British Ports calls for leadership from the shipping industry on safety issues

Following reports of a number of instances around the presence of defective pilot ladders on visiting ships and the regular use of dangerously weighted heaving lines by some vessels at UK ports, the British Ports Association has called on the international shipping community to face up to these ongoing safety issues.

While UK shipping companies are usually fully compliant with safety rules set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), many UK ports have found that increasing numbers of internationally flagged ships are inconsistent in their adoption of such standards. Writing today in the international shipping publication Lloyd’s List, the British Ports Association’s Chief Executive, Richard Ballantyne has called for leadership in the shipping industry and at the IMO to overcome the challenges.

The article follows.

The global shipping community needs to face up to safety challenges

- A view from Richard Ballantyne, Chief Executive, British Ports Association

Shipping and ports are intrinsically linked and are vital to one another. Notwithstanding the odd disagreement about port charges or operational issues, the two sectors usually work well together and iron out issues jointly.

Maintaining the safety of ships and shipping practices in ports is obviously a fundamental common aim of both parties. However, in certain areas there remains regular instances where ships are not always respecting this joint aspiration. Too often of late, UK ports and their pilots report that visiting ships provide unsafe pilot ladders and we have also seen the continued use of dangerously weighted heaving lines in ports. Both threaten the lives of harbour and towage operatives.

In terms of defective pilot ladder provision, the International Maritime Pilots Association recently published the results of its annual safety survey which confirmed that this remains very much problem around the globe. The #dangerousladders hashtag on Twitter and Facebook illustrates the issue in a stark visual form.

Of course, such examples are despite the existence of long-standing international rules outlined in SOLAS. The exact reasons for these instances are unclear but as a normally responsible sector, the shipping industry should collectively hang its head in shame over this continued flagrant activity. It cannot ignore such problems and must show leadership to correct such practices.

I would say however that the majority of global shipping companies and their crews are fully focussed on safety, but the sector needs to act and strong leadership is also required from the International Maritime Organization to uphold these values.

While it is certainly true that you cannot put a price on the life, what makes these issues even more frustrating are the relatively minor costs associated with purchasing new pilot ladders and ensuring heaving lines don’t include scraps of metal hidden within monkey fist knots or have other dangerously weighted objects attached.

The British shipping industry has learned from a variety of incidents and accidents and has, in my view, responded extremely well to a range of safety challenges. Generally, UK ships have a good record in terms of their pilot access and heaving lines and we have an excellent dialogue with the UK Chamber of Shipping. However international standards are not as consistent and there are still far too many instances of visiting ships at our ports flouting the rules.

Global rules set by the IMO bring consistency but they must be followed. Equally these rules must be enforced uniformly and Port State Control practices should be firm, including, where needed, measures to prosecute and detain ships. Also in the UK, this year the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has refreshed its dangerously weighted heaving line reporting and enforcement mechanisms and a leading port operator is levying a charge on instances.

Such approaches can be applauded but without collective and global action the problems will no doubt continue. Therefore as we approach the end of year, I will be encouraging my colleagues who represent the global ports industry and UK’s representatives at the IMO to raise these issues at every possible opportunity in 2019. We must look to correct this jointly through both enforcement and education. This will ensure the sector’s pilots and seafarers enable our ships and ports to continue to keep the global economy trading in an efficient and safe way.

Richard Ballantyne
Chief Executive
British Ports Association

18 December 2018