New law set to 'better protect' seafarers

Southampton-based maritime charity responds to new legislation that will ‘better protect’ seafarers

Seafarers will be better protected as new UK rules come into force to tighten up safety for those who work in enclosed spaces on board vessels.

The updated legislation goes further than that currently required under international maritime law and is part of the ongoing commitment by the UK to seafarer welfare.

Enclosed spaces include chain lockers, cargo holds, duct keels and water tanks – or any area that has been left closed for any length of time without ventilation.

Six people have died over a ten-year period from 2009 to 2019 in UK ports while working in such spaces, which has led to this legislation being introduced.

Although carrying out assignments in enclosed spaces is a necessary part of working on ships, the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) is committed to reducing the risks and will continue to review how best to protect people in those environments.

The changes will replace previous legislation, requiring ships to protect workers from the risks of entry into enclosed spaces through measures such as regular safety drills and providing atmosphere testing equipment.

It’s estimated more than 100,000 ships visit UK ports each year, 30% of which is accounted for in ports across the south including Southampton (8,599), Portsmouth (8,421), Lymington (3,459), Cowes (6,198) and Yarmouth (3,405).

Stuart Rivers, Chief Executive of the Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB) which supports and promotes co-operation between organisations that provide welfare services to seafarers, fishermen and their dependents, has responded to the announcement.

“Working on ships can be extremely dangerous, especially when working in confined areas. Far too many lives are lost at sea and in ports so we welcome this new legislation,” he said.

“There are 22,000 UK seafarers who work in the shipping industry who must be better protected while carrying out day-to-day duties. While this new piece of legislation, which the industry has been crying out for, strives to reduce the number of fatalities across the merchant sector, this is just the start. Health and safety should not be compromised; it is imperative that we do everything possible to ensure serious injuries are avoided.”

Read the announcement in full here