‘Save London’s passenger ships’: Thames passenger service providers fear impact of new safety rules
Riverboat service operators fear that new safety rules introduced by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) could bankrupt them.
A recent MCA review of Thames passenger ships suggested that older and newer ships need to be updated with a more modern system of safety legislation.
But boat operators fear that in some cases the work needed to bring their vessels up to the new standards will be expensive enough to bankrupt them.
Danny Collier, a skipper and owner of Colliers Launches, said his boats were specially designed to operate on the Thames to cope with low tides and low bridges.
Mr Collier said: âOver the years we have invested a lot of money in our project – almost tens of thousands of pounds to make improvements.
âIf the implementation of the consultation continues, then I will need to provide the inspector with a brand new plan.
âI have no intention of doing this because I am already investing a lot of money to make sure my ships are safe and respect the safety of passengers.
“If I don’t submit new plans, I could go out of business as early as January 2020.”
The MCA review is a direct result of the Thames Safety Investigation held in 2000, following the fatal vessel Marchioness crash in 1989, with the decision taken to modernize passenger safety standards for older passenger vessels that can hold 12 or more people. .
Mr Collier’s ships include the Princess Freda, reputed to have saved British troops at Dunkirk in 1940, as well as the Queen Elizabeth, which was used in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012.
More than 20 passenger boat operators who operate from Richmond, Kew, Hampton Court Palace and Westminster have joined Mr Collier in rejecting the proposals as they believe their ships are safe and purpose built.
Twickenham MP Vince Cable said: âI have been in touch with the government on the pleasure craft issue and the thriving ship repair business on Eel Pie Island, which is potentially affected if the boats go bankrupt.
âPriority must be given to the safety of passengers and the question is whether the proposed changes are proportionate, which is a technical problem, not a political one.
âThe PLA, the Port of London Authority, has now made a strong statement of support for the changes which must be taken seriously.
âI think the key problem in practice is having a safety regime that is appropriate for the dangerous and congested waters lower down the river around Westminster, but also allows boats to operate on the Richmond-Hampton Court section. where the challenges are different. ”
The MCA has announced that the new regulations will come into effect in the fall and that operators of passenger vessels will be given a two-year grace period to ensure they will be able to comply with the new proposals. consultation.
A spokesperson for the MCA said: âThere has been some controversy because a few – five at most, small vessels – as they are called, may be affected by the proposals.
âWe want to reassure people that the vast majority of Dunkirk Little Ships do not fall into this category – probably only two to three percent of the 198 ships are expected to be affected.
âAll passenger ships, including those that went to Dunkirk, are certified to the appropriate standards and are subject to annual checks by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency.
“We cannot use the wartime operational service – however noble – of almost 80 years ago as the standard against which to assess passenger ships currently in service.”
The MCA has also said it will welcome any future “exemption requests” for the Dunkirk Little Ship and other vessels, which will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.