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MCA assurances on UK ship register eligibility duck key issues says Union

13 June 2019

Assurances from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) that the UK will continue to maintain high standards for ships that join the UK Ship Register 'raises more questions than it answers', says Nautilus International.

The assurances from the MCA were made in response to Nautilus concerns at the MCA announcement in May 2019, that it aimed to grow the number of ships flying the UK flag by increasing the pool of shipping eligibility globally for the UK Ship Register (UKSR).

In a letter to the MCA in May 2019, Nautilus General Secretary Mark Dickinson said the Union was particularly concerned about the implications of the UKSR Enhanced Authorisation Scheme – which allows all survey/audits to be delegated to MCA-recognised organisations such as IACS classification societies - and flexible package fee options for registration, inspection and certification, designed to suit customer needs and the demands of worldwide shipping.

A key issue is how the MCA will retain full control over the checks and balances needed to ensure that quality ships match that of the national register.

Nautilus sought assurances from the MCA on the UK's commitment to ensure UNCLOS provisions are strictly adhered to and a commitment to ensuring a genuine link always exists between all vessels registered in the UK.

In a letter responding in June to these concerns, MCA chief executive Brian Johnson said: 'We welcomed Nautilus and industry support via both the Maritime Growth Study and more recently Maritime 2050, both which set clear objectives for the expansion of the UK merchant fleet.

'Firstly, in relation to "temporary flagging-in" - our press notice was advertising the recent amendment to the regulations which now allows the UK Ship Register to offer bareboat out services - ships on the UK Ship Register can temporarily "flag out" if, for example, there is a charter requirement and then return when that need has finished.

'This service, which is offered by many ship registers, is part of our plans to bring the UK in line with other flags, and hopefully means we will no longer lose ships off the flag if they chartered elsewhere; this is something which has unfortunately happened in recent years.

'Regarding the delegation of survey responsibilities to Classification Societies, and options for inspection and certification "designed to suit customer needs" - we have offered clients partial delegation of audit/survey via the Alternative Compliance Scheme, and this has recently been extended via the Enhanced Authorisation Scheme (EAS). MGN 5611 provides details of the Scheme.'

In essence, select ships of a certain standard may go onto full delegation and have a Recognised Organisation complete their International Safety Management audit, explained Mr Johnson. This delegation is underpinned by the MCA's Marine Surveyors completing a General Inspection of the ship whilst on EAS, to ensure standards do not fall below those we expect. The scheme is optional and therefore offered clients the choice, if their ship falls into the approved category, to choose either the MCA or a recognised organisation for their audit.

'In terms of exceptional shipping companies joining the UK Shipping register, the UK flag has, and will continue to have, a rigorous pre-flag process,' said Mr Johnson. 'All applicants and ships are assessed for their suitability to come to UK flag and the extension of this eligibility will continue to follow that robust process. We wish to maintain our good record when it comes to port State control inspections and we do not believe that the changes that we have implemented will put that at risk.'

Noting the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) campaign on flags of convenience, Mr Johnson commented: 'Whilst we support the ITF's efforts to ensure application of International Convention, this eligibility change means the UK will change from being a National registry to an "International" Registry. We will continue to request evidence of -title/beneficial ownership of ships which flag to UK.'

Mr Dickinson commented that the MCA’s response raised more questions than it answered: 'I will be following up on this exchange of correspondence with Mr Johnson at the earliest opportunity. If extending the eligibility criteria brings new tonnage to the UKSR – from companies that want to establish a business here and employ local staff and more importantly train and employ British seafarers that’s all well and good. But if it is just selling the Red Ensign to the highest bidder then we have the beginnings of a serious problem.’


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