No compromise on safety

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Brian Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) discusses the vital role played by his organisation in a continually evolving technological environment.

“The Maritime & Coastguard Agency stands as the fourth emergency service, the regulator and the supporter of global maritime work.”

The maritime industry has always faced challenges, from new technology to changes in the political landscape and commercial pressures. The Maritime & Coastguard Agency is no different, standing as the fourth emergency service, the regulator and the supporter of global maritime work.

However, the MCA has to balance all those challenges with what lies at the heart of what we do – we are committed to creating safer lives, safer ships and cleaner seas. There is no compromise where safety is concerned.

I joined the Maritime & Coastguard Agency eight months ago. When I arrived I threw myself into getting to grips with everything the Agency does – and it is considerable. Leading an organisation with multiple strands, I can see that it has the ability to deliver really positive impact in the maritime sector.

Briefly, the MCA has three areas of responsibility:

  1. Running the HM Coastguard around the UK – 3,000 coastal rescue volunteers, 10 operations centres around our coastline, 22 helicopters each worth £30m, and a precious and very special relationship with the RNLI who are tasked by the helicopters do as much inland mountain rescue work as they do coastal work.
  2. Setting and implementing regulation in the maritime The wide breadth of this role includes surveying and inspecting ships (for example, through port state inspections), influencing international conventions through the International Maritime Organisation which we host in London, and working closely with the sector in passing those international regulations into law.
  3. Supporting the health of the maritime and maritime services sectors in the UK through the UK Shipping The Registry has 10 million tonnes of shipping on it. The vast bulk of that tonnage is international, but the majority of vessels on the register are domestic.

HM Coastguard went through a significant transformation a few years ago which has created a really strong platform from which to build further improvement. Technology is changing and we will have an enhanced search/surveillance capability with two new twin-engine aircraft becoming available in November. With state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, and a long operational range, these aircraft significantly enhance our search capability. If we can do it with manned aircraft, we could do the same with large military grade drones and we are already talking with the Civil Aviation Authority about this. The Coastal Rescue volunteer teams are highly trained in search techniques and playing an increasing role in activities led by the police (including a role in police officer training).

The UK Ship Registry has lost tonnage through the period of EU exit uncertainty as a result of how EU-based financing for ships has been structured. We have taken the opportunity to broaden eligibility for the register, enabling us to take in shipping from around the world. The offer to customers is being clarified to reflect the unique access to highly regarded MCA surveys, great technical resource and broader UK government support that membership of the UK Flag offers.


“ We are committed to creating safer lives, safer ships and cleaner seas. There is no compromise where safety is concerned.”

Customers are extremely positive about the changes in service offered over the last year or two and a digitisation agenda is just months away from delivering service to ship owners and their teams at the click of a button.

The world of regulation in the UK has changed over recent years and, quite rightly, the general public expect high standards and consistency in its implementation and enforcement. At the MCA, we are making sure that we are meeting these expectations by investing in our surveyors, strengthening internal technical networks and implementing new IT systems to support inspection and survey work on the ground.

DfT has published earlier this year, the Maritime 2050 plan, which clearly sets out the aspirations of the Government for the maritime sector. The MCA has an important role to play in delivering many of the aims of Maritime 2050. That means that the MCA will be focussing both on applying regulation in a consistent and focussed way whilst at the same time enabling innovation in the sector – working with the industry and academia to resolve the sector’s challenges and opportunities. In order to deliver this, we will be broadening our technical skill base and are placing strong emphasis on finding ways to work more closely with sector partners. With other UK partners, the MCA was part of the team that enabled the autonomous vessel Sea-Kit to cross the English Channel both ways.

In addition to supporting the development of autonomous shipping, we will be contributing strongly to the decarbonisation agenda, including some of the intermediate solutions such as LNG. It is becoming clearer that the sector will look very different in 30 years and we will also be working with partners to play our part in modernising seafarer training.

All of these represent a huge opportunity for the UK to be leaders and the MCA intends to throw its weight behind supporting these. Today’s expectations and tomorrow’s advancements are providing a very positive challenge for the MCA to meet and we are well on the way to meeting it.