What is a Harbour Authority?

A harbour is defined by the Harbours Act 1964 (HA 1964) as any natural or artificial harbour, any port, haven, estuary, tidal or other river or inland waterway navigated by sea-going ships. It also includes docks and wharves.

Harbour authorities are independent self-governing bodies that are responsible for the safety and efficiency of marine operations within their jurisdiction. Their duties include managing harbours for safe navigation, protecting the environment and ensuring overall operational efficiency.

There are two categories of harbour authorities: Competent Harbour Authorities (CHA) and Statutory Harbour authorities (SHA). All competent harbour authorities tend to also be statutory harbour authorities but not all statutory harbour authorities are competent harbour authorities. CHAs, defined by the Pilotage Act 1987, have statutory powers related to pilotage. SHAs are responsible for overall harbour management, and their powers and duties are specified in local Acts or Harbour Orders.

Types of Harbour Authorities

In the United Kingdom, harbour authorities can be split into various types based on their governance structures. While the terms “private,” “municipal,” and “trust” harbour authorities might not be explicitly defined in all cases, there are general differences in their ownership, management, and funding structures:

Private Harbour Authority

  • Ownership: A private harbour authority is typically owned and operated by a private entity or company. This could be a privately owned port or harbour facility
  • Management: The management and decision-making authority rest with the private entity or company that owns the harbour. They may operate it for commercial purposes and may have a profit motive
  • Funding: Private harbour authorities generate revenue through fees, charges, or other commercial activities. They may also receive private investments for development and maintenance

Municipal Harbour Authority

  • Ownership: A municipal harbour authority is owned and operated by a local government, such as a city or town. It is a public entity established to manage and oversee harbour activities within its jurisdiction
  • Management: Local government officials or appointed representatives typically manage municipal harbour authorities. Decision-making is often influenced by local governance structures and policies
  • Funding: Municipal harbour authorities may be funded through local government budgets, taxes, grants, and user fees. They serve the public interest and may prioritize community needs and development

Trust Harbour Authority

  • Ownership: A trust harbour authority may be established as a separate legal entity, often with a specific purpose or mission. It may operate independently or be overseen by a board of trustees
  • Management: Trust harbour authorities are managed by trustees or a board, which may include representatives from various stakeholders, including government bodies, local communities, or private entities
  • Funding: Funding for trust harbour authorities can come from a variety of sources, including endowments, grants, user fees, and other revenue streams. The trust structure allows for flexibility in financial management.

It’s important to note that the specific terms and definitions may vary, and the distinctions between these types of harbour authorities can sometimes blur in practice. Legal frameworks, local regulations, and the specific purposes for which harbour authorities are established can influence their structures and functions.

Duties of a Harbour

What are harbour orders and harbour revision orders?

Harbour Orders and Harbour Revision Orders are legal instruments that pertain to the regulation and development of harbours. They are mechanisms through which changes, improvements, or alterations to harbour-related matters are authorised.

Harbour Orders are used to establish, modify, or revoke the constitution of a harbour authority. They may also grant powers to harbour authorities, prescribe bylaws, or make other provisions related to harbour governance.  The process of obtaining a Harbour Order typically involves submitting an application to the Secretary of State, and the order may go through a consultation period before being granted.

Harbour Revision Orders are used to make changes to existing Harbour Orders. They can be employed to revise or update the constitution or powers of a harbour authority, as well as other matters specified in the original Harbour Order.  Similar to Harbour Orders, obtaining a Harbour Revision Order involves submitting an application to the Secretary of State. The order may undergo a consultation process, and changes are made to the existing legal framework of the harbour authority.

The Port Marine Safety Code (PMSC)

The Port Marine Safety Code (PMSC) is a set of guidelines and standards designed to promote safety within the maritime industry, particularly in the context of ports and harbours. The purpose of the Port Marine Safety Code is to enhance safety management practices, ensuring the protection of people, property, and the environment.

Key aspects and objectives of the Port Marine Safety Code include:

  • Risk Management – The code emphasizes the importance of risk assessment and management. Ports are encouraged to identify potential hazards, assess associated risks, and implement measures to mitigate those risks effectively
  • Safety Management Systems (SMS) – The PMSC encourages the establishment and implementation of Safety Management Systems by port and harbour authorities. These systems help ensure a systematic and organised approach to safety, including clear procedures, communication, and monitoring
  • Continuous Improvement – The code promotes a culture of continuous improvement in safety performance. Ports are encouraged to review and enhance their safety practices regularly, learning from incidents and near misses
  • Legal Compliance – Ports are expected to comply with relevant national and international maritime laws and regulations. The PMSC provides a framework to assist ports in meeting these legal obligations
  • Communication and Coordination – Effective communication and coordination among all stakeholders, including port authorities, port users, and emergency services, are crucial for ensuring a comprehensive approach to safety
  • Training and Competence – The code stresses the importance of training and maintaining the competence of personnel involved in port operations. This includes harbour masters, pilots, and other staff responsible for safety-critical tasks
  • Emergency Preparedness – Ports are encouraged to develop and maintain emergency response plans, ensuring readiness to respond promptly and effectively to incidents that may pose a threat to safety.

While compliance with the Port Marine Safety Code is voluntary, ports and harbours that adhere to its principles demonstrate a commitment to high standards of safety management. The code serves as a valuable tool for fostering a safety-conscious culture within the maritime industry, contributing to the overall well-being of those involved in port activities and the protection of the marine environment.

You can find full details of the safety code here – The Port Marine Safety Code (publishing.service.gov.uk)

Guide to Good Practice

A Guide to Good Practice on Port Marine Operations has been issued by the Department for Transport to assist authorities in developing such systems and to manage their marine operations.  The full guide can be found here – MCGA-Port_Marine_Guide_to_Good_Practice_NEW-links.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk)

Key Legislation

There are several legislations that impact harbour authorities and we have highlighted below the key ones you should be aware of.

The Harbours Act 1964

The Harbours Act of 1964 is a pivotal piece of legislation that governs the management and operations of harbours.

The Act was introduced to provide a comprehensive legal framework for the management and regulation of harbours. Before the enactment of this legislation, harbour management was governed by a patchwork of laws and regulations, leading to inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the administration of harbours across the country.

It outlines the powers and responsibilities of harbour authorities, granting them authority to regulate shipping and navigation, construct and maintain harbour works, and collect dues and charges. The act empowers harbour authorities to create bylaws for effective harbour management and addresses issues such as safety, environmental protection, and coordination of activities within harbours. With a focus on efficiency and safety, the Harbours Act 1964 aims to ensure the smooth functioning of harbours, facilitating maritime commerce and trade while protecting the interests of the public and the environment.

The Dangerous Vessels Act 1985 & the Dangerous Goods in Harbour Areas Regulations 2016

The Dangerous Vessels Act 1985 addresses the problem of abandoned or derelict vessels in navigable waters. The act empowers harbour authorities to take action against vessels that pose a danger to navigation, safety, or the environment. It provides mechanisms for identifying and dealing with vessels deemed dangerous, allowing authorities to prohibit vessels from entering their jurisdiction, or to seize, remove, or destroy such vessels.

In addition, the Dangerous Goods in Harbour Areas Regulations 2016, which replaced the Dangerous Substances in Harbour Areas Regulations 1987, is designed to manage and control the handling of dangerous substances in harbour areas. These regulations apply to activities involving the loading, unloading, and storage of hazardous materials in ports and harbours. The legislation establishes safety measures to prevent and control major accidents involving dangerous substances. It includes provisions for risk assessment, emergency planning, and communication of information regarding hazardous materials.

The primary aim of both these acts is to enhance the safety of the harbour operations and protect the marine environment.

The Pilotage Act 1987

The Pilotage Act 1987 governs the provision of pilotage services in certain harbours and waterways. The act establishes regulations for the compulsory use of pilots, individuals with specialised knowledge of local waters, to navigate vessels safely through specified areas. It empowers harbour authorities to designate pilotage areas and prescribe pilotage requirements. The legislation aims to enhance maritime safety by ensuring that vessels entering or leaving certain ports are guided by experienced pilots who are familiar with the local conditions, thus reducing the risk of accidents and promoting the overall efficiency of navigation in those areas.

The Merchant Shipping Act 1995

Part VI of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, along with its associated regulations, grants specific authority to a Harbour Master regarding the management of oil pollution resulting from ships. Within this section, the Secretary of State holds the authority to issue orders pertaining to the establishment of reception facilities at ports and terminals for the proper disposal of oil and specified substances discharged from vessels (section 128). Furthermore, the 1995 Act empowers Harbour Authorities with capabilities to address wrecks within their harbours.

Insurance Considerations & How We Can Help

There are a number of common insurances that we would expect to see in place, and the majority of these can form part of package style policy but can be written on specific port & terminals wordings. In addition to the standard cover, we would expect certain extensions to be in force given the statutory obligations in place, and therefore the policy should be tailored accordingly to the individual needs of the port/harbour. Our experience and strong relationships with insurers in this sector, allow us to carry out these discussions effectively on your behalf, ensuring sufficient coverage is in place.

In addition to the core cover that we would expect to see, we can also place several ancillary products, such as Cyber Liability, Directors & Officers Liability, Professional Indemnity and so on – we consider these covers to be just as important, and our ability to provide a full suite of options, helps avoid any gaps in cover.

Every harbour is different, and having an insurance broker with the ability to understand these intricacies, provides that necessary reassurance.  

Author’s Bio

Laura Walton joined Hayes Parsons Insurance Brokers in 2017 and quickly became an expert in the marine insurance industry. During her time here, she has completed her Advanced Diploma in Insurance, and is now a Chartered Insurance Broker.

Laura is one of our Marine Account Executives and can be contacted via phone, email or LinkedIn:

[email protected] 07471 038 915 Laura Walton