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Maritime safety a victim of over-regulation?

  • April 18th, 2008

The news this morning, and the pathetic Morning Report performance of the head of the Maritime Safety Authority, reminded me of my experience with the marine surveyors.

Cathy and I with another couple commissioned a 30 ft sailboat for a charter business out of Nelson. It had to be built “under survey”. Survey requirements irrelevant to a fibreglass boat increased the cost. Some were so incredible the surveyors did not even try to defend them, and sensibly let the builders (internationally reputable Marten Marine) ’overlook’ them.

One requirement we satisfied the day Karakoram was launched, and then breached for all the years she was in charter.

Karakoram was required to have a large galvanised iron bucket, painted red, and prominently marked FIRE, to be filled with sand. This was in addition to the normal extinguishers we installed in any event. I think we were supposed to have with the bucket a “hatchet” marked FIRE, but from recollection the surveyors let us pass without painting the hatchet.

I was reminded of this when listening to the catalogue of regulatory failures held responsible for the drowning of 6  people in Foveaux Strait.

I wonder how many time inspection systems become corrupted because the rules are so numerous, inflexible and stupid that any enforcers with self respect simply have to get into the habit of allowing unofficial departures. No one with intelligence or integrity could bear to stay in a job that consisted of endlessly frustrating your fellow men for no good reason.

And so a culture grows, of turning a blind eye, which over time mutates into general cynicism and slackness.

I have no idea whether this is part of the explanation for today’s revelations. But to me it is one of the most powerful arguments against suffocating red tape, and for giving inspectors and regulators the genuine respect of discretion and authority to exercise judgement.

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