An interview with the Certifying Authority Chairman

Fraser Noble is the IIMS Certifying Authority Chairman. In conjunction with his fellow committee members Fraser plays a key role in ensuring the Institute delivers its commitments to and contract with the UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) successfully. The Certifying Authority is an important revenue stream for the IIMS, but in recent times, the processes and procedures have been subject to scrutiny and much change.

Fraser, by way of introduction, can I ask about your background as a marine surveyor, the type of work you generally undertake and how long you have been Chairman of the CA?

I have been a full member of the IIMS since March 2002 and was appointed as a Certifying Authority Surveyor, including stability testing in December 2002. I have been on the CA Committee more or less continuously since that time in a supporting role. I was appointed Chairman in November 2011, taking over from Tony McGrail.

In terms of background, I grew up in a family business initially building traditional wooden boats, including successful Admiral’s Cup contenders in both carvel and cold moulded construction and later moving on to build commercial craft in GRP and steel. I used to come home from school and go straight into the drawing office, or to help out on the loft floor, or in the building shed.

From the mid 70’s to 1984 I managed various parts of our business including brokerage, new boat sales, repair and maintenance, plus new vessel construction. From November 1974, with the introduction of 25% VAT on yachts as luxury goods, we focused more on workboat construction and from 1980 to 1984 I managed the build of pilot boats, hydrographic survey craft, workboats and numerous UK MoD vessels as well as some cruising yachts in GRP and steel, all under the close scrutiny of owner’s representatives and often under Lloyds survey.

In 1984 I moved to the south of England and spent 10 years with two of the UK’s leading commercial workboat and fast ferry builders. For 4 years I specialised in rigid inflatable boats for RNLI, European Lifeboat Organisations, UK Royal Marines and a variety of military forces around the world. These vessels had Lloyds certification, complied with UK DtP or Norwegian North Sea Rescue Boat Rules, or the SOLAS 1973 Convention and were often self-righting. Moving on I managed the design and build of pilot, patrol and passenger vessels mostly in GRP with GRP or aluminium superstructures – the passenger boats were built to DtP Class IV, V or VI.

Returning home to Scotland in 1994 I established a Lloyds approved GRP mould shop at McGRUER & Co Ltd, producing commercial vessels up to 20 metres LOA in GRP and FRC foam sandwich and alongside this set up an aluminium construction facility. In 1998 we built a 16.5m Landing Craft under Revision 8 of the about to be introduced Code of Practise for the Safety of Small Workboats and Pilot Boats – the original Brown Code. This design required a significant increase in freeboard to meet the new rules and required detailed stability calculations to ensure code compliance on completion. Difficulty in meeting freeboard requirements is still not uncommon with coding of small workboats today.

Since 2000 I have operated a full time survey and consultancy practise, undertaking coding examinations on all types of vessels including multi-cats with cranes, pilot boats, general workboats, charter yachts and RIBs in GRP, wood, steel and aluminium. I provide expert witness services, undertake stability assessments and assist finance companies and insurers.

I own a classic wooden day racer built by my family in the 1920s and an Ohlson 38 cruising yacht and have raced at international level in Fastnet, Commodores Cup, Half Ton Cup and in the US Onion Patch. Until recently I had a share in a Princess 65 based on the South coast.

Please explain for readers of The Report magazine exactly what the CA is, what its main purpose is and how we derive an income.

On Sunday June 3rd 1984 the Marques, a 117’ barque, competing in the Cutty Sark Tall Ships Race from Bermuda to Halifax, Nova Scotia, was struck by a sudden, violent squall that knocked her down, buried her bow and sank her. Although the ship had been converted to a sail training and charter cruise ship, she had retained the main cargo hatch from her days as a commercial vessel. When she was knocked down the main hatch was breached and water flooded into the interior of the ship. She sank in less than a minute, with the loss of 19 of her 28 crew members.

At approximately 01:46 hrs on 20 August 1989, the passenger launch MARCHIONESS and the aggregate dredger BOWBELLE, both bound down river, collided in the River Thames. As a result the MARCHIONESS sank. A search and rescue operation was swiftly mounted under the co-ordination of the “Thames” Division, Metropolitan Police, but despite this 51 of those on board MARCHIONESS lost their lives. There were 80 survivors.

These two very sad and unfortunate incidents led to the introduction first of a Code of Practice for the Safety of Sail Training Ships and later to the Codes of Practice for the Safety of Small Commercial Motor Vessels (The Yellow Code) and Small Commercial Sailing Vessels (The Blue Code), followed by the Merchant Shipping (Pilot Boats) Regulations 1991 which itself was replaced in 1998 by the above mentioned original Brown Code.

So, Codes of Practice were introduced to enhance safety. These Codes apply the Merchant Shipping (Load Line Rules) 1968 to Small Commercial Vessels up to 24 metres Load Line Length. The Yellow and Blue Codes are acceptable Codes of Practice for application in accordance with regulation 16 of the Merchant Shipping (Vessels in Commercial Use for Sport or Pleasure) Regulations 1993, while the Brown Code is an acceptable Code of Practice in accordance with the Merchant Shipping (Small Workboats and Pilot Boats) Regulations 1998 as an equivalent to Merchant Shipping Regulations.

These Codes require the inspection and certification of many thousands of small vessels and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has authorised Certifying Authorities to undertake this work on their behalf. Certifying Authorities are in turn able to appoint Competent Persons from their membership of commercial marine surveyors to undertake the Coding work.

Certifying Authorities, including the IIMS CA, operate under the terms of a detailed and legally binding contract with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency governing the Authorisation of Survey and Certification of Small Commercial Vessels (Motor, Sailing and from a Nominated departure Point) Workboats, Pilot Boats and Police Craft under the relevant Codes of Practice. This contract places specific responsibilities on the CA Chairman and the CA Committee.

Please explain how the CA administration head office function and committee operate.

Operation of the CA is governed by our contract with the MCA. This requires that we have a Committee of not less than 6 persons with both technical and administrative representatives and a chairman who must serve for 5 years. The Committee is legally responsible for management of the coding processes. We have a set of documented procedures based on the principles of Quality Standard ISO9001:2008, against which the MCA audit our performance twice a year both in the office and on a vessel with a selected surveyor.

The Procedures cover initial assessment of initial surveyor assessments, training and monitoring surveyor’s performance in practice, detailing methods for coding examination, providing the checking, or scrutineering as it is called, of every report submitted by an authorised surveyor by a suitably qualified scrutineer, what to do if a vessel is sold, damaged or sinks or for a transfer to or from another CA. There are standard report forms to record vessel compliance that must be signed by surveyor and owner and must stay with the vessel.

It is all in all a complex business. In terms of surveyor assessment alone we are required to demonstrate that any surveyor attending any vessel has proven his knowledge and experience with the hull construction materials and vessel type, i.e. sail, motor, workboat with more or less less than a ton of cargo, vessels with cranes, undertaking towing, or pilot vessel, RIB etc. Different rules exist within the various Codes for all of the vessel types and the surveyor must know exactly which are applicable and which are not.

If the existence of four individual Codes were not complicated enough, the MCA, in an effort to introduced an Alternative Standard (MGN280) in 2004 for all Vessels coded to existing Small Vessel Codes. This Marine Guidance Notice was initially known as the “Harmonised Code” and was intended to replace the coloured Codes but has never been passed as an Act of Parliament and therefore remains an alternative. It has therefore been possible since 2004 to code a vessel using either the Coloured Codes or MGN280 as an alternative but not to cherry pick between the standards.

Finally, in terms of the CA operation, it should be mentioned that the MCA issue M-Notices on a regular basis, that is Marine Safety Notices (MSNs), Marine Guidance Notices (MGNs) and Marine Information Notices (MINs) as well as the rather more difficult to access Surveyor Advice Notes (SANs) that may amend, or clarify aspects of the Code for all or specific vessels. The CA and our surveyors are therefore required to keep abreast of all these changes.

How does the IIMS CA differ from other UK Certifying Authorities and how many are there?

At November 2011 there were 13 Certifying Authorities listed in MIN421-3; the MCA List of Certifying Authorities. This did not include the MCA themselves who are also a Certifying Authority.

None of the CA’s should differ insofar as the requirements actually applied to a given vessel, however there are differences in administration. When MGN280 was introduced the MCA encouraged all CA’s to adopt its use in place of the coloured codes and the IIMS followed this advice while other CA’s continued to use the coloured codes, or to allow both.

Perhaps, however, the key area where we differ from other CA’s is that our surveyors contract directly with the vessel owner or managing agent, negotiating their own fees whilst we as the CA charge the client a separate administration fee for processing the documentation and issuing the certificate. This we believe is fair to all and maintains fees at market rates.

How many IIMS members are also CA examiners and how does one become one?

We currently have some 38 CA surveyors in the UK, Europe, the Caribbean and further afield. The process for acceptance as a CA surveyor is a tough one. Surveyors are required to have been a full member of IIMS for at least a year and then to submit condition survey reports for vessels in all the construction materials they wish to be approved for and for vessels of the types they wish to examine. They are required to submit example reports of actual CA surveys on a live vessel using the IIMS CA report forms. If they wish to conduct stability testing they must submit evidence of their experience in this area and examples of IIMS Heel Test Forms that they have completed themselves. If all these documents pass muster they will be invited for interview, normally by two CA Committee members.

How many vessels does the IIMS currently code?

We have something of the order of 350 coded vessels, compared to 24 in 2002 and 38 in 2003. The numbers fluctuate as new boats arrive and some cease to be coded or move on. It is a right of vessel owners / operators to choose the certifying authority they wish to use and to change CA’s if they so wish, possibly for example if the vessel changes hands or moves to a different area where another CA has a more local representative.

There have been a number of changes in recent months, perhaps most telling the need to ensure compliance with the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 convention. How is this likely to impact on the work of the CA?

Key changes right now are The Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) and the introduction of yet another new Code – the new Brown Code or more correctly The Safety of Small Workboats and Pilot Boats – A Code of Practice 2nd Edition.

As regards MLC, the International Labour Organisation has introduced legislation applicable to all ships carrying paid seamen – this includes vessels under 24 metres. The Convention covers such matters as the seaman’s employment agreements, hours of rest, standards of accommodation, repatriation from overseas, hygiene and food, medical and first aid services, payment of wages, complaints procedures and recreational facilities. Some aspects are difficult to apply to small vessels, but the rules exist and compliance is necessary. Our MCA has issued Marine Guidance Notices to define as far as possible at this time what is required and has accepted that the rules will not apply to vessels on bareboat charter or those remaining within 60 miles of UK safe haven and not entering an overseas port. Equally it does not apply to pleasure vessels with no paid crew. Small Commercial Vessels based overseas however must comply or face possible arrest.

The new Brown Code is a positive development and a complication at the same time. It is intended to toughen up the Codes as they apply to the workboats and to ensure that appropriate structural standards for example are applied to vessels undertaking more onerous duties. However it seems likely that, legally, compliance with the existing Codes will still be acceptable. The hope here is that operators chartering in commercial vessels for offshore duties such as wind farm support duties will drive a move towards the new Code by demanding that vessels they are prepared to charter should comply.

What do you think are the key challenges facing the IIMS CA in the coming months?

The challenges in many ways remain the same. We wish to increase our share of the Code Vessel Fleet whilst ensuring that vessels we code are fully compliant, surveyors we authorise are effectively trained and competent and as someone said recently “we on the Committee want to have a life at the same time”!

Jesting aside we aim to deliver the best service to owners and operators through a thorough and in depth knowledge of the rules, regulations and procedures surrounding them, thereby offering the most cost effective solution for compliance with the relevant parts of the relevant Codes.

Editor’s note: As a result of Fraser’s outstanding work as Chairman of the CA, he was recently awarded a fellowship of the International Institute of Marine Surveying.

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