Worldwide there are approximately 3,000 merchant ports and the work of the Harbour Master can vary widely from country to country and from port to port even within the same country.
The likelihood of an incident occurring can be mitigated through the process of formal risk assessment and the introduction of control measures. A Harbour Master will always try to ensure that all port users are able to go about their business, confident that the port environment is being managed with their safety to the fore. Even in the best-run ports, the Harbour Master may be faced with the unexpected. Marine accidents have the potential to cause considerable damage to people, property, the environment and the reputation of the port.
It is essential that comprehensive contingency plans are prepared and exercised for all likely scenarios. Emergency response plans should be developed and exercised in collaboration with emergency responders including police, fire, and ambulance, and with local authorities and environmental regulators. In some ports, Harbour Masters may provide emergency response services or the framework within which they can operate. Fire-fighting capacity may be organised on board patrol vessels or contracted by the port to a towage company.
The role of the Harbour Master in a major incident will depend on local arrangements. Initially, it may be the Harbour Masters' office that notifies other emergency services of an incident within the port. Throughout the incident, the Harbour Master contributes to the emergency response which may be led by another organisation and will continue to focus on the safety of navigation throughout the duration of the incident.
IHMA recognises that in some circumstances it is not possible to deal with a maritime casualty in the open sea and that in order to protect the safety of a ship’s crew, passengers, salvors, and to minimise a threat to the environment, a place of refuge may be required. A “place of refuge” is a place where a ship in need of assistance can take action to enable it to stabilise its condition, protect human life and the environment and reduce the hazards to navigation.
IHMA acknowledges the relevant legislation that is in place internationally and regionally, in particular, IMO Resolution A.949, Guidelines on Places of Refuge for ships in need of assistance; Resolution A.950 (23) and the 1989 Salvage Convention as well as the European Union vessel traffic monitoring and information system (Directive 2002/59/EC as amended by Directive 2009/17/EC).
In dealing with ships in distress, the requirement is to find them an area of sheltered water, which may not necessarily be a port, where the situation can be stabilised, the cargo made safe and the salvors and authorities can evaluate what further steps are necessary in a timely manner. Failure to offer a suitable place of refuge may prevent successful salvage intervention and therefore allow a casualty’s condition to worsen and ultimately lead to pollution that might otherwise have been prevented.
IHMA considers that the decision to grant access to a place of refuge can only be taken on a case-by-case basis. The decision must be based on a properly argued and evidenced technical case and include a comparison between the risks involved if the ship remains at sea and the risks that it would pose to the place of refuge and its environment. The case must include recommendations for managing and mitigating the risk of any impact on local coastlines and communities that may be exposed to the risks of pollution, fire or explosion. The process of assessing a place of refuge request should in all cases involve consultation between the statutory agency and all other interested parties including the port authority/corporations and other government health and safety and environmental agencies with responsibility for areas affected or likely to be affected.
IHMA calls for the prompt and proper implementation of international measures to provide a place of refuge for stricken vessels including better application of, and compliance with existing rules and guidance. IHMA would like to see each coastal state establish a single national decision-maker responsible for the management of responses to a maritime casualty, with intervention powers to take such measures as may be necessary to prevent, mitigate or eliminate a risk of significant pollution. Where a single national decision-maker is established, it is essential that ports and salvers are protected from prosecution that results directly from the decisions made by the single national decision maker.
The successful management of a maritime casualty depends on good communications and information sharing between all parties. Efforts to develop operational guidelines and improve co-operation between coastal states are supported. IHMA also supports the development of an internationally agreed Place of Refuge request template.
Local authorities and the harbour master act to enforce legislation for waste management and all applicable international and local legislation to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous waste. The financial implications of this enforcement should be considered as soon as the final destination of the casualty is being discussed. Ports which accommodate a casualty should be able to rely on prompt compensation in respect of costs and any damage arising from providing a place of refuge. As a general rule, if the place of refuge is a port, a security in favour of the port will be required to guarantee payment of all expenses which may be incurred in connection with its operations, such as: measures to safeguard the operation, port dues, pilotage, towage, mooring operations, miscellaneous expenses, etc. To this end, IHMA calls on coastal states to put in place a legal framework under which they could, in exceptional circumstances, compensate a port or other entity for costs and economic loss suffered as a result of providing a place of refuge.
Resolution A.949(23) Guidelines on places of refuge for ships in need of assistance is intended for use when a ship is in need of assistance but the safety of life is not involved. Where the safety of life is involved, the provisions of the SAR Convention should continue to be followed.
The purpose of these Guidelines is to provide Member Governments, shipmasters, companies (particularly in connection with the ISM Code and procedures arising therefrom), and salvors with a framework enabling them to respond effectively and in such a way that, in any given situation, the efforts of the shipmaster and shipping company concerned and the efforts of the government authorities involved are complementary. In particular, an attempt has been made to arrive at a common framework for assessing the situation of ships in need of assistance.
In many countries accidents above defined levels of seriousness involving vessels in territorial waters must be reported to a national agency and may subsequently be investigated by a national agency. Where this does not apply, it is appropriate for the port authority to record and investigate accidents in compliance with national health and safety legislation.
It is important to establish the circumstances of the accident and actions taken and for these to be recorded so that any trends can be identified and the port authorities fulfil their responsibilities for the safety of their port personnel. It is advisable that training is provided for personnel responsible for the investigation of serious accidents or incidents.
The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) provides information on EU maritime accidents and publishes an annual report
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