New European rules could put cruise ship operators off islands like Fair Isle and make the council liable to substantial fines if it fails to report ships that visit its remote piers.
This week the council’s harbour board gave a hostile reaction to the proposed reporting-in rules which are due to come into force next year, branding them “bureaucracy gone mad” and another example of “one size fits all” legislation intended for large ports.
Under the new EU system being drawn up for implementation in the UK by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the council as a port authority would have to put details on a European database of all the relevant shipping calling at, or anchoring near, its network of piers from Unst to Fair Isle, Foula to Skerries. Most of them are unattended.
The operators of passenger ships and certain types of cargo ship also have to report in to the MCA three days in advance of calling at the next port, allowing time for the agency to mount a safety inspection if desired.
The mark II version of the Consolidated European Reporting System (CERS) is intended to improve the recording of information on vessel movements, vessel safety, dangerous cargoes, security information and how they dispose of waste.
Harbourmaster Roger Moore told the board on Wednesday the proposals could make life “very difficult” for the ports and harbours service and with the added threat of fines for failing to report information accurately and promptly.
He said the council might have to consider employing people to monitor remote piers or install camera equipment to ensure it is able to comply with the regulations.
He spoke about the possible threat to specialist cruise operators who have loose itineraries and like to be able to change their landing ports as they travel, perhaps due to weather or passenger interest. In Shetland this has included unplanned stop-offs at places like Skerries which would no longer be permitted without due notice.
Councillor Iris Hawkins said she was shaking her head when hearing of the plans and she criticised Britain’s perceived tendency to adopt Euro-regulations to the letter. “It will throttle our community,” she said, calling for the latest battle with the MCA to commence and MP Alistair Carmichael to be mobilised.
Board chairman Alastair Cooper said visiting cruise ships were very important to the economy of places like Fair Isle and any risk to their trips meant the council needed to act. “We need to protect the business one way or another,” he said.
The reporting requirement applies even when a cruise ship anchors off and sends only small tenders ashore with passengers. There is some uncertainty about whether it would also apply when passengers are put ashore to a beach which is not part of a council port, as happens sometimes in Fair Isle and elsewhere.
Councillor Rick Nickerson said the local authority must follow the progress of the proposals closely and have closer contact with other similar affected communities. He also wanted the trade body Cruise Scotland to get involved to try to prevent the industry being damaged.
Councillor Robert Henderson dubbed it “European bureaucracy gone mad” and made a plea for exemption for places like Shetland.
Captain Moore heard the latest developments at a recent meeting of the Scottish members of UK Harbour Masters’ Association in Aberdeen. The new requirements are also said to be causing concern in other parts of Scotland, such as Orkney and the west coast, where there are many remote small piers and anchorages.
The association hopes the MCA will meet its members face to face to hear their concerns.