Inspection of bulk carriers calling at ports in Europe last summer revealed unsatisfactory results, a shipping executive says.
Many were not up to international standard, said Hans Payer, chairman of the International Association of Ship Classification Societies (IACS), even the ships classed by IACS members, which were the majority inspected.
He urged all parties involved with bulk shipping - the shipowner and operator, the insurer, and the class, as well as the loading and unloading terminals - to play a part to improve safety.
'The shipping industry has to continue to find ways to further improve the safety and quality standards of bulk carriers,' said Mr Payer, who is an executive board member of classification society Germanischer Lloyd.
Classification societies could not do the work alone, he said.
IACS is confident that additional actions and new procedures, such as the enhanced survey programme for older ships, and the loading and unloading guidelines for bulkers, will ensure that bulk carriers become safer.
It will take about five years from July 1, 1998, for all vessels aged more than 15 years to be strengthened for possible accidental water ingress to hold one, the hold identified as most vulnerable.
Classification societies now require bulk carriers built after July 1, 1998, to be strengthened in order to better survive accidental water ingress or other damage.
Mr Payer said bulk shipping, which made up nearly a third of the world merchant fleet, had been put under pressure by globalisation and competition.
'This includes consistently high pressure on increasing the efficiency of sea transportation,' he said.
For bulkers, this meant larger ships of lighter structure, as well as highly developed loading and unloading procedures in port, leading to increasing work rates.
Mr Payer said the use of bulldozers to scrape out cargo in the bottom of holds and the practice of dislodging packed cargo sticking to the walls of holds by means of hydraulic hammers fitted to tractors had put extra demand on the ship's structure.
Loading rates had reached up to 16,000 tonnes per hour at some ore terminals, which could be increased by the use of two loading units.
'It may therefore become difficult to monitor the loading process so that the loading sequence stays within the allowable range for which the ship has been designed,' Mr Payer said.
The developments had caused serious problems, with the number of total losses of bulk carriers unacceptably high, peaking in the early 1990s.
Classification societies and the International Maritime Organisation had worked hard to bring the situation under control by requiring that bulkers be strengthened.