Massive shake-up in maritime safety urged: Lord Donaldson's report after 'Braer' oil spill disaster contains 103 recommendations to reduce threat of sea pollution

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BRITAIN'S coastline is under constant threat from pollution because of the inadequate regulation of merchant shipping, according to the inquiry set up after the Braer disaster in January 1993.

Introducing his wide-ranging and damning report, which urges the British Government and the international authorities to take action on a number of fronts, Lord Donaldson said far too many sub-standard ships were arriving at UK ports.

Lord Donaldson and his two colleagues on the inquiry team, John Rendle and Professor Alasdair McIntyre, identify a group of shipowners who 'are fly-by-night operators whose sole concern is for the fast buck at whatever price in terms of the safety and welfare of officers and crew'. The rising use of flags of convenience meant that the risks of disaster were increasing because those fleets have high accident rates.

Although the inquiry was set up as a result of the Braer disaster in which nearly 85,000 tonnes of crude oil were spilled off the Shetland Islands, it looked at the risks of pollution from shipping to all of Britain's coastline.

In a Commons statement, John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, accepted the thrust of the report and promised tougher action against polluters and sub-standard ships flying flags of convenience. Responding to a recommendation, he said full details would be published each month of sub- standard ships detained in the UK.

He said he had instructed the Coastguard Agency to 'consider urgently' the recommendation to provide three salvage tugs and has agreed to the identification of marine environmental high- risk areas around UK coasts.

Frank Dobson, Labour's transport spokeman, said Lord Donaldson's report was an 'almost endless indictment of the failure of the Government and international bodies to prevent the loss of ships and the lives of seafarers and to protect Britain's shores from avoidable damage and pollution'. He called for tough new regulations to prevent reputable shipowners being 'forced into cut-throat competition with ships which are cheap and nasty; ships which are cheap because they are nasty'.

A spokesman for the seamen's officers' union, Numast, said: 'The Government is promising action on the one hand, yet only last week it announced that 20 per cent savings had to be made at the Marine Safety Agency which Lord Donaldson says needs to be more, not less, active.'

Jonathan Willis, a Shetland Islands councillor, said the recommendations were 'mostly excellent and long overdue' but the report failed to address Shetland's short-term need for safer shores, in particular for a tug and aerial and radar surveillance of the sea.

(Photograph omitted)