With the ML5 medical certification deadline just days away, the NFFO was attempting last week to clarify an additional issue with respect to its implementation in relation to vessel owners – an avenue that it says has been poorly explained or thought through.

The issue relates to steps that the MCA may take when a vessel is found to have crew onboard who have valid safety certificates, but no ML5.

In a statement made in response to initial approaches by the NFFO, a spokesperson for the agency said: “The MCA will consider each circumstance on a case-by-case basis, taking proportionate action where necessary.

“Possible actions include raising a deficiency on a vessel’s survey report, the issuing of a Prohibition or Improvement Notice requiring a fisher to obtain a medical within a certain period of time and, if necessary, prosecution under the Merchant Shipping (Work in Fishing Convention) (Medical Certification) Regulations 2018.”

Charles Blyth, the NFFO’s risk, safety and training lead, said: “In our experience with this process, there are concerns about the MCA’s proportionality and reasonableness in assessing the risk posed by existing medical conditions of fishers, so we don’t really know what is now meant by the MCA taking a proportionate response – what is deemed to be proportionate is entirely subjective.

“Consistency in treatment of fishers is paramount, and we are unclear about how the case-by-case basis is applied in practice. Given the MCA’s existing challenges in treating vessels and ensuring consistent standards, relying on surveyors without medical training to determine the treatment of fishermen onboard vessels raises significant concerns and enters very dangerous territory.”

A better approach, Charles Blyth suggested, might be to harness the expertise of inspectors with knowledge of the individual circumstances of a vessel, where considerable investment may have been made to ensure safe working at sea, for an individual’s particular circumstances.

“Their expertise may provide more insight into how individual fisher health is considered within the broader context of vessel registration.

“Furthermore, we seek clarification on the impact of raising a deficiency on a vessel’s file. Previously, we were reassured that individual fisher health would not affect the registration status of fishing vessels. Currently, if a deficiency is raised on a vessel file at the renewal inspection, a new Certificate of Registration cannot be issued until this is closed. The individual health of a crew member should not impact the viability or value of a commercial asset.

“To ensure clarity for the industry, we request details similar to the MCA policy for new entrants entering the industry. While the statutory instrument outlines requirements, MSIS 27 allows a grace period of up to three months for fishers to obtain remaining qualifications.

“If the MCA policy dictates that a vessel will be immediately prevented from going to sea if a fisher lacks a medical, we seek confirmation and elaboration on the MCA’s position.”

Following further requests for clarification by FN, the MCA issued an additional two-line statement last Thursday (23 November): “In cases where fishermen do not have medical certification in place after the deadline of 30 November, the MCA will take action where necessary.

“Possible actions that can be taken include issuing an Improvement or Prohibition Notice requiring the recipient to obtain a medical within a certain period of time.”

The issue of using surveyors’ own experience of vessel particulars was not addressed at all in the statement.

Charles Blyth, however, was able to add: “I have received some informal confirmation that in practice, for a small vessel with a single-handed fisher, it may be appropriate to issue an improvement notice, requiring the fisher to obtain a medical within a set period.

“This is similar to the MCA’s approach to safety courses for new entrant fishers, where an improvement notice is issued alongside any action that may be taken regarding the vessel.”

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 £3.30 here

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