Managing Risk Sensibly – What the MCA Does

IMIF Buffet Luncheon

Date: Thursday 22nd November 2012

Host: Chris Lowe – Head of Shipping

Venue: Watson, Farley & Williams LLP, 15 Appold Street, London, EC2A 2HB

Speaker: Vice Admiral Sir Alan Massey

Subject: “Managing risk sensibly – what the MCA does”

buffet-luncheon-22nd-november-2012On 22nd November, Vice Admiral Sir Alan Massey the Chief Executive of the Marine Coastguard Agency , spoke on “Managing Risk Sensibly – What the MCA Does” at Watson, Farley & Williams LLP hosted by Chris Lowe.

The MCA is concerned with four broad types of risk explained Sir Alan.  “Those that apply to commercial shipping and seafaring; those pertaining to recreational activities on the water or coast; those affecting the well-being of the marine environment; and those risks that threaten the safety of the MCA workforce”.

Sir Alan acknowledges that the marine environment is surrounded by risks, 8 out of 10 are man-made.  This is the type of risk the MCA aims to concentrate on.

These risks could be significantly reduced by increasing regulation, controlling the access of use of the sea and insisting on using the newest technologies.  However these resources are not available and this is not ‘sensible’.  Thankfully Sir Alan is not trying to encourage this tight regime.

Instead the MCA is working to create a balance between straight rules on one side, and good practice, rational standards and common sense on the other. The government are actively seeking to reduce regulatory burdens, not increase them, which will create an increase in commercial competitiveness and national economic well-being, therefore the MCA must be more discriminative and sensible in their approach.

Commercial shipping was the first aspect of risk Sir Alan concentrated on, being where the most focus is on within the maritime regulation.

The government has been reviewing laws affecting business and reducing the complexity of rules and regulations in order to remove barriers to economic growth.  Shipping must comply with agreed international standards to operate smoothly and good quality and effective regulation in the maritime sector are necessary.  To assist with this and reduce the cost for the maritime sector, the MCA has found that roughly 50% of the current 200 regulations can be removed or amended without compromising competitiveness or safety.  Approximately 30 regulations can be removed and 70 amended.  The MCA is discussing with Ministers the powers the MCA can use to speed up the regulatory process which will enable the MCA to implement international convention changes easily and on time.  This will enable UK ship operators to have the right certification early and only need to refer to the international conventions to know what they should be doing to trade unrestricted globally.

Smaller commercial vessels are less exposed to danger as they have a limited voyage scope being unable to operate all year round therefore will be less exposed to all the elements.  They also have constraints in size and manning so that the MCA can manage risk less heavy-handedly.

Codes have been developed for these smaller vessels which are at equivalent standards to international maritime Conventions.  These are internationally recognised by safety authorities and allow smaller businesses to avoid the entire extent of standards that apply to larger ocean-going vessels.

Sir Alan believes that this approach can be used for more directives if the industry can increasingly be involved in creating the codes.  This conforms with the Government promoting ‘open policy making’.

As mentioned above, 80% of accidents are the result of human factors rather than technical failures or Acts of God.  Therefore the MCA is proud to have developed a safe working practice code which has become the international standard and will be found on every ship with any flag.  This improves the way people think and act while they are at sea.  Following this, the MCA marine surveyors and inspectors actually focus more on systems and behaviours rather than hardware and materials as that is where the bigger risks actually lie.

The second type of risk mentioned was “recreational activities on the water or coast”.  This area is largely unregulated in the UK.  Sir Alan admitted that the MCA could do a lot more but believes that there is hardly any call from the government of the public for more rules, such as every pleasure craft being registered or every skipper trained and certificated.  The MCA instead promotes education and formal training, such as with the RYA, and they operate a free of charge and voluntary registration service with the coast guard.  It is believed that insurers will soon have more effect on ‘encouragement’ of training and better equipment on vessels.

The MCA take this sector seriously as most of the search and rescue activity is due to pleasure seekers.

There have been many changes with regard to the risks affecting the well-being of the marine environment.

Recently three of the four big MCA chartered ocean-going tugs stationed around the UK to reduce the chance of a ship grounding (hence possible pollution) were removed. It was agreed that there are enough commercial tugs around the UK waters to cover all possible eventualities and this should not be the paid for out of public tax but should be the responsibility of the ship owner and their insurance policy.  The one remaining tug is in the North of Scotland where commercial availability is not as certain as anywhere else in the UK.  This is a temporary solution and the MCA are attempting to find a longer term solution in association with Commercial interests.

The MCA coastguards have adjusted the way they use their experience and sensory equipment to assist and coordinate with commercial tug providers if they see vessels in potential difficulty in or approaching the UK coast.

23,000 incidents were responded to last year by the Maritime Search and Rescue centres.  There are 18 Coastguard Centres around the UK coast, manned 24 hours a day by trained officers.  Unfortunately these officers are still forced to work with outdated technology and inflexible working arrangements to be able to deal with the distress calls, compiling information and planning search operations.  On average each station deals with 3.5 incidents per day, but some stations are taking a greater proportion of the total workload, while other stations are used very little.  Therefore the MCA are reducing the 18 coordination centres to 11 which will be integrated into a national network with a large operations centre in Fareham.  This cuts the workforce by a third but allows the workload to be distributed evenly, increasing efficiency and effectiveness. The money saved will be transferred into better pay which Sir Alan believes, combined with the fact that MCA is not reducing any rescue assets, will increase the morale of the Coast Guards and build their competence which will help to manage risks to ‘life and limb’ more successfully in a sensible way.

Rescue helicopters are to increase to 10 bases from 4 which as Sir Alan joked, makes the MCA buck every trend in the Western world by actually increasing its air force!

The MCA provide the maritime weather forecasts through the Met Office and broadcast maritime safety information to alert seafarers to new hazards.  Hydrographic surveys and charts around the UK are organised by the MCA which also maintains equipment and chemicals to deal with pollution at sea.  There is also a contract with aircraft providers to look out for oil slicks.

150 dogs were rescued last year from off cliff, rocks, out of mud or from the water by the Coastguards.  There are approximately 3,500 Volunteer coastguards based in teams of about 10 around the UK coast which are specially trained to rescue dogs.  This saves the public having to put their lives in danger and as Sir Alan quipped, “We rather like dogs, they rarely complain about the quality of rescue service, and they never seem to file claims for compensation if their fur gets scratched or their collars scuffed in the process”.

Sir Alan finished his presentation on managing security risks to the UK.

Many people do not realise the amount the Marine Coastguard Agency contributed to the security during the Olympic Games.  The MCA have a lot of experience of watching vessel movements at sea, and a great amount of knowledge about ships, cargoes and crews.  The UK, as an island, can be quite vulnerable to approach by sea. This is why the MCA is involved with the National Maritime Information Centre in Northwood which aims to create a full picture of activity around the UK waters by collecting agencies knowledge which would not previously be combined.  The NMIC includes representatives from the Home Office, the Police, Royal Navy, Customs, Borders and the Marine Management Organisation.

IMIF would like to thank Sir Alan Massey for taking time to give this speech and Chris Lowe from Watson, Farley & Williams LLP for hosting such a successful luncheon.