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Boatman licensing system to be strengthened

The Council of the Isles of Scilly is to review and strengthen the way it issues boatmen's licences in time for next season.

At a meeting on October 11th, the Licensing Committee voted for a review of the current system, which has been in place since around 1938.

Council Chief Executive Theo Leijser's report explained that following the grounding of the passenger vessel Surprise in May 2016, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch and Maritime & Coastguard Agency had recommended that the islands' licensing process be reviewed.

The operator of any commercial vessel operating in the Isles of Scilly is required by the Council and St Mary’s Harbour Authority to hold a local boatman’s Licence, which the MCA has accepted as part of the qualification process leading to the issue of an MCA Boat Master Licence (BML) for this area. This means that a BML is not valid for Scilly area without a Local Knowledge Endorsement.

Councillors were presented with four options at the meeting: to do nothing, to relinquish the Council's role in issuing licences; to negotiate with the Harbour Authority to provide "local knowledge" tickets; or to review and strengthen the licensing process.

Theo told Members that a review of the current system "will provide clarity on responsibilities and provide assurances to the MCA that the system is robust and fit for purpose".

Committee chair Steve Watt said he had attended a harbour group users meeting the previous night, where boatmen had expressed unanimous support for the review option.

"I haven't met one boatman yet who doesn't want the Local Authority to continue as the licensing authority," he said.

Theo's report noted that although the proposed policy and related charging structure "aims to be cost neutral to the Council", there is likely to be a "substantial increase in licensing fees" in order to implement a sustainable and enforceable process.

Cllr Harry Legg suggested that the new policy would be an opportunity to tighten arrangements around cruise ships.

After some discussion, Members approved a review of the boatman licensing process to be conducted in collaboration with the MCA and Harbour Authority in time for the 2019 season.


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