Bulkhead reinforcement to cost as much as US$500,000 per vessel
WONG JOON SAN and AGENCIES The Hong Kong Shipowners Association has welcomed moves by the International Maritime Organisation to bring about a major improvement in bulk-carrier safety.
Association director-designate Arthur Bowring said the proposed IMO amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (Solas) were almost word for word the same as those which the International Association of Classification Societies (Iacs) would introduce as a condition of class for members from July next year.
As the Hong Kong association fully supported Iacs, it also backed the IMO's plan, which was likely to come into force in 1999, Mr Bowring said.
IACS members control almost 95 per cent of the world's fleet.
A number of bulk carriers are entered on the Hong Kong Shipping Register.
The proposed amendments will be presented to the Solas convention in November and become part of international law thereafter.
Thousands of bulkers would be required to undergo expensive modifications as a result.
It would be the first time the IMO has passed retroactive legislation on bulk carriers.
Among other requirements, the transverse bulkhead between the first and second holds of high-density carriers and those measuring more than 150 metres would have to be reinforced, according to the amendments.
The cost of this modification would vary from US$10,000 to $500,000, depending on the vessel, IMO secretary-general William O'Neil said last week in London.
'This may seem expensive,' he said. 'But we are talking about a crew of 50 people - $9,000 or $10,000 per life is not a lot.' The move comes in the wake of the loss this year of two bulk carriers, the Leros Strength and the Albion Two, both of which had been built in 1976. Both reportedly had passed special safety surveys before sinking suddenly.
Mr O'Neil said 99 bulk carriers had been lost over the past 7.5 years, with the loss of 600 lives.
The grace period for shipowners to conform to the new requirements would be decided at the November IMO meeting, Mr O'Neil said.
Bulk-carrier safety would be the sole issue on the meeting's agenda.
The IMO chief said the new rules would not amount to a complete abandonment of so-called 'grandfather rights' as the rules would not apply to all vessels.
The grandfather rights principle traditionally has exempted owners of older vessels from conforming to newly introduced regulations on vessels.
Owners of older vessels felt they already were meeting their safety obligations, Mr O'Neil said.
However, the IMO believed the technology which applied when vessels were built 10, 15 or 20 years ago was not always satisfactory, he said.