Viewpoint from Lloyds List              25 Oct 2018 Michael Grey

ISN’T it time that society sorted out the realistic responsibilities of a master?

With the master’s responsibility increased, his authority constrained and his civil and criminal liabilities multiplying apace, the chances of a master managing to complete his seagoing career without ending up with a custodial sentence seem to be reducing apace.

This was brought to the fore recently, when the mainstream media surprisingly reported a case of environmental crime being held in the Criminal Court of Marseilles.

The master and operators of P&O’s cruiseship Azura were charged with what amounts to atmospheric pollution, with the fuel being burned allegedly exceeding the local sulphur limit. The verdict will be given next month.

Nobody outside the environs of the French port would probably have noticed the case if it had been anything other than a huge cruiseship which had been so charged.

It is hard to think of the master and owners of a tanker discharging at Fos, or an anonymous bulk carrier, hitting any sort of headlines.

In the event, the matter assumed something of a technicality — a matter of 0.18% sulphur over the limits prescribed of 1.68%. It may also hinge on whether this local limit is only supposed to apply to regular traders, as opposed to occasional callers at the port.

But this case ought to be seen more for its principles and the sheer unmitigated nonsense of subjecting the master of a ship to a criminal charge on account of the chemical composition of the contents of the bunker tanks.

Doubtless the inhabitants of the French port, who probably resent the sheer volume of cruise passengers swarming ashore, will hail the local law as a blow for fresh air and fewer crowds.

But just consider the consequences of every port producing its own criteria for atmospheric emissions. And almost certainly, such provisions will be regarded as a useful new revenue stream, as hapless mariners bring their vessels into port unaware that their ship’s exhalations may breach port limits.

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