List exposes unsafe ships: Marianne Macdonald on an initiative to improve standards on cargo vessels

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THE GOVERNMENT yesterday published a blacklist naming foreign ships detained in UK ports for failing safety inspections. The unprecedented move aims to shame vessel owners - and countries of origin - into improving standards. Previously the identities of ships revealed as unsafe by port inspections were kept secret.

The first monthly blacklist covers June, when 17 ships flying flags of countries such as Germany, India and Russia, were detained. Six had structural defects, six significant defects in life-saving equipment and three had faulty fire-fighting apparatus.

Offenders include the Ravidas, flying an Indian flag and operated by the Shipping Corporation of India. Checks of the cargo ship showed the engine room ventilator flaps had seized, the emergency fire pump was not working and the starboard lifeboat engine was not working.

Another example, the Fofi, a cargo ship flying a Cyprus flag and operated by the Kytheraiki Marine Company, had an eight-metre-long hole in the side plating, a broken lifeboat engine and engine room fire detectors 'inoperative or missing'.

Faults in the 15 other ships included providing insufficient lifejackets, cracked portholes, inoperable gas detection systems, poorly functioning emergency fire pump systems and flat radio batteries.

The Government's decision to publicise the rogue ships implements a recommendation in Lord Donaldson's report Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas, which followed the Braer disaster in January 1993. The accident in which the Liberian-registered oil tanker came aground after engine failure on the Shetlands coast, releasing 85,000 tonnes of crude oil, put the spotlight on safety standards in international shipping.

For the last 12 years, Marine Safety Agency surveyors have inspected foreign ships as part of an international port control procedure. Inspections are partly random and partly targeted at ships such as oil tankers and gas carriers, which could pose specific dangers, or ships from countries whose vessels have a reputation for being sub-standard. The worst offenders in the past have been from the former Soviet Union, Romania, Syria, India, Iran, Morocco, St Vincent and the Grenadines.

If inspectors find faults the ship is usually expected to carry out repairs in situ. In June, ships were detained for between 2 and 18 days while repairs were completed. So far this year 146 ships have been detained.

Dr Brian Mawhinney, Secretary of State for Transport, said: 'The lives of seafarers are threatened and the UK coast is put at risk as long as sub-standard ships trade in our waters. The list should be seen as a clear signal to these flag states that their defective ships are not welcome.'

The United States publishes a list of substandard ships and France produced its first list this year.