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HK register in push to lift tonnage

THE Hongkong shipping register has gained more than one million gross registered tonnes (grt) to 7.4 million grt since it was inaugurated two years ago, says a senior Marine official.

Mr Tsui Shung-yiu, assistant director of Marine, said the department, which would continue its efforts to attract more vessels, planned to increase its promotion efforts through colour brochures and video programmes later this year.

''However, there are still some 80,000 grt of ships in the pipeline to come on the Hongkong register, as they have already informed us and there are yet others who have not yet applied but have indicated their ships would be brought to us before the end of the year,'' he said.

But Mr Tsui admitted that the Hongkong shipping register had been unsuccessful in attracting large vessels like very large crude carriers (VLCCs) despite capping its registration fees on April 10 last year.

He agreed that if a shipbuilder wanted to build a VLCC for the Hongkong register, the fees would be between US$20,000 and $25,000 higher than other registers.

''We don't want to make a profit but we want to get enough to cover our costs,'' Mr Tsui said, adding that the Hongkong register should not be compared to an open register which was less stringent on standards of construction and equipment.

It was still up to a shipowner to decide whether he wanted a quality register or a cheap register, he added.

Ships on the Hongkong register are required to comply with international standards of construction and equipment.

If an owner wanted quality, he had to pay for it, Mr Tsui said, adding that it was highly unlikely that the Hongkong register would change its policy and go overseas to attract ships as it did not want to be seen as a flag of convenience.

He emphasised that the Hongkong register had been set up to ensure a smooth transition for existing ships on the registry and continued operation under the administration of the Special Administrative Region.

Mr Tsui said Marine Department officials had been trying to attract local shipowners to list large vessels on the Hongkong register with no success, although one or two of them had expressed interest.

Regarding profit tax exemption laws introduced on June 4 last year, Mr Tsui said the Hongkong Government had moved to amend the law as shipowners were under no obligation to pay taxes in Hongkong anyway.

The Government merely rectified it to allow shipowners to do it legally and improve the image of the register in the process, he said.

Mr Tsui said that when the Hongkong register was set up, shipbuilders in South Korea and Japan had to be educated about the territory's requirements.

''When we first set up (the register) many of them thought we were still following the old UK laws, but now they are in a better position after understanding our present position,'' he said.

''Shipbuilders from Korea also called on the department when they visited Hongkong and we provided them with detailed explanations, illustrated with drawings of our requirements,'' he said.

The Marine Department would continue to educate shipbuilders in the region as to the requirements of the Hongkong register, he added.