HC Deb 01 February 1982 vol 17 cc11-3
13 Sir William van Straubenezee

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what consideration his Department has given to the problems of current contract practice with regard to the salvage of stricken ships.

Mr. Sproat

I note the wide use made of the Lloyd's standard form of salvage agreement, under which remuneration is determined after the salvage operation by agreement or arbitration. This minimises the preliminaries to rapid action. I keep under review whether there are lessons to be learnt from individual incidents. The United Kingdom delegation to the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation will play its full part in the coming revision of the 1910 Brussels convention on salvage.

Sir William van Straubenzee

I appreciate that my hon. Friend cannot comment on the merits of a recent and particularly tragic case involving the loss of life of an entire rescue crew, but if he believes that there is any justification for the view that delay in settling the salvage terms was one of the causes, will he consider in the revision of which he speaks something on the lines of mandatory provisions that would come into effect upon certain basic conditions being satisfied?

Mr. Sproat

I give my hon. Friend the assurance that the Government will be willing to examine any lesons to be learnt from the inquiries currently being carried out by the RNLI, by my Department and by the Government of the Republic of Ireland. I must, however, inform him that traditional mariner lore believes that the ship's master is the best person to decide whether his ship is in danger.

Mr. Prescott

In order to establish a successful tow of a stricken vessel, adequate manning is required on a ship. Has the Minister seen the statement of the Irish Minister of Transport to the effect that manning levels in Ireland are the same as those applied by Britain? Does he accept that this applied in the case of the "Union Star" or will he confirm that manning levels required by the Irish are two below what is necessary in Britain? Will the hon. Gentleman point out this fact to the Irish Minister?

Mr. Sproat

Yes. I read the report in the newspapers to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I shall consider it in the light of the Irish Government's report when it is made available to me.

Mr. Ginsburg

The Minister has referred to international action. Will he indicate what sort of time scale he envisages? How long will it take before a convention is signed?

Mr. Sproat

There is to be a meeting in relation to the IMCO agreement in 1984. One or two other matters, I believe, have to be dealt with before that meeting. They will require a fair amount of work by IMCO. I hope, however, that these matters will be settled at the next diplomatic conference in 1984–85.

Sir Albert Costain

Does the Minister appreciate that this is a significant issue in areas bordering the English Channel and that one of the highest concentrations of shipping in the world is to be found off south-east Kent? Is it possible to have rules applying to ships using this narrow waterway similar to those governing the methods by which ships traverse that area?

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend is right in pointing to the extremely busy, difficult and potentially dangerous nature of the English Channel. When the preliminary inquiry is completed, I shall examine what my hon. Friend says in the light of what the inquiry reveals.

Mr. Woolmer

The Minister will be aware of the great concern, expressed both at the time and since the "Union Star" and Penlee lifeboat disaster about a number of matters. Will he say when he expects the report of the preliminary inquiry? Will he give an assurance that he will carefully examine the call for a proper public inquiry to investigate the many matters to which reference has been made?

Mr. Sproat

Yes, Sir. I give that assurance. I hope and, indeed expect, that the inquiry will be completed by the end of this month.

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