Response to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency Consultation on the Proposed Revised Technical Requirements and Associated Impact Assessment Resulting from the Review of Standards for Older UK Passenger Ships
National Historic Ships UK (NHS-UK) was set up by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in 2006 as an independent authority to represent historic vessels in the UK and offer expert advice to government, funding and regulatory bodies, heritage organisations and all those with an interest in maritime heritage. We also have responsibility for maintaining the National Register of Historic Vessels and associated databases, which list some 1,500 craft of UK significance, many of which remain operational either in private ownership, as sail training or charter vessels, or as passenger carrying ships. In order to qualify for registration, all vessels must be over 50 years old and 33 feet in length overall, based in UK waters and of UK significance.
We are pleased to have the opportunity to comment on these proposals and are submitting this response on behalf of the sector. In preparing this document, we have drawn on feedback from a number of our stakeholders. Unfortunately, this consultation only recently came to our attention, but we have since publicised it via our website, mailing lists and social media. As a result, we are aware of several other responses which have been submitted independently from registered historic vessel owners and have listed these at the end of this paper.
We welcome the MCA’s inclusive approach to this proposal and recognise the importance of evaluating safety standards for these vessels. However, we are concerned that some of the proposals, in particular those relating to fire-fighting containment and damage stability, have the potential to irretrievably impair the significance of these craft and, in many cases, prove impractical to implement due to the historic configuration of the vessels. We regret that we were not aware of the earlier workshop which we would like to have attended, but we will be happy to expand further on any of the information given in this document. We would also be glad to meet with MCA representatives to discuss our proposals in relation to registered historic vessels, should this prove helpful.
Response to relevant Consultation Questions:
1. Do you consider the Impact Assessment represents a true representation of the impact of these proposals?
Historic ships, for the most part, do not operate on the same commercial footing as many other passenger craft. They may be run by charitable trusts, museums or volunteer groups with the sole purpose of keeping alive the skills of operating these craft and sharing the experience of sailing on a vessel from a bygone age with members of the public. This may mean that they only run for part of the year, or on special heritage days, resulting in reduced turnover. Repairs and maintenance also have to be carried out to a particular standard to ensure they are in keeping with the vessel’s original specification and can require parts to be specially fabricated if they no longer exist. This results in a high level of expenditure against what is often a relatively low income. These craft may not therefore have the same level of resources to implement change or purchase new equipment as other vessels which operate as viable businesses.
Having consulted with members of our Council of Experts who are currently employed within the sector, the feedback was that the figures quoted in the Impact Assessment may not be an accurate reflection of the actual cost to individual craft of making the necessary changes. Another factor to consider is the ship / boat yard manpower and availability of suitable facilities for the works to be carried out on the scale and in the timeframe being contemplated. Historic vessels require specialist expertise in order for works to be undertaken sympathetically and are not always able to use a standard yard or facility in the same way as other craft. The impact assessment also does not illustrate the effect these proposals will have on the sector in terms of redundancies, lost heritage value or the cost of vessel disposal for those craft unable to comply.
2. For each proposal – do you have any other comments on this proposal?
• Liferaft provision / lifejacket provision and lights
Many of our ships will already comply with these requirements and for those that do not it is a question of purchasing the necessary equipment. These items are readily stowable and do not impact on vessel significance. There will be a cost implication and many historic vessels already operate on extremely tight margins. For vessels operating in Category A and B waters, perhaps a risk assessed approach might be considered depending on proximity to the shore and evacuation methods.
•Firefighting / Containment of fire
The proposals for fixed firefighting have a particular implication for registered passenger carrying steam ships in engine rooms which are constantly manned. Deployment of such a system could damage the health of the engineer and force him to leave the engine room thereby depriving the ship of its ability to control its main machinery or operate steam driven bilge and fire pumps. The proposal for a sealed machinery space could also have a serious impact on all historic vessels with coal-fired boilers which require a supply of air to function and must be manned by an engineer at all times. Smaller vessels, particularly those with a more open plan layout such as Thames barges, have also raised concerns about the requirements in relation to the galley where the construction of the ship may make compliance difficult. In such cases, we propose applying additional requirements such as a sprinkler system or fixed powder fire extinguishers to mitigate the risk.
This proposal is the most likely to have a major implication for registered historic passenger carrying vessels. Whilst some of the larger craft, such as ps Waverley (Class III) will already comply, we are aware that many do not comply even with one compartment survivability. Alterations requiring the fitting of new bulkheads would have considerable impact on their significance with changes to their original configuration and layout and are just not viable for many. This level of intervention is something which NHS-UK would not normally sanction if commenting on any funded grant application or when providing advice to owners. These vessels may be the last representatives of their type and the only surviving historic evidence of the way in which craft of this kind were built. To make structural changes of this nature would lose irreplaceable fabric and change the sense of internal scale and character which gives today’s passengers a feel of the vessel in its working life. The alternative approach of fitting additional buoyancy in the form of foam could also constitute problems as many historic craft simply would not have the space to comply with this option.
We understand the reason for this proposal which is appropriate for new build craft or those for whom structural changes have no impact other than cost, but feel that a blanket approach would irretrievably damage some of our most significant craft. For some, the proposals may work depending on their layout and any changes that have already been made to them since build. For others, it is worth remembering that they may have been built for a different purpose – for example, as sea-going cargo carrying craft – and their specification may be far in excess of the use to which they are being put today. The thickness of their hull, build method and ability to withstand collisions should also be taken into account. Therefore, we ask that there is scope for the proposal to be applied to registered historic craft on a case-by-case basis, balanced proportionately against risk and assessed in terms of the other safety measures in place on each vessel, its original specification, plus the numbers being carried. This would ideally be done in consultation with both the vessel owner and NHS-UK.
A full list of registered historic vessels, along with their ID numbers, can be found on our website at: https://www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk/the-registers/find-a-vessel. This provides a quick and effective means of ascertaining whether the vessel in question has historic status. We would be happy to work with the MCA in drafting a specific definition of those registered historic vessels to whom such an approach would apply. This would avoid the possibility of commercial operators trying to take advantage of the system.
It is also worth noting that some historic vessels require the ability to carry larger number of passengers or operate outside their usual waters only for certain occasions or to take part in commemorative events. A good example of this can be found in the response from Thames River Cruises which references its vessels ‘Devon Belle’ and ‘Princess Marina’, both of which usually operate on Category B waters but have been certified for Category C with a lower number. As a result they have been able to take part in prestigious national events including the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the Thames and the commemorations of the
World War 2 evacuation from Dunkirk. The proposals for damage stability would have prevented the attendance of these two historic vessels at these events, whereas a case-by- case approach could avoid this, looking not only at the individual craft but also at the purpose and length of time for which the exemption is required.
3. Do you have any other alternative suggestions to improve safety in the key areas identified?
With regards to registered historic passenger carrying vessels, there is a helpful parallel to be drawn with historic buildings and sites in terms of safety approach and compliance. Historic England’s guidance on the subject indicates that historic buildings are not subject to any special treatment in terms of general health and safety law. However, it goes on to put a certain onus on the visitor to recognise the hazards of a historic building against a modern building:
“Case law suggests that where a historic property clearly has uneven floors and awkward staircases, this is something that the visitor should be understood to have realised when entering. Unexpected or unreasonable risks do have to be guarded against, but the visitor may be assumed to be more cautious than if they were visiting a modern building.
It suggests the use of warning signs and restricted access, plus the option of agreeing with the visitor that they enter at their own risk. Whilst it is recognised that works may need to be carried out for health and safety purposes, it states that these should be limited to the minimum necessary. For further information, see:
In a similar way, NHS-UK maintains that visitors should recognise that historic vessels represent a different experience to modern passenger ships and are likely to have their own characteristics which visitors should be made aware of from a safety perspective. The onus could therefore be placed upon vessel owners to ensure visitors are better informed about this before setting foot on the vessel by issuing clear health & safety guidance in the form of written leaflets, signage, safety briefings and by restricting access to any zones deemed more hazardous. Visitors might also be asked to sign some form of agreement to indicate their awareness of this.
4. Please provide comment on the overall feasibility of achieving compliance. In particular, please comment on the proposed phase-in period and whether you feel this can be achieved.
The purchase and installation of new safety equipment such as the liferafts and lifejacket appears feasible and achievable given sufficient time. It is something that could be phased in to allow vessels to budget for it. However, those proposals which require structural changes, in particular over damage stability, raise grave concerns for us. They may result in high numbers of historic passenger carrying vessels ceasing to operate and, if no viable alternative use is found for them, being scrapped or left derelict. This would have a significant impact on our surviving maritime heritage. It would also have an effect on the maritime economy and tourism, with historic passenger craft making an annual contribution to both these. For example, on the East Coast, Topsail Charters alone carried over 10,000 visitors and supported 21 jobs on its historic Thames barges, all of which would be unable to comply with the new stability requirements.
List of Responses known to have been submitted on behalf of Registered Historic Vessels:
Daniel Adamson Preservation Trust
Maritime Heritage Trust
Kingswear Castle Preservation Trust
Thames River Cruises
Thames barge Kitty
The Medway Queen Preservation Society