Does the MCA have any powers to exempt a ship from manning regulations?

Yes. Under section 48 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 the MCA can grant an exemption for a particular period or one or more particular voyages. In practice this power is rarely used, however.

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Does the MCA’s Survey and Certification Policy (MSIS 23) include procedures for granting of exemptions from safe manning requirements?

Is sailing short-handed specifically provided for by the Merchant Shipping (Safe Manning, Hours of Work and Watchkeeping) Regulations 1997?