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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Recognition that the U.K.’s SOSREP system well proven in MSC Napoli incident

Representatives of the European Parliament and Council, the European Commission, EMSA and various shipping industry bodies met this week in the European Parliament Building in Brussels to discuss the recent beaching of the containership MSC Napoli in the U.K. (see article above "Lessons to be learnt from the MSC Napoli incident discussed in Brussels").


Paul Hinton, Chief Executive of the London P&I Club, made a fascinating comparison between the Prestige incident and the MSC Napoli incident.

- The Prestige incident represented complete conflict, right down to the salvage response; the MSC Napoli represented complete cooperation between two governments and with the industry.

- The Prestige was sent out to sea in a storm and sank with terrible consequences; the MSC Napoli was called in to a safe place of refuge and the consequences were minimised.

- And to ascertain the cause, in the case of the Prestige we have no evidence because the ship sank; in the case of the MSC Napoli we have all the evidence because we still have the ship.


The lessons learned? The consensus of the meeting was that the intervention by the U.K.’s SOSREP (the U.K. Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention) was a huge success. Hinton believes that it is preferable that the state’s representative is independent from government. The SOSREP has no political affiliation at all, he says, and moreover is learning with the shipping industry what he needs and what it needs. He admits that the French system operated well in this case, but warns that if such a situation were more serious, then the temptation of the government to interfere with the decision-making process might be too much.


The European Commission, represented by Philippe Burghelle-Vernet, called the MSC Napoli incident a success story, and reiterated that the decision to grant a ship refuge needs to be made by an independent authority capable of taking the decision, and even of modifying the original decision if circumstances demand – as they did here when SOSREP’s original choice of a sheltered anchorage in Portland Harbour was replaced by beaching the ship in Lyme Bay to stop her sinking.


The ‘panel’ was asked whether the handling of this incident would have been such a success if it had happened elsewhere in Europe (for instance in Spain where the Prestige incident happened).

- EMSA’s Willem de Ruiter said that he believes things in general have improved compared to a few years ago, that people and governments are better prepared, and that there exists an inventory of coastline places of refuge. He added that since the Prestige incident, Spain has invested in powerful tugs, has streamlined its decision-making process and has its own inventory of places of refuge.

- The European Commission also agreed that we are better prepared now, but feels that there is much work still to be done on the decision-making process.

- Hinton repeated that he is not confident that the situation would be handled in the same way elsewhere and believes that there would be political interference.


Also noteworthy were the congratulations from local MEP for S.W. England (in whose constituency the MSC Napoli now sits) Graham Watson to the authorities and to all involved in the MSC Napoli incident for a remarkably smooth operation. His questions were particularly pertinent. He asked whether laden ships leaving port are checked for route and timing in the case of bad weather conditions (it is the master’s decision but the port should warn him); why the ship was beached in a World Heritage Site (SOSREP’s final decision changed the destination as the ship’s condition worsened quickly); whether the ship’s design and/or repairs had anything to do with the incident (DNV said that the forward 100 metres had been repaired in Vietnam after major grounding, that it sees no relationship between that and where the hull cracking happened, and that the vessel was repaired under the supervision of her previous classification society).


This week’s meeting in the European Parliament between national and European authorities and industry agreed in describing the handling of the MSC Napoli incident as a success story. It could be added that, seen from INTERTANKO’s viewpoint, the meeting in Brussels was a good illustration of how a constructive dialogue between policy makers and industry can be conducted. Just like the handling of the Napoli incident, which benefited hugely from rational dialogue and cooperation between parties involved, both regulators and industry will gain from continuing the sort of fruitful and trusted dialogue that we experienced in Brussels earlier this week.


Contact: Bill Box