Dunkirk boats in Thames tourist fleet face end in new safety push
The operators of a fleet of Thames pleasure boats that carry thousands to tourist destinations such as Westminster and Hampton Court have warned they will be forced off the river by proposed new safety laws.
As many as 25 “heritage vessels” —including several used in the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk in 1940 and some dating back to the 19th century — would be hit by a plan to ban seating at, or below the waterline which is included in a consultation from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
The agency, part of Chris Grayling’s Department for Transport, wants to update safety regulations for older passenger vessels. But boat owners say that it will cost at least £250,000 per craft to convert them to a single-deck configuration and would reduce capacity by half, making it “financial suicide” for them to continue operating.
The heritage boats are a familiar sight on the Thames over summer and last year carried more than 50,000 passengers on excursions between piers at Westminster, Kew, Richmond and Hampton Court.
Lorraine Maynard, 56, who operates the Cockney Sparrow pleasure boat, said: “I have put my heart and soul into this for 25 years. It would be very sad to see the upriver route go. People don’t always want to go on a fast service like the Thames Clipper. They want something with character and a commentary.” Another owner, Danny Collier, 61, who runs three boats including the 1926-built Princess Freda used in the Dunkirk evacuation, said: “This would put us out of business and our boats would have to be scrapped.”
The owners, who claim the support of MPs with riverside constituencies including Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable and Brentford and Isleworth’s Ruth Cadbury, say the safety requirement would be “disproportionate” as there has been no accident on the Thames needing evacuation of passengers since the Marchioness disaster 30 years ago. They say that about 100 jobs would be lost if the boats stop operating. The measures would apply to all vessels on tidal waters. The river is tidal as far as Teddington Lock. Mayor Sadiq Khan has said that he expected that any operators facing financial hardship would be given “financial assistance”.
The MCA said that the consultation had “elicited the strongest response” of any proposal, with 33 firms saying they would be likely to go out of business.
A MCA spokeswoman said they were aware the proposals could affect the economic viability of some vessels “however this consideration cannot override our commitment to keeping the travelling public safe”.