Government action call on seaworthiness

THE Nautical Institute's Hongkong branch wants the Government to empower the Marine Department to take action against owners and surveyors who allow unseaworthy vessels to sail.

The institute's Hongkong branch chairman Paul Markland said that in the absence of such regulation, there had been an increasing trend towards old and unseaworthy tonnage.

''But if the Legislative Council gave more powers to the Marine Department, it would lead the vessel registers and classification societies to deal only with better tonnage and leaving bad tonnage with nowhere to turn to,'' he said.

He pointed out that recently there had been several cases which highlighted the need for legislation to be enacted both in Hongkong and in other countries around the world.

Citing a recent example, Mr Markland said a passenger vessel flying a foreign flag, which was subjected to port state inspection by the Marine Department during a visit to Hongkong, was found to have numerous infractions of safety requirements.

The vessel was found to have seriously deficient lifeboats, a damaged fire detection system and a breach of the vessel's watertight integrity and was held pending rectification of the deficiencies.

But Mr Markland emphasised that the most alarming aspect of the incident was that the ship's passenger-vessel certificate was just two days old, meaning that an accredited surveyor acting on behalf of the classification society and registry had inspectedand passed the ship ''safe'' and free to sail only 48 hours earlier.

He pointed out that the certificate would have allowed the vessel to continue to operate with its deficiencies for more than a year unless its condition was uncovered through another port state spot check.

''Some action should be taken against the owner and the surveyor involved, but currently there is no mechanism for the Hongkong Government to stop this surveyor from repeating this totally unacceptable practice,'' Mr Markland said.

The only recourse for the Marine Department was to report the matter to the vessel's country of registry and the classification society concerned, he said.

He added that the public could guess the likely reaction of those administrations as the register was one of convenience and the classification society not in the top seven registers.

Registers of convenience have reputations of being lax with safety, crewing and other requirements, sometimes well below acceptable international standards.

Mr Markland said as other professionals could be hauled up before a board of inquiry and face penalties of suspension or have their licence to practice revoked, a surveyor should be similarly held accountable for his actions.

The incidence of situations such as the passenger liner example was rising due to conflict between commercial pressure and safety, he said.

''With the advent of cut-throat competition, classification societies, flag states and owners are having to compete more aggressively than ever to stay in business,'' he said.

Mr Markland said the Nautical Institute, whose primary purpose was to promote safety at sea and to act as an advisory body to government organisations, supported a recent call by the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners urging all players in the market to offer special premiums to shipping lines which invested in upgrading ships and operations.