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Rules of the Road: Prepare to be boarded this season

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Rules of the Road: by Capt. Jake DesVergers

Sovereign and other self-governing nations have the right to control any activities within their own borders, including those of visiting yachts. Authority and control over foreign-flagged ships in a country’s ports, utilized for verifying compliance with the requirements of the applicable maritime conventions, is called Port State Control (PSC).

PSC comes into the scene when shipowners, ship managers, classification societies and flag state administrations fail to comply with the requirements of international and national maritime conventions. It is well-understood that the ultimate responsibility for enforcing conventions is left to the flag state, also known as the administration. Port states are entitled to control foreign ships visiting their own ports to ensure that any deficiencies found, including those concerning living conditions and safety of shipboard personnel, are rectified before they are allowed to sail. In the inspection regime, Port State Control is regarded as complementary to the inspections performed by the flag state; each of them working together toward a common goal and purpose.

The Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is an administrative agreement between 27 maritime authorities. In 1978, the ‘Hague Memorandum’ between a number of maritime authorities in Western Europe was developed. It dealt mainly with enforcement of shipboard living and working conditions. However, just as the memorandum was about to come into effect in March 1978, a massive oil spill occurred off the coast of Brittany, France, as a result of the grounding of the tanker Amoco Cadiz.

This incident caused a strong political and public outcry in Europe for far more stringent regulations with regard to the safety of shipping. This pressure resulted in a more comprehensive memorandum that covered safety of life at sea, prevention of pollution by ships, and living and working conditions on board ships. Its current membership includes Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

In 2011, the member states of the Paris MOU implemented a New Inspection Regime (NIR). Vessels will be chosen for inspection based upon a combination of different targeting factors. These factors include the type of vessel, age, flag, class society, owner and/or manager, and inspection history.

The targeting factor for ships and yachts will be determined by the Ship Risk Profile. The Ship Risk Profile classifies vessels into one of three categories: Low Risk Ships (LRS), Standard Risk Ships (SRS), and High Risk Ships (HRS). Each of these categories will have a different interval for a safety inspection. Ships and yachts identified as LRS will be visited once every two years. SRS will be every year. HRS will undergo an inspection every six months. A yacht can determine its Ship Risk Profile by using the online calculator at the Paris MOU’s website.

The selection scheme is divided into two priorities. Priority I ships must be inspected because either the time window has closed or there is an overriding factor. Priority II ships may be inspected because they are within the time window or because the port state considers an unexpected factor warrants an inspection.

For example, if a yacht is relocating from the U.S. and has never visited European waters, it will be considered a Priority I, and the yacht and crew should be prepared for a visit. Noting that yachts usually have a jam-packed schedule for the short summer season, it is unfortunately not normally possible to request an inspection in advance.

An initial inspection will consist of a visit on board the yacht in order to check the ship certificates and applicable documents, plus the overall condition and general hygiene. This may include a review of navigation bridge, accommodation, galley, decks and engine room.

If the yacht is found in a satisfactory condition, a report is issued and the results entered in the THETIS database. The yacht is then cleared to operate in European waters until the next scheduled inspection, which is usually a 12-month period.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (yachtbureau.org). Comments are welcome below.

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