Hong Kong shipowners and ship managers will have to pay more attention to the safety of their vessels under a quality-improvement programme announced by the Marine Department yesterday.
The launch coincides with US Coast Guard figures showing Hong Kong-flagged ships had more safety detentions in US ports last year than mainland-registered ships.
Chan Ming-yau, general manager of the Marine Department's ship safety branch, said the new programme would require ship managers to keep records about detentions in port and safety deficiencies on their ships.
They must also record the number of ship inspections where no deficiencies were recorded by official maritime inspection personnel at ports around the world.
The scheme is part of a six-point quality initiative, which includes notifying all ships of details about detentions and deficiencies of other Hong Kong-registered ships.
The goal is to encourage captains to avoid similar problems, analyse the causes of detentions and deficiencies, assess any trends, and plan improvements.
Chan said ship managers were expected to compile information about port inspections at least every two weeks - using official government or port state records, including those from the US Coastguard and Australian authorities.
To ensure that the data is being compiled, classification societies - independent organisations that inspect vessels and monitor their safety - will check it during regular audits of ship management companies. The societies were given details of the new programme at a meeting attended by 24 people with the marine department last week.
Chan said a detailed information circular would be issued to ship managers in July or August explaining how the scheme would work. Managers are expected to start compiling the information from October, although it will not become mandatory until January 1.
'Most ship managers have already got similar systems and most of them support the idea,' Chan said.
Inspectors in foreign ports notify a ship's captain when minor deficiencies are found on his vessel, or when it is ordered detained. Detained ships are prevented from leaving port until the problems - which can include using untrained or unqualified crew, excessive oil leaks or unusable firefighting equipment - are corrected.
Dick Kam, the marine manager with the French classification society Bureau Veritas, said the new self-assessment system should cause shippers 'no particular concerns'.
'It's not onerous, from our perspective,' he said.
The changes are part of a stronger focus on ship safety issues by the marine department since Hong Kong was bumped off the US Coastguard's Qualship 21 initiative in 2010. It gave ship managers an incentive to keep their ships safe by subjecting the best ships to fewer inspections.
Hong Kong returned to the Qualship 21 list last year. With 2,068 ships registered here, totalling 74.7 million gross tonnes, Hong Kong is among the world's five biggest ship registries.
To qualify for Qualship, flag states must have a ship detention ratio of no more than 1 per cent - measured over three years in a row. Ships can be detained if equipment on board fails to work during an inspection by coastguard or port-safety personnel, and are only released after repairs.
Hong Kong had a detention ratio of 0.95 per cent between 2009 and 2011. Three ships were detained for serious safety breaches last year out of 579 Hong Kong flagged ships that called at US ports.
One Hong Kong-flagged ship was detained in the first four months of this year, US Coastguard figures show.
By comparison, the mainland had a detention ration of 0.55 per cent in the three years to 2011. None of the 108 mainland-registered ships visiting US ports were detained last year.
The gross tonnage of the ship registry of Malta, Europe's largest. This pales in comparison to HK's 74.7 million tonnes