Investigation and enforcement following incidents on UK vessels

28 Feb 2017

Patrick Bond, Director at UK law firm Thomas Miller Law

Patrick Bond, Director at UK law firm Thomas Miller Law

According to Patrick Bond, Director at UK law firm Thomas Miller Law, the company is regularly involved in cases following serious incidents and deaths on board vessels in the UK.

Many marine operators are used to dealing with the MCA but
will be less prepared for the HSE (Health and Safety Executive).  The HSE has responsibility for a considerable
range of activities at the water margin and offshore including docks, offshore,
diving and offshore industries.

The HSE takes a very robust approach to prosecutions and
also charges at a high hourly rate for investigations even when the company is

A serious incident on board any ship in UK waters will
almost certainly attract the attention of the authorities. Whether an
investigation is led by the MCA, the MAIB or the HSE will depend upon the
circumstances.  The Police may or may not
take a similar interest.  The area in the
vicinity of a fatality may be treated as a crime scene and witnesses may be
questioned with one eye on future prosecution.

Ship operators are used to the MCA and MAIB but be warned;
the HSE also has a large role once an accident has occurred:

A Memorandum of Understanding between the agencies explains
the process under which the organisations will co-operate to ensure that the
most appropriate body is recognised as the lead authority at an early stage.

MCA and MAIB are the lead authorities for the inspection and
investigation of accidents on any ship. But HSE is the lead authority for
enforcement and investigation of occupational accidents with primacy in many
marine areas including ship yards, the offshore industry, diving and
construction sectors. 

The agreement expects practical working level contacts and
procedures, and clear lines of communication between HSE and MAIB inspectors
and MCA surveyors. Despite these aims, there can confusion following a serious

The various organisations claim to avoid duplication of
activity where legislation overlaps and also claim to avoid placing conflicting
requirements on dock operators and ship operators. In practice this is not
always the case.  In a recent incident
involving a foreign flagged vessel in dry dock the HSE applied UK domestic
office construction regulations and deemed certain equipment on the vessel non-compliant.  This despite the vessel having full clean
certification from its Flag and Class authorities.

When things go seriously wrong the agencies directed
coordinate to ensure effective and efficient prosecution of offences.  The HSE in particular has vast powers and can
demand huge fines following a successful prosecution. The fine is related to
the severity of the offence and the size of the company.  In addition, the HSE also levies charges for
its investigation. At the most severe end of the scale a medium sized company
convicted for Corporate Manslaughter breaches will attract  a fine in the range £1.8 million to  £7.5 million.

Patrick recommends that advice be sought at an early stage
in such cases.

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