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Staffing Crisis at MCA Southampton

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  • Staffing Crisis at MCA Southampton

    The Government must act over funding cuts and staff shortages at the Southampton-based Maritime and Coastguard Agency, MPs revealed today.

    The Government must act to deal with a potential 5,000 shortfall in trained seafarers, says a report by MPs.

    Unless action is taken, either foreign officers could be recruited to fill the gaps or maritime jobs and businesses will move overseas, warned the House of Commons transport committee.

    The MPs also said the Southampton-based Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) was taking on significant new responsibilities while its budget was being squeezed and while it was carrying ''a sizeable number of vacancies in key posts''.

    Calling for a review of the MCA, the report said there was a risk that the agency ''will increasingly struggle to discharge its regulatory responsibilities''.

    The committee also said it was ''concerned that senior maritime professionals have suggested that budget cuts are undermining the work of the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB)''.

    The report went on: ''We look to the MAIB's chief inspector to inform us if budgetary constraints prevent him from adequately discharging his duties.''

    The committee said that in 2011 it had been predicted that, within a decade, the UK would have 5,000 fewer deck and engineering officers than the maritime sector would require.

    The report went on: ''If this prediction is borne out, either foreign officers will be recruited to fill the gaps or maritime jobs and businesses will move overseas.

    "We recommend that the Government make an explicit commitment to address fully the predicted shortfall in trained seafarers by 2021.''

    The report also said that the MAIB had identified a risk that the crew of wind farm passenger transfer vessels may not always be sufficiently qualified for the work they undertake.

    MCA base in Southampton

    The committee said: ''This is a significant safety risk to the staff servicing offshore wind farms. We recommend that the Government work with the relevant industry groups to increase the minimum qualifications for the crew of wind farm passenger transfer vessels so that they better reflect the seamanship required for this work.

    ''The aim should be to introduce new minimum qualifications by 2016, with voluntary compliance with higher standards before then.''

    Launching the report today, the committee's chairman Louise Ellman said: ''The UK is a globally competitive location for shipping. The maritime sector earns ?8.8 billion to ?11.8 billion for the economy and supports 214,000 jobs.

    ''The Government's new maritime strategy poses the right questions about UK shipping but does not yet provide compelling answers on a range of key points that will have a major impact on this valuable sector of our economy.''

    On the predicted shortfall in jobs, Mrs Ellman said: ''In particular, it is unclear how the Government plans to address the looming skills gap.

    ''Unless action is taken to address this key challenge, valuable maritime businesses may either have to rely on foreign recruits or opt to move overseas.''

    She added that ministers should review MCA funding levels, adding: ''Without more resources for the MCA it is hard to see how the UK can continue to lead the delivery of high-quality shipping standards or grow as a global shipping base and a centre for maritime services available to vessels of all nationalities.''

    Welcoming the report, UK Chamber of Shipping chief executive Guy Platten said many shipping companies reckoned the MCA ''can be disjointed, enforcing regulation inconsistently across the country and, frankly, paying its skilled staff uncompetitive salaries''.

    Mr Platten said the MCA must become ''more commercially focused'' but a review of the agency was unnecessary.

    He said he shared the committee's concerns about seafarer workforce levels, adding: ''Government funding for maritime training needs to become more flexible to cope with demand.''