‘There must be no dilution of safety and if we find that our members are put in danger then there will have to be some industrial action,’ Bob Crow said yesterday.
Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) General Secretary Crow was speaking about the effects of an EU directive introducing a ‘generic boatmaster’s licence’, one of the effects of which would be to reduce from five years to two years the qualifying service time for a boatmaster licence on the Thames.
Speaking aboard a banner-strewn boat as it sailed past the Palace of Westminster, Crow said: ‘We have to get over to MPs not to weaken the legislation, making it easier to get a boatman’s licence.’
Margaret Lockwood Croft said: ‘My son Shaun was 26 when he died aboard the Marchioness, one of the 51 victims on 20 August 1989.
‘This is the first time I have been on the river since then.’
Margaret told News Line: ‘There are no ifs or buts, if the new licence is implemented on the Thames, replacing the stringent practical and college training now in place for gaining a Waterman and Lighterman Licence, then safety will be gone.
‘We welcome the EU proposals for other small inland waterways, but emphatically not for dangerous tidal waters.
‘If the minister Stephen Ladyman lets this go through then there will be an even worse disaster than the Marchioness.’
John Potter, Freeman of the River with over 47 years’ experience on the Thames, said: ‘It’s 20-25 feet from high water to low water, there is a 3.5 knot tide, currents are forever changing and local knowledge is imperative.
‘Most Continental rivers flow only one way, but the Thames comes in for five-and-a-half hours and goes out for six-and-a-half hours.
‘The Thames is not a river you can learn in five minutes. Most Freemen of the River have done a 5-7-year apprenticeship.
Paul Baker, River Thames RMT Branch Secretary, said: ‘Commercial interests are pushing these changes. You’ve got proposals for bringing in freight for building the Thames Gateway and the Olympics and the expansion of commuter services along the Thames.
‘The lessons learnt from past disasters are all too soon forgotten. With passenger vessels getting larger the potential for new disasters with less experienced boatmasters is only too evident.’