Preparing superyachts and crew for inspections

21 January 2015By Benjamin Maltby
Port officials are set to make more on-board checks, but owners of well-run yachts should have little to worry about.

As soon as you enter any country’s waters, you’re under an obligation to abide by their laws. And detailed on-board inspections are used to check the vessels and their crew are in compliance.
Port State Control (PSC) is the system of inspection by officials to check vessels’ condition and operation. Safety, security, environmental protection and seafarer welfare are the main areas of interest. Port states can require defects to be put right and detain vessels if necessary.

This is all separate and in addition to any consideration of the tax status of the owner, beneficial owner and yacht.

All EU coastal countries, and Canada, Croatia, Norway and Russia, are party to the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (Paris MoU). The Hague-based Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment provides the secretariat. There are six other MoU blocs worldwide. The idea is to tackle the dangers posed by rusting bulk carriers and oil tankers, so until the end of 2010 PSC superyacht inspections were rare.

On 1 January 2011, however, the Paris MoU members introduced the New Inspection Regime (NIR). Developed, according to the secretariat, ‘following consultation with the industry’, the NIR has changed the previous target of inspecting 25 per cent of ships calling at each member state to a shared commitment of inspecting, over any three-year period, 100 per cent of all the ships visiting ports and anchorages in the Paris MoU region.

Now, as with the forthcoming Maritime Labour Convention, superyachts have been lumped in with trading ships and ferries. The NIR applies to ‘ships’, which includes all yachts. Where a yacht is so small, or is not chartered, such that parts of the various maritime conventions (SOLAS, MARPOL, etc) do not apply, the PSC’s task is now to ‘assess whether the ship is of an acceptable standard in regard to safety, health or the environment’.

Further, in assessing such vessels, account must be taken ‘of such factors as the length and nature of the intended voyage or service, the size and type of the ship’. In other words, one can only guess at the approaches that will be taken once this year’s Mediterranean season begins.

Local police and customs officers can prevent a yacht from leaving her mooring.

Risk assessments

All vessels are deemed to fall into one of three risk profiles. High-risk ships must be inspected five to six months after the last inspection. Standard-risk ships 10 to 12 months after the last inspection. And low-risk ships 24 to 36 months after. Additional inspections can also be triggered by overriding or unexpected factors.

Time windows for the next inspection restart after any inspection. Where a window has come and gone without checks having been carried out – because a yacht has not called at a participating port – that yacht will automatically be targeted on arrival.

The risk categorisation is based on a number of factors, including the results of previous Paris MoU inspections, the vessel’s type and age, the performance of the yacht’s manager and the country of registry. In fact, for a yacht to be low-risk, the flag must be approved and appear on the annual Paris MoU White List. The US, Switzerland, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Panama, and the Netherlands Antilles all fail to make the list.

Unless a yacht is high-risk, port officials have the option of undertaking an initial inspection – then deciding whether or not to carry out a detailed inspection.

Inspections are not intended to interrupt cruising. They are carried out because they have to be. Most officials in most ports will be polite and efficient, but they can make life difficult if they choose to.

While nearly all superyachts are well presented, it is the training and management systems – as well as the physical integrity of the vessel – that are being examined. Poorly run superyachts can present a hazard to the owner, guests and crew: perhaps it is better that issues are picked up sooner rather than later.

Preparing for inspections

It’s up to the yacht’s captain and manager to ensure that the relevant rules are being complied with and that all crew members know what to do in an emergency.

Detailed guidelines and instructions should already be laid out, where these are mandatory, in the safety management system and ship security plan, but it’s how these and other forms of preprepared guidance translate into reality that’s key to a fast and hassle-free inspection.

First impressions are crucial. Do all the deckhands, stewards and stewardesses know to be particularly courteous with the PSC inspector? They may not be wearing an official uniform and could look like yet another supplier.

Safety procedures must be followed at all times. Even where a guest may be inconvenienced by a safety briefing, this will be nothing compared with the yacht being detained later.

Falsifying logs and records or lying to officials will constitute a serious criminal offence. It is always better to admit a failing than to cover it up: the inspectors have seen it all before.

Owners would be well advised to discuss the possibility of inspection with their captains before the inevitable happens.

Benjamin Maltby is an English barrister with consultants MatrixLloyd, providing impartial guidance on all aspects of large yacht ownership and operation. Any errors or omissions are the author’s alone. This article does not provide, or replace, legal, financial or tax advice.

Originally published: April 2011. Updated: September 2012

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