The letter from Dr Mawhinney to his fellow Cabinet minister David Hunt makes clear that the decision to delay privatising the inspections is being made for purely political considerations and will be only temporary until concern over the Estonia disaster, in which 900 people lost their lives, abates.
The letter to Mr Hunt, who is the minister responsible for open government, says that ministers "are concerned to avoid exposing the Government to criticism in the event of a major accident".
Therefore the decision to privatise the work on hull and machinery surveys on roll-on roll-off ferries is being postponed and will be left with the Marine Safety Agency for the time being. Privatisation of ship surveys and certification was announced in August 1993; other aspects of the work will continue to be privatised on schedule.
The letter says that once the report of the International Maritime Organisation safety committee is published in the spring, the decision will be reconsidered.
Dr Mawhinney comments: "I regard this as a short-term postponement." He then alludes to government news management when he says he expects draft regulations covering ship safety would be laid early this year with a "low-key press notice giving reasons for the postponement".
Andrew Linington, spokesman for the ships officers' union Numast, said: "This shows a cynical disregard for safety. The Government knows that inspections carried out by the private classification societies are less good than those undertaken in-house by state agencies. It is treating the public with contempt."
A Department of Transport spokesman yesterday refused to comment on the letter between the ministers, but said that the privatisation of ro-ro inspections was being delayed until the results of the IMO report were known.Reuse content