The report considered the remit of the MCIB as laid out in the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000.
On the make-up of the MCIB investigation team, Captain Forde says, “As this report will show, the absence of maritime professionals on the MCIB for most of its existence has led to an overreliance on the limited maritime experience of one individual member of the Board, namely, the Chief Surveyor …”
Another criticism of the Board composition is the Chair. He says, “To date the Chairperson has always been a lawyer with no professional maritime expertise or experience. There is no discernible reason why the chairperson, or any member of the board should be a lawyer.”
He also criticised the Ministerial appointments to the board claiming that in the past, the appointees did not have enough marine experience to justify their posting.
In the Report he recommends to the Minister for Transport:
“As records show marine accidents can vary considerably in range and magnitude. Therefore, to investigate comprehensively requires the rapid input of competent specialist expertise, particularly in relation to the larger vessels with modern sophisticated technical plant/ systems. This is most significant in relation to ship structure, stability, propulsion machinery and auxiliaries. To support the requirement therefore necessitates the expertise of the following professional and independent personnel:
- a qualified and experienced Master Mariner (STCW II/2); and
- an experienced Marine Engineer with a First Class Combined Engineers Cert. Of Competency (STCW III/2).”
His report also hits out at the lack of investigations into serious or fatal accidents where seafarers have fallen into the water while boarding or leaving vessels moored alongside.
“For every one death many more seafarers are rescued in such incidents.
“In failing to investigate such incidents, the MCIB is not fulfilling its clear statutory duty, as stated in paragraph 4.1. Accordingly, lessons have failed to be learned from such accidents to prevent further injury and loss of life.”
The report also questions who was/is making the decisions on what accidents to investigate and what accidents have been ignored, and a claim by a MCIB investigator “Every instruction that I received as an MCIB investigator I received directly from the Chief Surveyor”.
Captain Forde says, “It will be seen in this report that there appears to have been disproportionate control and influence by the Chief Surveyor on the MCIB in circumstances where there has been an obvious conflict of interest between the MCIB’s purpose and the role of the Chief Surveyor in the MSO.”
On the issue of investigation procedure, having examined several MCIB reports, Captain Forde says:
“Criticisms of the reports as published are that they are superficial, sub-servient to the wishes of the Minister for Transport and/or his officials and lack meaningful recommendations. The Board has failed to embarrass the relevant authorities to act on any substantial historical recommendation.”
In the conclusion of the Report Captain Forde says regarding marine casualties:
“The number of deaths is small and while each one represents a tragedy for the family and friends of the deceased statistically, compared to road deaths, the numbers are insignificant. That may be popularly thought to be the position.
“However, the RNLI and ICG record that their interventions save hundreds of lives annually on Irish waters and contiguous ocean waters. If that is truly the case, then each of these incidents represents by comparison a serious road traffic accident. RNLI/ICG incidents numerically now bear comparison with road traffic incidents on which huge amounts of money and resources are expended relative to marine issues. It is vital then that marine incidents are seen in this light.”
“Each of these fatal marine incidents represents a huge cost to the State in Search and Rescue (SAR) and auxiliary units (Naval Service, Garda, medical, legal and Administrative). If the number of incidents is reduced, then the cost is reduced.
“The ICG helicopter service costs in fuel alone are €1600 per hour for the S92A. Once a full SAR is declared these costs mount dramatically. While some units are redeployed after initial SAR there is still an official presence with for instance the Irish Naval Service providing divers and other strategic assets.
“Ireland’s leisure boat ownership was estimated at 20 000 craft in 2006 by the industry and expected to rise to 40 000 craft by 2016. The economic crisis of 2008 caused a rupture in this cycle with leisure craft becoming an expensive luxury item abandoned in the face of house repossession. The figures for boat ownership are once again on the increase and this in turn will lead to an increase in marine incidents involving leisure craft.
“Commercial fishing vessel number 2127 vessels with between 3200 and 6300 personnel employed directly on the vessels. The difference in estimated crew numbers reflects the unregulated and casual nature of fishing vessel employment. By comparison there are 50,000 HGV drivers + at least 250,000 small commercial vehicles on our roads. The 2127 fishing vessels average 3 deaths a year. Transport those figures to the commercial road vehicle drivers we would have 423 commercial driver fatalities a year. If we take journeys or distance travelled as a criterion we can double or treble that figure. In notional terms we would be doubling our road traffic fatalities at a minimum
“When comparing the marine workplace to shore employment rate of loss of life is very high even though actual numbers of fatalities are low. Iceland in comparison to Ireland has had no marine deaths in the last 7 years in its fishing, merchant marine or leisure sectors. While the population is a fifth that of Ireland the Icelandic population with a marine interest is almost 100%.”
Members of the Óireachtas Business Committee along with Chairs of various other Committees have been sent the Report along with a letter from Mr Kingston regarding the rejection of a request by the Minister for Transport for waiver of requirements of Standing Orders relating to the scrutiny of legislation with regard to the General Scheme of the Merchant Shipping (investigation of Marine Casualties) Amendment Bill.
In the letter Mr Kingston writes “I write to explain why this Proposed Act, which was originally scheduled for Prelegislative scrutiny on the Legislation Schedule Autumn Programme 2020 (15 September 2020) should be afforded the highest level of pre-legislative analysis and is not fit for purpose. I respectfully submit that Minister Ryan’s request should be denied by the Business Committee as it does not meet the ‘national interest qualification’. I provide in this correspondence further, highly important, and necessary information to inform the Committee.”
Mr Kingston claims the Report “clearly demonstrates the fundamental failures of the MCIB since its inception and therefore how important it is to analyse any proposed legislation properly. We are dealing here with the difference between life and death of Irish citizens.”
The full report can be read here.