The shipping industry is regulated by various UN agencies - primarily the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which develops and maintains the framework of global maritime safety regulations. Maritime regulations also originate from EU legislation and UK legislation.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is responsible for implementing the government’s maritime safety policy in the UK on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT) as one of its executive agencies. The MCAworks closely with national and international partners in the shipping industry to promote the safe construction, operation and navigation of ships.
This guide covers how the industry is regulated, the different sources of maritime regulations and how you can keep up-to-date when regulations change or new regulations are introduced.
Sources of maritime regulations
Regulations which govern the maritime industry come from:
agreements, resolutions and conventions made by various UN agencies, including the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Labour Organization (ILO)
UK legislation is mainly made up of Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments. Acts of Parliament are the highest level of law. Acts often grant power to government ministers to create more detailed regulations called Statutory Instruments (SIs). Most UK legislation is in the form of SIs.
Many maritime SIs have supporting documentation in the form of Marine notices (M-notices) and codes of practice.
As a member state of the EU, the UK is subject to EU legislation. EU legislation comes in the form of:
Regulations are enforceable as law within the UK as soon as they are passed in the EU and published in the European Journal. By comparison, directives and decisions must be transposed (transferred) into UK national law before they come into force.
The IMO is the UN agency that specialises in regulating the international shipping industry. It aims to provide a regulatory framework covering safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical co-operation, maritime security and the efficiency of shipping. The IMO has its headquarters in the UK.
The majority of UK maritime SIs are supported by Marine notices (referred to as M-notices) and codes of practice. These documents expand on the technical detail of the shipping and fishing legislation they support. They may be mandatory or non-mandatory, depending on whether they are given force of law by an SI.
M-notices inform the shipping and fishing industries of important safety, pollution prevention and other maritime information. M-notices are issued by the MCA. There are also codes of practice that provide practical guidance on how to comply with the legislation.
There are 3 types of M-notice:
Merchant Shipping Notices (MSNs) provide mandatory guidance on legislation, and must be complied with when enforced by an SI
Marine Guidance Notes (MGNs) provide guidance on the interpretation of the law, recommendations on best practice and general safety advice
Marine Information Notes (MINs) are intended for a specific audience - eg equipment manufacturers - or give time-limited information - such as timetables for MCA examinations - and expire after a certain date (usually no more than 12 months after publication)
M-notices also have suffixes to indicate whether the documents relate to:
merchant ships (M)
fishing vessels (F)
merchant ships and fishing vessels (M+F)
The MCA carries out public consultations on maritime issues including new legislation, proposed changes to existing legislation and guidance.
Annual subscriptions and copies of individual notices are also available from the MCA’s official distributors - the EC Group. You can subscribe for this service by contacting the EC Group at the following address:
M-notice Subscription EC Group PO Box 362 Europa Park Grays Essex RM17 9AY Tel 01375 484548
The MCA provides a free electronic subscription service for M-notices. If you subscribe to this service, you will be notified by email as new documents are published and provided with links to each item.
To subscribe, you can email the EC Group at firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject heading. To unsubscribe, you can email them at the same address with ‘Unsubscribe’ in the subject heading.