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Ship inspection regime toughened up

Stuart Spear28/09/2011 - 12:00

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A major pan-European project to harmonise health standards on vessels to prevent the spread of disease through ships is set to be completed next month.

First launched to improve infection control on ships arriving in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games, Shipsan Trainet has since grown into an EU-wide training and inspection regime to safeguard the health of ship crews and passengers.

Speaking at this year’s Association of Port Health Authorities conference in Guernsey the project’s Health Protection Agency representative, Dr Gordon Nichols, told delegates how Shipsan will replace what has to date been an inadequate EU ships hygiene regime.

‘There seems to be a general lack of knowledge and training with some ports overreacting to infectious disease problems with limited and unco-ordinated legislation that is interpreted differently by states,’ said Dr Nichols. ‘In many countries different authorities have responsibility for entering the ship, leading to different standards.’

The need for a more co-ordinated approach to ship’s hygiene has become apparent with the growth of the EU cruise market, which has increased by 41 per cent over the last three years. Sixty-six cruise lines operating 192 ships currently operate in EU waters. Some ships can carry up to 5,400 passengers.

The newly developed Shipsan Trainet project has not just identified competent authorities and provided guidelines to legislation but has also developed a European training network for both ships and port health authorities. The training covers everything from medical facilities on a ship, food safety and ballast water management to disease control on board.

With funding for the project coming to an end next month political decisions will now have to be taken as to how to incorporate the new regime into EU law. Options include an EU directive, a memorandum of understanding among EU member states or a code of practice using the Shipsan training manual as the template.

The new hygiene regime, which is currently being piloted, will affect all ships carrying more than 12 paying passengers for more than six hours and providing food and will bring the EU in line with other ship hygiene surveillance systems such as the US vessel sanitation program.

The project has been led by the University of Thessaly, Larissa, Greece, and was met with early support from a cruise industry looking for a more consistent approach to disease control.

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