Appointment by Secretary of State of Advisors on Marine Salvage, & C.

Part of Merchant Shipping and Maritime Security Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 17th March 1997.

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Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow 6:45 pm, 17th March 1997

I have considerable sympathy with both new clauses. I remind the Minister—if he needs a reminder—of what might have happened west of the Western Isles with the Panamanian-registered Soro. Perhaps I may say, in response to a comment my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) made, that we always have a problem when tankers run into difficulties, because the owners place enormous pressure on their captains. We found that with the Exxon Valdez: the captain was reluctant to send for assistance. The same held true for that terrible foundering off the Shetland coast: there seemed to be some reluctance on the part of the captain to call for assistance. That was not the case with the Soro, as I am pleased to say that Captain Jim McFadden, a constituent of mine, acted promptly—as the Minister will agree in his response, I am sure.

In relation to the measures proposed in the new clauses, I want to know what information the Minister has about the Soro. There could have been a serious incident—that word is not strong enough. That august journal the Greenock Telegraph stated last Wednesday: A Greenock tanker captain has averted what could have been a major maritime oil disaster.The Panamanian-registered Soro ran into difficulties after encountering storm force conditions off the coast of Lewis. That means the west coast of Lewis—the deep-water route—where the vessel should have been. As the Minister knows, I have always argued that such vessels should not use the Minch in heavy weather.

The report continues: The severe weather damaged the ship's steering but Captain Jim McFadden of Greenock managed to bring the vessel and her cargo of 284,000 tonnes of crude oil to safety—preventing what could have been an environmental catastrophe.Tugs rushed to the aid of the Soro and brought her to the Clyde for repairs. This morning she left the river to continue her voyage to Canada. Were Government inspectors involved in inspecting the vessel's seaworthiness before she left the Clyde to continue her voyage to Canada? Captain McFadden acted promptly to avert danger by alerting the emergency tug at Stornoway, but there have been cases where captains, even when their ships were in serious trouble, have been reluctant to send for an emergency tug because of the cost. The new clauses deal with the problem of unscrupulous owners who let their captains and crews know their views about the need to avoid what they regard as unnecessary expense. They tell captains to try to effect running repairs and to get their engineers to deal with the faulty steering or whatever and not to call out a tug because of the cost. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) will know that some owners put that terrible responsibility on captains. In the case of Captain McFadden, there were no problems because he behaved in the honourable tradition of seafarers and sought to protect both his crew and the marine environment by sending for the tug promptly. He is to be complimented for his actions, but I worry about unscrupulous owners putting intolerable pressure on their captains.