Lord Donaldson of Lymington

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The Independent Online

In February 1996 the tanker Sea Empress grounded at the entrance to Milford Haven. During the next five days some 72,000 tonnes of cargo was spilt into an area of natural beauty and seaside amenities. This time Donaldson was appointed to conduct an independent review of marine salvage and state intervention and their command and control. His report, in March 1999, made 26 recommendations, all of which were accepted by government. Most importantly for myself and the developing National Contingency Plan for Marine Pollution from Shipping and Offshore Installations, it created the post of Secretary of State's Representative, or Sosrep - a sort of "salvage supremo" who could exercise ultimate control over salvage operations acting in the overriding interests of the UK and its environment without recourse to any higher authority.

The first Sosrep was appointed in late 1999 and since then the UK system envisaged by Donaldson has been cited as the best functioning system in the world by salvors, shippers, insurers and other states.

Lord Donaldson also cherished the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. He spent considerable time visiting coastal stations and rescue co- ordination centres, talking to staff, absorbing issues and making his own views known to those in authority.

On one occasion, I was visiting a government office whose staff were, in his opinion, being slow at producing Sosrep Regulations for the offshore industry. Suddenly the whole office came to life around me. Donaldson had been on the phone to inform them that he was tired of waiting and had produced a single-paragraph "Private Lord's Bill" which he would lodge the following week, and which could (apparently) become law within a couple of months. He faxed the Bill to them and asked them to stop him by convincing him they could meet a very short timetable and had a useable draft of their proposed regulations. Terror ruled! He got his way, of course. When I rang to ask him what on earth he was doing, he replied, "I thought you might need some help."