Questions about whether notice was issued legally as online debate heats up, with many families posting pictures of their children at sea

A vessel owner from Seahouses in Northumberland has received a prohibition notice from the MCA ordering him not to take a 14-year-old to sea. The teenager was undertaking work experience on the boat during the school summer holidays.

Jonathan Dawson, who operates the vessel JJ HL 11 from the port, told Fishing News that the notice was handed to him in person by the harbour master in Seahouses, rather than being sent to him by the MCA. This in itself, he said, is contrary to rules regarding confidentiality.

“We were first approached about this by a new harbour master here, and then subsequently an MCA officer came to the boat and flashed his warrant card, asking about the young lad. One of the local harbour commissioners subsequently went to the office and confirmed that this was a result of the harbour master reporting it.

“The lad in question is not employed to work. However, when they came ashore he was seen to be throwing a rope ashore and helping to pack the lobsters – as you would expect, kids like to get involved with what’s going on! If we had known this was not acceptable, we would not have allowed it. We inducted him, gave him his safety briefing, and he is a sensible lad who takes this seriously.

“We have even had random inspections on the boat by MCA officers with the lad onboard and it has never been an issue. My biggest gripe is it would be fine by the MCA for this lad to get an unlicensed boat with no safety equipment and attempt to go out fishing by himself!

“Instead, he is learning how to do the job properly and safely with professionals in an MCA certified vessel. It makes no sense at all. And no one has asked me for the risk assessment we did when he came aboard, at any time during this. They haven’t even mentioned it, let alone checked it.

“The lad is 14, and is already booked in to do his sea survival when he turns 15 in February. We now have a harbour of absolutely livid fishermen and a distraught teenager. All he wants to do is go fishing, and I am absolutely gutted about the situation.”

The teenager, Zeddy Addison, whose father skippers the boat, told FN: “I want to be a fisherman because I want to follow in my father’s footsteps, and hopefully get up to the same level as him and start taking out my own boat. When I am out with him I feel a sense of freedom. I never wanted to cause anyone any harm, or inconvenience – I just want to learn the job and hopefully follow my father into the industry.”

Fishing News contacted the MCA about the situation, enclosing a copy of the prohibition order and asking: “We’d be interested in any comment you may have on this notice, as well as advice for other skippers who may be hoping to take their children to sea for work experience. As part of the legal advice, we are planning on printing an extract from the Work in Fishing Convention regulations as well as from MGN 604.

“In particular, can you please confirm:

  1. If the skipper of the vessel who received the prohibition notice was asked for his risk assessment prior to this notice being issued
  2. Any evaluation of the risk evaluation undertaken by the MCA inspector in question that led to the prohibition notice being issued
  3. Whether it is standard practice for the MCA to have prohibition notices sent to local harbour offices, for printing off and handing to skippers by non-MCA personnel, rather than to send direct to the registered skipper/ owner of the vessel
  4. What advice you can provide about developing a risk assessment prior to taking a child to sea, and whether/how this should be shared with the MCA prior to departing for sea.”

The answer we got back, in its entirety, was as follows:

A Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesperson said: “The fishing industry is one of the most dangerous in the world and that’s why we won’t stop the work to protect fishers, preventing loss of life and safeguarding all those who fish.”

  • Background: The MCA will take proportionate action if someone underage or lacking basic safety training is found to be engaging in commercial fishing operations.

FN also contacted MCA CEO Virginia McVea and Baroness Vere, the junior transport minister with responsibility for the MCA, requesting interviews, but had received no further comment or reply as we went to press.

The legal position

Well-known fisheries solicitor Andrew Oliver of Hull-based law firm Andrew Jackson Solicitors LLP told FN: “The law they have used, the Work in Fishing Convention regulations, have been in force since 2018.

“The issue for me is if the young person is ‘employed or engaged to work onboard a fishing vessel’. The rules are meant to deal with arm’s[1]length situations where a 15-year-old might be on work experience and there is a formal engagement between the owner of the vessel and the young person.

“In my view, if the skipper can show that the lad is not engaged to work or employed, these rules do not apply.

“However, I think they would need to ensure that:

  1. The insurers were aware and consented to the child being onboard as a supernumerary
  2. The presence of the child is covered under the vessel’s risk assessment
  3. The vessel has appropriate and sufficient lifesaving and PPE equipment onboard
  4. There is appropriate and sufficient accommodation onboard for the child.

“What of course needs to happen is for the MCA to have a sensible dialogue with the industry, but what are the chances of that happening?”

A second safety expert who spoke to FN about the incident added: “In my opinion if the skipper/owner wishes to take children away on the boat for a trip they can. The most important thing for me is that the movements of the child have been risk-assessed, and areas that are no-go areas while the boat is at sea should be defined.

“The skipper/owner should also induct the child on the boat and record that induction.

“In relation to the MCA, if it has not asked for sight of the skipper’s/owner’s risk assessment for the young person being a passenger onboard before issuing a prohibition notice, it is on dangerous ground.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.50 here

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