If you've ever taken a river taxi or party boat you'd probably like to think you're in as safe hands as you were boarding a 747. Today the Transport Select Committee urged that the current Boatmaster's Licence held by captains of such vehicles be suspended pending further review.
An updated licence was introduced by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in January of this year and immediately criticised by boatmen themselves, the RMT and representatives of survivors of the Marchioness tragedy. Their central concern was one of safety. The new licence reduces the amount of time required for training to be skipper of a commercial vessel on the tidal Thames from five years to two, the minimum age from 21 to 18 and significantly reduces the amount of local river experience required. These concerns for safety have now been echoed in Committee and it's up to the government to decide what happens next.
But like so many things could it come down to those damned Olympics? Well they are mentioned in the MCA's Regulatory Impact Assessment; citing possible legal action from the EC. Our Boatmen's Licences were not deemed acceptable for use in the EC inland waterways and the difference in safety standards had prevented European operators from working here. Which would prevent them from being able to run passenger ships to the Olympic site. The new licence however, not only moves towards adopting EC compliant standards but also applies to captains of freight vehicles which it hadn't previously. That means potentially more freight travelling by river which has a positive environmental impact in the reduction of road haulage.
Both the MCA and the Port of London Authority maintain that since the legislation was last changed after the events of August 1989, safety on British waterways has been vastly improved and that the new licence will not reduce safety standards; that training will be of a higher and broader standard. It is this claim on which MPs will have to decide if the provisions of the licence come up for review. One can only hope their facts are razor sharp.
Image of plaque to the Marchioness victims from tompagenet's flickr photostream