Dealing with the Marine Survey Office in 2017

In  Ireland the body policed with policing Marine Safety in is the Marine Survey Office (MSO). Traditionally with the Department of the Marine (which no longer exists) it is now housed in the Department of Transport reflecting developments in Marine activity and aligning Ireland with other Member States of the EU and international norms.

Recent legal developments have led to a change in the manner in which Boat Owners and Masters should deal with and interact with the MSO. Traditionally the MSO were very much about making sure all is well and that issues that could lead to serious problems are rectified and put right. However, with the advent of ever increasing controls as a result of Serious Marine incidents and disasters, that role has changed.

What is not so obvious is that this change of role has been mandated as much from Europe and the various International conventions such as UNCLOS and SOLAS as well as regulations following disasters such as the MV Erika off the French Coast in the Bay of Biscay and the sinking of the Prestige oil spill of the coast of Galicia in Spain

As a result of these issues and the heightened conciseness of safety after incidents such as the Costa Concordia, bodies such as the MSO – tasked with policing Safety at Sea, means that their role has shifted to reflect the seriousness of Safety at Sea from the perspective of Mariners and passengers, but the financial cost of cleaning up after such disasters. The Costa Concordia is estimated to have a final cost of €1.5 billion and the BP oil spill in the Gulf $61.6 billion.

It is safe to say that the rule book has changed as a result of these numbers.

Accordingly, bodies such as the MSO not only must deal with the consequences of disasters, but they are at the front line of ensuring that they do not happen. This happens in a number of ways, the carrying out of Codes of Conduct, application of the  Torremolinos Protocol  and the carrying out of Port State Control.

This captures everything from the stability of the vessel, to the sea worthiness of the vessel to the transporting of Dangerous Goods and Hazardous Materials.

The scope of activity captured is extremely broad.

As a result of pressure from within and without, the reality is that the MSO now carries both traditional wide and sweeping powers to modern technical and supervisory powers that bring with them criminal sanctions. The fore runner to the MSO in Ireland was the British Board of Trade which is a Committee of the Privy Council such was the importance of Trade in the 17th Century.

A combination of broad sweeping powers and the now highly technical nature of EU Regulations and UN Conventions, any interaction with a MSO officer is potentially expensive exercise.

However,recent legal developments in this Jurisdiction affords the Owner and Master of a Merchant Vessel or a Sea Fishing Vessel with certain legal protections which may not have been traditionally thought available.

As a result of the Criminal sanctions attaching to any prosecution which may be taken (such prosecutions are in the title of ‘The Minister for Transport’), recent Supreme Court decisions means that protections that are available in other areas of ‘criminal’ law are applicable to such prosecutions.

An  example of this is the right of any person being interviewed under caution by a Marine Survey Officer to have a Solicitor present. This is something which is not widely known and can avoid enormous problems into the future. In my experience, I have been engaged in cases involving prosecutions which have already commenced where the Master has admitted to several offences whilst under caution and they have thought that there was only one issue.

The most recent example is where there was an unreported grounding. The Master agreed to meet with the MSO Officer and give a statement without having a Solicitor present. When I was consulted, the Owner felt that a single offence had been accepted only for there to be 5 charges brought. When the statements were received, he had given admissions on all five of the charges as set out.

The consequences are real and serious. Conways Solicitors provide a 24 hours 365 service in that regard.

Conways Solicitors

22nd of June 2016