For 25 years, since his appointment in 1978, one of the most persuasive voices in international shipping has been that of Chris Horrocks, secretary-general of the London-based International Chamber of Shipping. In this interview with DNV FORUM, he expresses his views and concerns about recent trends in the global shipping arena.
Representing the interests of national shipowners' associations in 39 countries, together operating over half the world's merchant fleet, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) enjoys consultative status with the International Maritime Organisation and other U.N. agencies, and thus has an influential role in the regulatory developments affecting the industry.
Chris Horrocks himself has presented numerous papers at shipping conferences worldwide, and is well aware of the current concern regarding the role of Classification in ensuring maritime safety. 'There are always pressures within IACS', he says, 'because some of its members are more dominant and capable than others. Nevertheless, it plays what I believe is an irreplaceable part in ensuring quality in ship design and construction. Class as an institution is a cartel, but still an absolutely vital part of the system in carrying out work which no shipping companies or government bodies can fulfil - they just do not have the staff or resources.
'From our viewpoint, a prime role of Class is the undertaking of statutory work on behalf of maritime administrations. Individual Flag States, in most cases, don't have the expertise or personnel to carry out, for example, even such routine tasks as tonnage measurements.
'One sensitive issue, to be discussed at IMO's Maritime Safety Committee in May, is that raised by Greece and the Bahamas implying that IMO itself should take over responsibility for developing and monitoring ship-construction standards. I hope and believe this is just a "shot across the bows", telling Class that it must never lower standards purely for competitive, commercial reasons.
'It is legitimate to ask who should supervise classification societies in ensuring they do their job properly. But if design margins are being prejudiced because of competitive pressures from newbuilding yards, for example, I believe we should do everything possible to support the role of Class, not weaken it.
'That said, I must express some reservation about the role and activities of the so-called LAN group - Lloyd's Register, ABS and DNV. I understand the determination of the largest societies to use their strength to pursue their ideas, but I also see the dangers of splinter movements. Any group representing the best in ship design and technology must recognise the strengths of certain other class societies in specific areas, such as container carriers and passenger ships. "Uniform Requirements" must be agreed and upheld by all members of IACS for them to be of universal value.'
Bulk carrier and tanker measures
'We in the ICS were not generally happy about the eight-point measures, announced by IACS in March last year, as a response to concerns about bulk-carrier safety. We understood why Class wished to be seen to act firmly, but we were not convinced the package had been analysed in cost-benefit terms. So in September we began discussions with IACS, and with major Flag States operating bulk carriers, to try to seek more practical and effective measures. The outcome, following the MSC meeting in December, is that both IMO and governments have agreed a generally satisfactory and practical approach.
'For new bulk carriers, much detail remains to be discussed. Not all our members agree that double hulls are the right way to go, but the double-hulled bulker is here to stay, and ICS members are resigned to accepting it.'
In the context of hull design, looking now at tankers, is it appropriate that a regional body such as the European Commission should unilaterally pursue the early elimination of single-hull ships ?
'An international industry needs an international set of Rules. But politicians demand action, and the two objectives don't always coincide. The U.S. Oil Pollution Act followed the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska; now we see the same unilateral approach in Europe. How long before administrations in, say, South East Asia decide that they too will develop their own Rules, or no longer accept ships that are not allowed to trade in the U.S. or Europe ?
'So for the industry there is no practical alternative to having the Rules set by an international body - the IMO. Even in the current European climate, at working level civil servants also support the IMO route.
What happened after the loss of the Prestige was solely politically driven. Remember that after loss of the Erika there was at least an analysis of the consequences of phasing out single-hull tankers, in terms of fleet and newbuilding capacities. Post-Prestige, there has been no such reasoned reaction. In fact, should there be global agreement to the EU proposals, then heavy-fuel supplies to Europe in double-hull tankers would simply not be sustainable.
'Politicians love the simplicity of the double-hull concept; they're not concerned about problems of corrosion or leakage of flammable gases into the void spaces.'
Ship and Port Security
Do you believe that the new ISPS Code, as well as strengthening the security of ships and ports, will help eliminate substandard ships and their operators? What are your members' reactions to the Code?
'Considering that some 40 to 50 thousand ships are involved, the timescale is extremely short, shorter than in the case of complying with the ISM Code. So far there isn't even agreement among the Flag States as to who will be the Recognised Security Organisations, and who will issue ISPS Certificates. Do we prefer Class officials with clipboards, or hooded SAS operatives abseiling in from the fifth floor windows ? Forward-thinking shipowners are addressing such questions, but thus far there are no firm guidelines nor model ship-security plans.
'If shipowners and their vessels have problems, then so too do ports. What good is an acceptably secure ship, with a proper, designated security officer, if security in the port is as poor as it is in some countries ? The ship could well arrive in a properly secure North American port, but suffer inspections and long delays simply because it has arrived from some suspect area with poor security.
'So far as substandard ships are concerned, I believe the ISM Code has gone a considerable way in eliminating the worst of these. In the context of the ISPS Code, compliance will have absolute priority only in the U.S.A. and a few other countries: elsewhere the Code will be less rigorously applied. The remaining substandard ships and their operators are unlikely to be trading with countries which take security seriously, so on them any impact of the Code will be limited.'
Manpower and training
'For over a decade, there has been a potential shortage of ships' officers. The number of seafarers entering the industry - of the right calibre - is becoming less. This poses a problem not only for the shipowners whose vessels must be manned, but in turn also for the maritime authorities, classification societies, P & I Clubs and training establishments, all of which require a continuing supply of experienced seagoing officers to take senior positions ashore.
'However, the quality of staff who do join as deck officers remains high, including those from such relatively recent sources as Poland, Russia and Ukraine which are supplementing the traditional sources in India and the Philippines. Many of these officers will be welcomed into shore positions in the future.'
The image of the Industry
'Finally, we must improve the standing and image of the shipping industry in the eyes of the authorities and the public
'How best to do that ? I think at present the public's "image" of the industry is not so much bad as non-existent. In the U.K., the Chamber of Shipping has established its "Sea Vision" programme, and is taking measures to project the industry to a wider audience. But doing that internationally isn't easy, since countries have such different cultures and perceptions. Norway, for example, tends to have greater environmental awareness than the Mediterranean nations.
'And whereas most people in the developed world have first-hand experience of aircraft and flying, very few have been to sea. So promoting a positive image of the world's 45 or so major airlines and their activities is far easier than promoting the world's 4,500 shipping companies.
'We must mount a continuing education campaign - starting at the top so that the media and short-term politicians are aware of the positive, not just negative, aspects of this great global industry.'