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Definitions could impact on OPL operations
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Definitions could impact on OPL operations

OPL operators raise issues contained in draft regulations

SOUTH AFRICA: The recently published Draft Merchant Shipping (National Small Vessel Safety Regulations) that are currently available for comment have highlighted the need for more appropriate definitions relating to what constitutes a passenger on small vessels.

Reacting to the draft regulations, the Off Port Limits Association South Africa (OPLASA) has called on the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) to include a definition for passengers within the document.

Currently, with no adequate definition for passengers, vessels operated by Off Port Limits (OPL) service providers stand to be categorised as passenger vessels when transporting ships’ crew for crew changes.

According to Andrew Hendrikse, Chair of OPLASA, this will have serious consequences for the compliance requirements of the vessels operating in the sector.

“The definition of a passenger vessel without a substantive definition of a passenger is a concern,” he says explaining that this does not take into consideration the nature of the persons carried by OPL operators.

At a workshop hosted for OPLASA members last week to discuss the draft regulations, it was noted that an internationally accepted definition of passengers describes them to be “any person carried on a ship, other than the master and members of the crew, and any other person employed or engaged in any capacity on board the ship on the business of the ship.

The Maritime Rules of New Zealand further highlight that “Where employees of the operator, or contractors to the operator, are being transported on a vessel for the purposes of their trade or occupation, then they are not considered to be passengers.”

“Where employees of the operator, or contractors to the operator, are being transported on a vessel for the purposes of their trade or occupation, then they are not considered to be passengers.”

“We believe that including similar wording in our national regulations would clarify the issue and exempt OPL vessels from being classified as passenger vessels,” says Hendrikse, who adds that such a definition would allow OPL launches to be surveyed as non-passenger vessels.

Another definition that raised concern amongst members at the workshop was the inclusion of monitoring, searching and the clean-up of oil within the scope of accepted OPL operations.

“OPLASA members do not agree to the automatic link of OPL launch service vessels to undertake these duties,” says Godfrey Needham, Vice Chair of the association.

“The very urgent and committed response times in the event of an oil spill means that any OPL Launch will be obligated to be available for oil spill response. If still engaged in OPL services, the vessel will be forced to abandon its work and return to port to offload client personnel and ship's stores;  load up oil protection equipment and personnel and head out to the spill,” he says, explaining that this behaviour would materially damage the image of South Africa as a global OPL location.

OPLASA understands the need to ensure adequate oil spill response in sensitive areas, but believes that the burden to ensure capacity should not fall on OPL operators.

The newly constituted association will be submitting these and other comments to SAMSA for review when finalising the proposed regulations.   “We are looking forward to a co-operative relationship with SAMSA and other government agencies,” says Hendrikse.

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