by Des Ryan
Since 2008 there has been a bill before the British Parliament to give British harbour authorities additional powers. However, the Royal Yachting Association has been working hard to give harbour users some protection against the new criminal offences being introduced without any apparent right of defence. Now they have had a measure of success.
Harbour Authorities must abide by new Code of Conduct - Falmouth Harbour
This Bill introduces various measures intended to reduce regulatory burdens on the ports and shipping industry, and improve safety for vessels in harbours and the seas around the United Kingdom.
It includes provisions governing pilotage, the management of harbours, and the powers and duties applicable to harbour authorities, port constables and the General Lighthouse Authorities.
Clause 5 of the Bill would confer on designated harbour authorities the power to give ‘harbour directions’ to ships (including recreational craft) within their harbours. Failure to comply with the direction would be a criminal offence.
However, the Bill was creating no checks and balances to govern the exercise of power by individual ports and harbour authorities and no practical recourse or remedy for the review of inappropriate and unjustified directions.
In essence, the problem was that the proposed power to create new criminal offences in clause 5 of the Bill contains none of the supervisory safeguards usually imposed in relation to law-making bodies in a democratic society.
After years of negotiation, a ‘Code of Conduct' has been agreed on that harbour authorities will be expected to abide by when using extended powers provided by the new Marine Navigation (No.2) Bill.
The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has been working with the British Ports Association (BPA), UK Major Ports Group (UKMPG) and the UK Chamber of Shipping (UKCoS) to agreement on the code, which aims to provide harbour users a means of challenging unreasonable harbour directions.
The code was developed in time for the approval of the Marine Navigation (No.2) Bill, which has now passed through both Houses of Parliament and is expected to receive Royal Assent later this year.
Gus Lewis, RYA head of legal and government affairs, said: 'The code will provide harbour users with a means of challenging proposed harbour directions through a local Port User Group (PUG).'