This article was first published in the October edition of Marine & Maritime Gazette, and the original article can be found on page 16 here.

The long-anticipated Codes of Practice for Fishing Vessels (affecting mainly Small Fishing Vessels) brought in by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency are now in force and owners should ensure they are compliant.

Three new Merchant Shipping Notices (MSNs), containing Codes of Practice, came into force on 23 October 2017. These are:

  • MSN 1871 The Code of Practice for Small Fishing Vessels under 15m LOA (replacing MSN 1813);
  • MSN 1872 The Code of Practice for Fishing Vessels of 15m (LOA) to less than 24m (L); and
  • MSN 1873 The Code of Practice for Fishing Vessels of 24m (L) and over.

These MSNs provide new requirements for these specific fishing vessels. The most wide-ranging measures are those contained in the Small Fishing Vessels Code (MSN 1871). The requirements in this Code include:

  • Monthly emergency drills are to take place
  • Life-rafts are required on open vessels of 7m registered length (L) to less than 15m (LOA) and decked vessels of 7m (L) to less than 10m (L)
  • Radar reflectors must be fitted
  • Bilge alarms for open vessels that are 7m (L) to 15m (LOA)
  • With respect to EPIRBS (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio-beacon Stations) and/or PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) with built-in GPS receivers capable of transmitting the position to a satellite:
    • All vessels of 10m (L) and over will require an EPIRBS (though vessels operated single-handed may replace the EPIRBS with a PLB); or
    • All vessels of less than 10m (L) will require an EPIRBS or PLB for all crew members
  • Carbon Monoxide monitors are required on vessels with enclosed spaces with fired cooking or heating appliances
  • Certificates must be issued stating a vessel has satisfactorily undergone its Code inspection
  • In order to ensure compliance with the Code, MCA consultation and approval must be obtained prior to the undertaking of:
    • significant repairs, alterations or modifications affecting the vessel's dimensions, structure or stability;
    • the removal or repositioning of machinery or engines, changes in the vessel's mode of fishing and/or its gear; or
    • the fitting of additional equipment
  • In addition to the above, the requirements for stability of vessels of 12m (L) to less than 15m (LOA) are now defined as:
    • vessels in which the keel was laid or the construction was commenced on or after 23 October 2017;
    • vessels joining the register after that date; or
    • vessels significantly modified after that date.

It is clear that the requirements in the Small Fishing Vessel Code were designed primarily with safety in mind. They were drafted in response to new technologies that had developed since the introduction of the last Code.

They were made in collaboration between the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Fishing Industry Safety Group and followed various recommendations of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) as well.

Although treated with initial scepticism by some in the industry, especially owners of Small Fishing Vessels, reaction across the industry since has been generally positive and even welcome. This is mainly down to what is seen as close collaboration between the MCA and the industry when drafting these Codes. There is a feeling in the industry that the Codes mainly represent practical and meaningful introduction of safety measures. There is also a sense that even if one death is prevented through the Codes, as sadly can happen all too often especially on Small Fishing Vessels, they will have been worth introducing.

What has also pleased some in the industry is allowances the MCA have made for gradual implementation of the Codes of Practice. This is particularly in regard to the provisions for life-rafts, EPIRBS and PLBs. Already-registered Fishing Vessels at the time of coming into force have up to 23 October 2019 to implement with the requirements. This handy amount of time could allow owners to make a claim from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to alleviate some of the cost of implementing these measures. Up to 60% of the cost could be available via EMFF funding, which will be a relief for what are mainly small businesses. However, it should be borne in mind that vessels that have yet to register as Fishing Vessels or ones that are re-registering after an absence of six months must comply with the Codes immediately.

Now that the Codes are in force it is up to individual owners to ensure that they are compliant. For those to whom the Codes will apply there is plenty of guidance available in order to do this. Please go to https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/maritime-and-coastguard-agency for more information.