships, however they are within UK waters and operate a regular service between a UK port in areas of the sea where Class A ships operate in accordance with the Merchant Shipping (Passenger Ships on Domestic Voyages) Regulations 2000.

The Benefit of Change

The Regulations are intended to provide benefit to the shipping industry for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, the Regulations simplify the existing safety inspection regime, while maintaining high standards of safety. This creates a more simplistic mechanism to be followed, which will likely increase adherence and understanding of requirements.

Secondly, the Regulations provide greater structure and certainty to the inspection process. This provides a more formulaic approach to when inspections are due to take place and imposes a formal framework regarding the scope and purpose of inspections.

These positive changes keep the health and safety of passengers as the paramount concern and allow for the industry to better prepare for inspections. This, in turn, will assist in ensuring key ferry transport services are maintained without undue interference.

Maintaining Relationships

By their nature, ferries create links between the UK and neighbouring countries, most commonly EU member states.

Therefore, ensuring compatibility of safety regimes used both in the UK and the EU can increase the strength of both current and future travel links. This relationship has been maintained by the new Regulations ensuring consistency in safety standards for all ferry routes both to and from the UK.

The Inspection Regime

Although the substantive practice of the inspection regime mirrors that of the 2001 Regulations, the interval between inspections is now more rigidly defined.

Section 5 enforces a mandatory pre-commencement inspection to be conducted, with some exceptions, prior to the vessel operating a regular service or where there has been a change of company in relation to the vessel. (In order to allow such pre-commencement inspections to occur, the company or master of the ship must notify the Secretary of State in writing, no less than 2 months before the proposed date of commencement of the regular service of specific information relating to the vessel. This information includes, but is not limited to, the name of the ship and the proposed route of the regular service.)

Following this inspection, section 6 imposes bi-annual inspections, one carried out in port and one carried out during the regular service of the vessel. The interval between these two inspections is to be no less than 4 months and no more than 8 months.

The inspection regime has to be an adaptive mechanism. Therefore, the Secretary of State is entitled to require these inspections be conducted on additional occasions, if they consider the safe operation of the vessel has been affected by certain situations, such as repairs.

Prohibition of Departure Notices

Section 8 provides that if the inspections uncover deficiencies within the vessel that are clearly hazardous to the health or safety of its passengers, the vessel will be issued with a Prohibition of Departure (Detention) Notice. This notice is not to be lifted until the hazard has been removed and the vessel is able to resume its usual service without endangering the health and safety of passengers, crew, the ship itself or other vessels on the water.

Further, as per section 10, if a Detention notice is issued on a vessel, the company itself is liable for the costs of the Secretary of State relating to both the issuing of the notice and any subsequent inspections required relating to the deficiencies noted. The notice cannot be lifted until these costs are reimbursed.


The paramount concern of the 2023 Regulations is to ensure the health and safety of passengers is maintained and prioritised.

It is hoped that this structured approached to the detection and correction of deficiencies will ensure matters are dealt with in a timely manner, preventing undue delay to transport links.

If you require any further information on this topic, please contact Malcolm Mackay or your usual Brodies contact.


Hannah McMahon

Trainee Solicitor