'Ministers must order more checks and tugs'

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LORD DONALDSON'S report contains 103 recommendations, many of which can only be brought into force through international agreement.

However, he identified two areas where the Government could take action quickly: improving the inspection of ships in UK ports, and establishing a fleet of tugs to ensure that salvage is available to ships in distress.

Lord Donaldson expressed surprise at the number of ships found to be sub-standard when visiting UK ports. Only 2,000 out of 6,000 ships arriving in the UK annually are inspected and about 60 per cent are found not to comply with international standards; 120 had had to be detained because they were not seaworthy.

Therefore, the report recommends an increase in the number of inspections and a system of 'self-targeting', whereby any ship arriving for the first time at the port of one of the 15 European countries would be issued with a log book and made liable to regular inspections if deficiencies were found during inspections. The extra cost of these inspections should be met from a new fund by charging shipowners.

The report says the extra costs of such measures are minimal and a fair price to pay given the urgency of the situation.

On tugs, Lord Donaldson says that they are becoming 'an endangered species' because of the overall reduction in accidents where they can be of use and make a profit. The absence of tugs contributed to the Braer disaster. He recommends, therefore, that the Government should subsidise the funding of extra tugs and ascertain what provision of tugs is needed.

The report also highlights the anonymity of ships when at sea, as names are often obscured by rust which makes unscrupulous masters think they will get away with any misdemeanours such as illegal discharges. It recommends that ships should have their radio call signs painted on their sides and decks to ensure easy identification. In order to try to avoid ships foundering in environmentally sensitive areas, the report recommends the creation of a few Marine Environmental High Risk Areas, where masters should be advised why particular areas are sensitive as well as specifying certain routes for ships.

The report says that the Government should press the International Maritime Organisation, the UN body, to adopt English formally as the international language of the sea, in the same way that it is already used for air traffic control.

While the report recognises that it is very difficult for the international community to police the activities of countries who operate so-called 'flags of convenience' and are failing to properly regulate their shipping fleets, it says some action can be taken.

It suggests that the IMO should publish league tables on the safety performance of all flag-of-

convenience fleets, to ensure that charterers and insurers are aware of the greater risk of using such ships. It urges that accident reports, currently secret, should be published, and adds that a concise Seaway Code should be drawn up by the Department of Transport to outline to visiting masters the rules in UK waters.

A number of suggestions put forward in evidence to Lord Donaldson's inquiry team were rejected. He is against, for example, the idea of establishing set age limits on shipping, as he points out that well-maintained old ships are safer than poorly maintained newer ships. And a proposal for radar surveillance of all the UK's coasts would not be effective, as it was impossible to detect on radar whether two ships near each other were likely to collide.

The inquiry was the first that was asked to consider the cost implications of its recommendations. Lord Donaldson said he was unable to determine exact costs, but a figure of pounds 10m for the annual cost of the extra tugs and inspections was suggested. He stressed: 'In my mind, there is no doubt that this cost must be incurred.'