(Source: LLOYD'S LIST, London)
Tuesday June 01 2004
Cutting crews is causing accidents says MAIB chief
Meyer slams cost-saving measures as casualties rise, writes David Osler
PREVENTABLE accidents are happening at sea because owners are cutting crewing levels to save money, Britain’s shipping safety boss has warned.
The Maritime Accident Investigation Branch will take up this issue throughout this year, promised Stephen Meyer, chief inspector of marine accidents, in the organisation’s annual report.
Mr Meyer said that the 1,522 accidents and incidents reported to MAIB in 2003 represented “a disappointing [and depressingly consistent] number”.
The number of accidents to ships was 689, up by just over 13%.
All told, there were 27 deaths on all categories of British-flag vessels, with three of these onboard merchant ships.
These included the crushing of a person onboard aggregate dredger Arco Adur, a man overboard on the tug Cumbraeand a person missing on the boxship Hatsu Prima.
No British flag merchant vessels were lost in 2003.
Altogether, some 85 foreign flag ships of all types were involved in accidents in UK territorial waters, including 41 dry cargo vessels and 16 tankers.
However, these figures could be underestimates, the report suggested.
Some UK-flagged vessels do not comply with the legal requirement to report accidents, while many masters of foreign flag ships are unaware the requirement even exists, Mr Meyer believes.
Moreover, there is no legal obligation to report accidents on leisure crafts, or near misses involving commercial vessels.
Nevertheless, Mr Meyer professed himself optimistic that safety is starting to get the priority it deserves, with other sectors now following the lead set by tankers and ferries.
But he did not mince words over his concerns over crewing.
“I remain very concerned that manning levels have been cut to below a safe level in many short sea vessels,” Mr Meyer argued.
“Single bridge watchkeeping and fatigue are becoming commonplace features in many accidents around our coasts.”
In particular, the fishing industry is struggling to improve safety.
The financial straits of many skipper-owners is causing them to skim on maintenance.
“Too often, crews are cut to save costs,” said Mr Meyer. “Many accidents would be avoided if people were less stretched.”
At the start of 2003, some 15 full and preliminary MAIB investigations were underway, while a further 37 were started during the year, the report notes.
For the financial year 2003-04, MAIB overshot its budget by 2.6%, spending just over ￡2.03m.
The report attributed this to residual costs associated with accommodation expansion, and higher than usual IT costs on account of the development of its voyage data recorder capability.