The SOSREP - an introduction and looking to the future

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Almost 20 years since the role was introduced, we are about to welcome the third SOSREP - Les Chapman. So what does the SOSREP actually do and how effective has the role been?

The SOSREP, or Secretary of State's Representative, is a civil servant appointed to oversee the UK's casualty response in order to reduce the environmental impact and financial cost of maritime disasters. Although appointed by the government, he* is independent and impartial.  

The SOSREP has wide ranging powers which include:

  • Overall responsibility for monitoring response in offshore incidents (including vessel casualties) where there is a risk of pollution.

  • He can take control of incident management if deemed to be in the UK interest.

  • Can exercise intervention powers - may intervene if clean up or incident response proposal not deemed to be in the public interest and can also offer ports of refuge to vessels in distress.

First introduced in 1999 following Lord Donaldson's "Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas" report recommendation, the SOSREP has arguably been one of the most innovative steps in casualty management in the UK. Its most notable success came in the "MSC Napoli" salvage where the SOSREP used his powers to direct the vessel to be beached in Lyme Bay on the English coast with minimal delay and so preventing her from sinking in deeper waters where salvage and pollution control would have been far more difficult.

Mark Hoddinott**, General Manager of the ISU, believes that the influence of the SOSREP has been beneficial to both shipowners and Salvors, commenting that "the role of SOSREP has proved to be extremely successful.  Although he has wide ranging powers of intervention, SOSREP is beyond political influence which is key to his continued success."  

Mark believes that when looking to the future it is key for the new SOSREP to maintain his wide ranging powers of intervention and remain beyond political influence, the system is "working very, very well and does not need changing".

*there is obviously nothing preventing a future SOSREP being female!

** Many thanks to Mark Hoddinott of the ISU for his comments.

Amanda Hastings

Claims Executive