One in ten foreign ships in UK not seaworthy

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The Independent Online
More than 10 per cent of foreign ships inspected at British ports were in such poor condition they were considered unseaworthy by the inspectors, according to statistics released by the Marine Safety Agency yesterday.

Of 1,821 ships inspected in the year up to 31 May 1995, 190 were detained by the authorities for repairs to be carried out. This is the first year that the detailed results of ship inspections have been published following one of the recommendations of Lord Donaldson's report into the Braer disaster off Shetland in 1993.

They show a sharp increase in the number of detentions, from 17 in 1989, but this is partly due to stricter criteria being applied by inspectors.

While the average detention period was five days, one ship has been held for 220 days. The Bulgarian-registered fish-processing vessel, the Aktinia, has been detained in the Scottish port of Lerwick since last November because its owner cannot afford to repair it.

It was one of five "Klondykers", factory fishing ships operating in Scottish waters, originally detained by the authorities which targeted these ships as a result of concerns over their poor state of repair. The other four have been repaired and released.

While many of the ships only had minor defects, others had major problems which, according to Captain Douglas Bell, who is responsible for marine safety operations at the MSA, could have resulted in their being lost at sea. One ship had a huge hole in its hull, another had wooden life rafts that looked like those used in beach resorts, and another needed over pounds 1m of work to replace corroded steel plates. Other problems ranged from infestation of the crew's quarters with cockroaches or cargo blocking the view from the bridge.

Captain Bell emphasised that it was impossible to prove whether the increase in inspections had reduced losses at sea, "but there were some indications that this was the case".

Britain works in conjunction with 14 other European nations and Canada to enforce standards and avoid duplication of work.

Captain Bell accepted that the figures for detentions may be relatively high because particular countries, types of ship and even companies are targeted. The countries with the worst proportion of detentions were Turkey (54.5 per cent of inspected ships were detained), Honduras (40.9 per cent) and Bulgaria (38.9 per cent). Malta had 24 detentions, Russia and Cyprus 23 each and Panama 16. With Honduras, which had nine, these represented half the detained ships.

The shipping minister, Lord Goschen, said: "Poor standards of maintenance and management coupled with dubious standards of surveying and inadequate flag state control lies at the root of many of these detentions."

Only one passenger ship, the roll-on-roll-off ferry Winston Churchill, was detained. Its stern ramp was checked following the Estonia disaster in September and found not to be watertight. The stern doors were welded up as a result.

Only six UK-registered ships were detained in foreign ports over the past year because of defects.