City gets safe ship rating back

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 August, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong has narrowly struggled back on to a key United States Coast Guard ship-safety initiative a year after being dumped because Hong Kong-flagged ships failed to meet the scheme's strict safety criteria.

The move is expected to save time and costs for the owners and managers of such ships registered with the coastguard. These include owners such as Orient Overseas Container Line and KC Maritime, along with ship managers such as Anglo-Eastern Ship Management.

Under the coastguard's Qualship 21 initiative, flag states like Hong Kong must have a three-year rolling ship-detention ratio of 1 per cent or below to qualify. Ships can be detained if equipment on board fails to work during an inspection by coastguard or port-safety personnel and are only released once repairs are carried out.

Chan Ming-yau, general manager of the Marine Department's ship-safety branch, said Hong Kong's detention ratio was 1.01 per cent last year, adding the city was 'very, very lucky' to regain its Qualship 21 place even though the ratio was higher than technically allowed.

Under coastguard rules, individual ships have to be enrolled in Qualship. But the detention ratio is assessed based on the total number of ships from a flag state that have been detained, not just those that are Qualship registered.

Coastguard figures show there are about 65 Hong Kong-flagged ships on the Qualship list of 400 ships. OOCL and Saga Forest Carriers are among the owners with the most Hong Kong-flagged ships with Qualship certificates, which are issued to vessels that have successfully passed a coastguard inspection in the previous 12 months.

The restoration of Hong Kong's position on the list, which will mean fewer inspections by coastguard personnel, came after the Marine Department initiated a campaign to improve ship-safety standards.

Chan said starting in July last year, captains on ships bound for a US port were required to complete and sign a safety checklist identifying any problem areas.

These documents were sent to the shipping or management company and forwarded to the Marine Department for scrutiny and follow-up action, so that repairs and other remedial action could be taken before the ship entered the US port.

Chan said the checklists targeted areas on board that were regularly the focus of coastguard inspections. These included lifeboat operations, firefighting and prevention equipment and oil leaks. The aim was to take 'proactive action to prevent detentions', Chan said.

Commenting on the return of Hong Kong's Qualship status, Peter Cremers, chief executive of Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, said: 'Less inspections in the US make life easier.'

Klaus Nyborg, chief executive of Pacific Basin Shipping, added: 'Though there is no measurable commercial advantage, the Qualship 21 status is definitely advantageous, as our ships will not be targeted and the frequency of port state-control inspections may be reduced.'