Existing regulations

By definition, sea ports and harbours straddle the interface between land and sea. The law however, uses the coastline as a legal boundary. This situation means that both maritime law and the law of the land apply to ports. Establishing management schemes for SACs will enable collaboration with other relevant authorities to address potential problems identified within the existing regulatory framework.

The majority of port operations are administered by statutory harbour authorities, who are each governed by their own legislation tailored to the needs of each port. The Docks and Harbour Act 1972, places statutory responsibility on the harbour master to ensure navigation and safety within the harbour limits. In addition, ports have a duty to have regard to the environment under the Harbours Act 1964 as discussed in more detail in Appendix F. Under such legislation, the harbour master may issue general or specific directions to control movements of vessels within the estuary in order to fulfil their statutory responsibilities. Various Merchant Shipping Acts and Regulations apply to both the ports and commercial shipping.

Ports do not regulate ships and manning. This should be done by ‘flag state control’ operated by the country in which the ship is registered. As this has proved unsatisfactory ‘port state control’ has become common. Under this regime the government represented by the inspection division of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) exercises the rights of the ‘port state’ to inspect and if appropriate detain sub-standard ships. The port authority is not involved in this process and, even if it is aware of the fact, it has no powers to exclude a sub-standard ship unless it can prove that the vessel or its cargo is dangerous as defined in legislation or regulation.

International protocols and conventions relating to safety, laws of the sea and pollution apply to shipping and ports. The UK government has a responsibility to ensure that measures are implemented in order to honour their commitments to these protocols. In some cases the commitments made at government level have yet to be translated into UK legislation. Examples of the legislative controls over commercial port operations are listed here and summarised in an Appendix.

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