Lessons learned from accidents in the recent past can lead to important changes in maritime safety regulations and legislation that will inform the future of the marine industry, says Captain Richard Eastham, the CEO of Regs4Ships Limited.

This concept of improvement of maritime safety regulations following accidents first made in appearance in 1987, following the sinking of the passenger ferry, Herald of Free Enterprise and the subsequent loss of 193 lives. Following the accident, a formal investigation was launched into the circumstances that lead to the tragedy, which resulted in a number of crucial changes to maritime legislation and safety practices that still remain in place today.

As a direct consequence of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch was founded in order to investigate boating accidents. In addition, the Surveyor General’s Organisation (SGO), the body that is responsible for creating new maritime regulations, also began to play a role in investigations and reform. The Surveyor General’s Organisation failed to make appropriate changes to maritime legislation following the incident, with resultant uproar in the maritime community. Within seven years, the SGO had been dismantled and was replaced by the Marine Safety Agency, which later merged with the Coastguard to become the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The 1987 disaster also drove changes further afield, improving international safety standards and eventually to the introduction of codes of safe operating practices which are taken for granted today. Just as these accidents in the past have shaped marine legislation for today, so the future of shipping practices and maritime safety will depend on the results of investigations into recent maritime accidents.

Currently, the body responsible for defining global maritime standards is the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). There are a number of trends within the IMO at the moment that indicate likely changes in marine legislation in the future. One such trend is the institution of Flag States which allow better grading of vessels for Port State Control purposes. To become a Flag State, a thorough audit of a vessel’s operation and administration will be conducted by the IMO, with any defects found to be handled by the IMO.

In addition, there is a trend in franchising of registry functions to commercial companies rather than having government officials deal with operational standards. This has not lead to a reduction in quality control standards – many commercial registry companies have superior safety records and operational standards, and perhaps the future of maritime safety will be a bright one, with a reduction of fatalities and injuries from marine accidents.


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