Views sought on proposed changes to enforcement of the Merchant Shipping Act

Published: 07/12/2021

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is consulting on changes to give them more flexibility when it comes to enforcing breaches of the Merchant Shipping Act.

Covering commercial vessels such as fishing boats and trawlers, tankers and cargo ships, the proposals to the Act would allow the MCA to use a variety of powers when breaches occur, including fines ranging from £250 to £50,000.

Currently, the MCA can detain vessels, issue improvement and prohibition notices. Although they can also bring criminal prosecutions which can result in imprisonment, this can often occur in cases where it would be more proportionate to hand out a fine. An example being a commercial fisherman caught fishing without wearing a personal flotation device.

Neil Cunningham, Head of Regulatory Compliance said:

“These rules are designed to keep people safe. But we continually review in line with our stance as a modern progressive regulator to look at how we might better encourage compliance without compromising safety”

It is part of an ongoing review of how the Agency could better enforce breaches by increasing the civil sanctions it can hand out to those breaking the rules.

The current powers in place can also often see offenders being given an informal warning as breaches aren’t serious enough to warrant imprisonment.

The new proposals aim to provide a stronger incentive to comply with the law if it is known, for example, that a spot-fine could be handed out.

Persistent offenders, and those who commit serious breaches of the law, would still face criminal prosecution.

The consultation on maritime civil sanctions provisions can be viewed here.