Letter: Shetland disaster: tanker controls, safety at sea, UK fleet's decline

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Shetland tanker disaster strikes home the vital need to improve maritime safety standards. Though, fortunately, no human lives have been lost in this accident, the Shetlands will be coping with a fearful environmental legacy for years to come.

This accident is the culmination of a period that has seen a massive decline in maritime safety standards. Safety at sea has been compromised in successive years and seafarers continue to pay a high price in loss of life and appalling industrial injuries. Sadly, the loss of seafarers' lives rarely attracts much media interest.

The immediate priority is a full investigation of the causes of this catastrophe. All lessons from that inquiry must be applied quickly.

But the inquiry should also tackle wider issues of maritime safety in UK waters. For instance, why has this nation allowed its own merchant fleet - which has one of the world's best safety records - to decline so far? Why do we allow more and more sub- standard foreign vessels to trade in our waters? It is a simple fact that an astonishing 60 per cent of foreign ships checked in British ports in 1991 had defects.

The time is long overdue for a fundamental change in government policy on shipping. The fresh approach should address the decline of the UK fleet, the cutbacks that have taken place in UK seafarer training, the growing problem of ageing ships and the flag of convenience system.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN NEWMAN

General Secretary

Numast, the National Union of

Marine Aviation and Shipping

Transport Officers

London, E11

6 January

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