Consultation is due to begin on draft legislation that intends to reduce the risk of an accident arising as a result of water coming into a vessel without the crew knowing it is happening.
The new regulations would mean that all vessels greater than 24 metres in length but less than 500 gross tonnage would have to be fitted with bilge alarms.
Owners of vessels less than 500 gross tonnage would still have to formally assess the risks to crew sleeping on board overnight and check that emergency alarms are capable of alerting those asleep on board, working in a similar way to smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.
It follows an incident involving a dredger which developed a leak but the crew were asleep and did not know until flooding caused it to become unstable and roll violently to port.
The crew escaped injury but a subsequent Marine Accident Investigation Branch report recommended that the MCA introduce the requirement for a bilge alarm.
Katy Ware, Director of Maritime Safety and Standards, MCA said: “As part of the MCA’s commitment to safety of life at sea, we want to bring in a regulation that reduces the risk of crews being caught out by water coming into the vessel without them knowing about it. This regulation will apply to cargo ships of 24 metres of more in length and less than 500 gross tonnage.
“These new regulations place a duty of care on owners and operators to make sure there are bilge alarms are loud enough to wake them if they are off duty for example. We feel these regulations will substantially reduce the risk of accidents involving potential injury, loss of life, loss of vessels and possible marine pollution incidents.’
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is a frontline emergency response agency of the Department for Transport. As well as delivering maritime search and rescue through HM Coastguard (one of the four UK emergency services), the MCA is responsible for maritime regulation, safety and counter-pollution.