With less than three weeks to go, the UK government is still unsure how to enforce a new blood alcohol limit for seafarers.
For the first time in history, an international binding alcohol limit for professional seafarers will be implemented on 1 January 2012. However, the UK is still unsure how to enforce the new law, which is part of an agreement signed last year called the Manila Amendments.
This comes after a number of drink related collision occurred, the most recent one being a tanker grounding in New Zealand.
“The government is currently considering how best to implement this amendment for the UK”, says Michael Read-Leah, a spokesperson for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).
Different national limits
Different national alcohol limits are currently making it difficult to keep track of seafarers who are crossing international sea borders. The UK blood alcohol limit of 0.08 per cent for mariners was introduced in 2003, while the German limit for example is only 0.05 per cent.
The amendments were brought forward after a number of alcohol related collisions occurred in international waters after the national alcohol limits failed to be enforced.
The most current incident that sparked international outrage was the New Zealand grounding that caused New Zealand’s biggest maritime disaster in history. The captain has been arrested and is under suspicion to have caused the accident under alcohol influence.
In 2008, the Ukrainian captain Volodymyr Gonchar, 53, sailed a tanker laden with 4,000 tonnes of explosive chemicals and diesel up the Thames to London while unable to communicate with the port staff. He was three times over the legal alcohol limit. He was jailed for two months.
Prevention is neglected
The accidents highlight that national enforcement tactics are primarily focusing on the prosecution of trespassers, with police and organisations only being called to the scene if a professional mariner is suspected to be over the prescribed alcohol limit to conduct a breathalyser test and, if appropriate, arrest the mariner. Prevention of accidents is not addressed sufficiently.
Complicated bureaucratic structures are a hindrance to enforcing effective prevention methods. Some waters can be subject to local byelaws, which are enforced by harbour authorities and local authorities. This means that a range of organisations – the MCA, harbour authorities, local authorities and the police could all be involved if a crime is suspected.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) revised the standards of training and watch keeping to improve and maintain global safety for professional mariners last year in Manila, the Philippines. The Manila Amendments were published shortly after.
“Countries should take up measures promptly”
Ashok Mahapatra, a spokesperson from the IMO said: “It is up to individual countries to implement these amendments based on their national requirements.”
The amendments state that to achieve full compliance by 2017, countries should promptly take up measures to implement the new codes and conventions in their national training, certification and administration system.