More inspections for HK ships after US detentions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 July, 2010, 12:00am

Owners and managers of ships registered in Hong Kong will face tougher and more frequent safety inspections by the Marine Department and the United States Coast Guard.

This comes after Hong Kong lost its place on the coastguard's safety initiative Qualship 21 last year, following a raft of ship detentions at US ports.

By comparison, ships from 20 countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and Switzerland are eligible for the programme.

Coastguard figures show 11 Hong Kong-flagged ships were detained for safety violations between July of last year and the end of last month.

The Marine Department confirmed that five of the ships were detained in the first half of this year, including the Yantian Sea, a 1995-built, 44,821 deadweight tonne dry-cargo vessel operated by Cosco Shipping on behalf of owner China Ocean Shipping.

During an inspection of the ship at Alameda, California in January, coast guard staff found an 81cm long water-stained crack that indicated water ingress was 'threatening the ship's seaworthiness', according to the coastguard. The checks also found excessive fuel oil leaks and that the alarm system in the cargo hold was inoperable.

An inspection in March of the 1984-built, 41,500 deadweight tonnes cargo ship Pacific Celebes, owned by the John Swire and Sons company China Navigation, found that the 'crew did not follow essential shipboard procedures relating to the disposal and storage of waste oil'.

Checks on other vessels found equipment failures, while the crew on board one ship could 'not perform a satisfactory fire drill after two attempts'.

In a letter sent two weeks ago to all owners and managers with ships registered in Hong Kong, Barry Liu Chiu-fai, acting senior surveyor at the Marine Department's cargo-ships safety section, said the rise in detentions represented a 'significant increase' on the previous year.

Liu outlined a plan to improve the safety record of Hong Kong ships. It includes requiring the captain of a Hong Kong ship detained anywhere in the world to complete a safety checklist before the ship enters a US port. The checklists will be endorsed by the shipping or management company and sent to the Marine Department for follow-up action.

The department will also enhance its inspections of Hong Kong-flagged ships visiting the US and make more frequent visits to management companies with ships trading there, to help improve their safety-management systems.

Now that Hong Kong has lost its place in the Qualship 21 programme, the Hong Kong-flagged ships enrolled in the scheme will face more frequent inspections by coastguard personnel. This means yearly instead of biannual checks for container and dry-cargo ships and more rigorous annual inspections for tankers.

This will impact quality owners such as Orient Overseas Container Line, which has 10 container ships listed, including some of its largest vessels such as the containerships OOCL Shenzhen and OOCL Asia.

Bad sign

The number of Hong Kong-flagged ships detained by the US Coast Guard for safety violations between July of last year and last month was: 11