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Institutions and EMSA

UK Chamber Brexit Position No.5: Institutions

The position of the Chamber regarding the United Kingdom’s involvement in European Union institutions after its withdrawal from the Union


The UK Government has stated its aim of “securing a smooth and orderly withdrawal from the EU”.    While a withdrawal has explicitly included withdrawal from the European Court of Justice (ECJ); there remains ambiguity regarding the UK’s commitment to other EU Regulatory Institutions.  In the “Exit from and new Partnerships with the European Union” White Paper published in February 2017, the HM Government stated that it “might want to participate” in particular EU programmes, including making an “appropriate contribution” to the EU budget.   In the same UK White Paper, maintenance of relationships with EU transport agencies was highlighted as important.  However, while reference was made to aviation and road transport, maritime transport was neglected to be considered.  


The European Maritime Safety Agency is the EU agency of most relevance for the shipping industry.  The agency was established in 2002 following the sinking of the Erika.  The mission statement of EMSA is to “ensure a high, uniform and effective level of maritime safety, maritime security, prevention of, and response to, pollution caused by ships as well as response to maritime pollution caused by oil and gas.”   To this aim, the Agency coordinates a set of programmes.  The programmes are a mixture of responses to directives and conventions agreed by the EU and International Maritime Organisation. 

As such, not all programmes coordinated by EMSA, require EU membership.  The table below identifies which programmes are coordinated by EMSA, and their respective EU ownership.

The table shows that, following the departure from the EU, the UK will still be able to participate in several intergovernmental programmes regarding maritime regulation.

For those programmes which EMSA has exclusive ownership, such as the Clean Sea Net and Safe Sea Net programmes, the UK would be excluded from these on departing the EU.  The UK would have the option of establishing its own agencies to cover these duties.  However, such programmes are likely to be examples of those which White paper suggested continued participation within. Participation in these programmes would depend on the future relationship negotiations.  Thetis is coordinated by EMSA, but the programme is open to third countries (Canada and Russia are members), therefore, the UK could apply to join Thetis on departure from the EU.  The other programmes (LRIT and Equasis) are fundamentally international, rather than EU initiatives and the UK can continue in these, irrespective of a change in EU membership.  The Maritime Single Window has struggled to establish itself within the shipping and logistics infrastructure.  The UK’s departure from the EU would provide the country an opportunity to reform or end the application of the system in the UK. 

In addition to the above mentioned official programmes, EMSA undertakes several other activities.  One such example is the inspection and audit of third country maritime administrations and training colleges.  EMSA was tasked through Article 19 of the European Commission’s 2008 directive on minimum level of training for seafarers to assess third country training and certification systems.   Such assessments have led to pressure on the improvement of third country training regimes as such countries seek to conform to EU standards.  Whether the UK would expect the MCA to start independent verification of third country standards is unclear.  Irrespective of any increase in MCA activity, any future relationship with EMSA, or the EU, would expect the UK to conform to recognition standards of training and certification as determined by EMSA.  UK maritime colleges and manning agencies which coordinate training programmes in third countries would require a continued standardisation of training standards and would benefit from UK engagement with EMSA on this issue.    

Another activity which EMSA has become increasingly involved with is the Paris MOU.  While the Paris MOU remains independent, as EMSA coordinates much of the Paris MOU work, there has been a gradual overlap of responsibilities.  As EMSA has grown in its responsibilities, so has its influence in the development of PSC issues.  For instance, the Thetis programme is essentially run by EMSA for the benefit of the Paris MOU.  The programme includes a “Ship Risk Profile Calculator” which, given a set of vessel characteristics, will estimate a vessel risk profile in accordance with Paris MOU Flag State Performance tables.  The convergence in capabilities between EMSA and the Paris MOU represents a centralisation of influence in maritime regulatory standards.  If the UK is no longer a participant in EMSA, the country may lose some of its ability to influence policy development regarding Port State Control.   

Whether the UK withdraws from EMSA and its related programmes, or whether it remains a third country participant, a growing consensus has emerged that an acceptance of transition period is required.  If a transition period is deemed preferable, it also provides time for the UK to seek to establish its own programmes to cover those lost in EU withdrawal.  It is expected that the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA), as the Government regulator that presently coordinates with EMSA on these programmes, would take further responsibility in such programme development.  The lack of consideration by the EU for future arrangements is an obstacle in establishing certainty regarding the work areas EMSA undertakes which the UK does not presently undertake.  

Chamber position

The intention to maintain current EU regulations at the point of departure, through the agreement of the Withdrawal Bill, is a sensible outcome for the UK shipping industry as it provides the least disruption to commercial and operational concerns.  The proposed transition period which will include the preservation of existing EU agency membership is also welcome for the same reason of continued regulatory stability.   

The services which EMSA provides, and the coordination it offers in ensuring safety on the seas surrounding the British Isles, have made a significant contribution to improved maritime standards in the region.  The departure of the UK from the EU offers an opportunity to reassess UK international maritime regulatory involvement.  To remain a centre of maritime industry, the UK Government must maintain high regulatory standards, but seek to advance standards which are more commercially practicable.  The Government has often reiterated its commitment to avoiding a “race to the bottom”.    Any changes to the responsibilities of the Maritime Coastguard Agency, must consider the capability of the organisation to fulfil those new duties. This may require significant reformation of the resources available to the Agency.  The modern day trend of increasing regulation does provide the UK government with an opportunity to independently advocate more intelligent regulation.  The UK Chamber will offer an overview of such intelligent regulation in early 2018.   In the meantime, continued engagement with EMSA after EU withdrawal will assist the UK in preserving the improvements achieved since the Erika disaster and develop better, more effective standards for UK maritime interests.    

Key lines to take

• The Chamber encourages the Government’s open approach to continued participation in certain EU agencies. 

• Many of EMSA programmes are open to third countries and therefore, the Chamber encourages the UK Government to seek continued participation in the programmes which have tangible benefits to the UK, following withdrawal from the EU. 

• The UK Government should seek improvements in the relevant governmental department to advance the work of maritime regulation, and continue to engage with international public and private sectors on navigational safety issues.

• The Chamber is reviewing EMSA regulations and directives to identify what policies the UK Government should pursue for a new UK-EU maritime regulatory relationship. 

Programme Default Involvement Post-Brexit Comment
CleanSeasNet Out The UK will no longer have access to CleanSeasNet, but could obtain data independently and operate own system of marine pollution investigation.
Equasis In The UK acted independently in the establishment of Equasis which is now an international programme. The UK withdrawal from the EU will not have any effect on its participation in this programme.
LRIT In The UK stays in the IMO sponsored International Data Exchange, but would leave the EU Data Cooperative Centre.
Maritime Single Window Out The system which remains at a prototype stage, was launched by the European Commission, but is supported by EMSA in promoting member state implementation. Costly system funded by Ten-T project and the UK withdrawal from the EU will end the UK participation in the project.
SafeSeasNet Out The UK will no longer have access to SafeSeasNet, the Vessel Traffic Monitoring System set up to enhance maritime data exchange between EU member states. The UK could obtain data independently through satellite providers and contribute data voluntarily to program.
Thetis Out The UK would leave Thetis, but the program does permit third countries so the UK could re-join after departure with little change to existing PSC reporting measures.