THE International Association of Independent Tanker Owners is giving full support to Friends of the Earth's proposals regarding shipping accidents and ecology protection. Intertanko managing director Tormod Rafgard said Friends of the Earth had told the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) that governments should avoid ''knee-jerk'' unilateral action following recent accidents. ''The best course is to work for global improvement through the IMO, the appropriate international agency,'' he suggested. Mr Rafgard said the environmental movement had called on governments to do more to implement the many existing regulations on ship safety and environmental protection adopted by the 136 IMO states. ''Tanker owners worldwide wholeheartedly support the rational approach put forward by Friends of the Earth. There is no point in mass-producing new rules when the existing rules are not enforced,'' he said. Describing the introduction of new rules by governments as a public relations exercise, Mr Rafgard said, making the existing rules work was a much tougher option. In a letter to IMO secretary Williams O'Neil in January, Friends of the Earth IMO representative Gerard Peet said the marine organisation had been subjected to unfair criticism, adding that any criticism should be directed at national governments which were not enforcing existing IMO rules. Mr Rafgard said Intertanko supported the conservation group's proposal which called for an investigation to focus on ''the extent to which non-compliance with and/or ineffective enforcement of existing IMO regulations constitutes an important factor in the (common) causes of recent accidents''. Intertanko also endorsed the call for the governments of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia which were directly involved with the Malacca Straits to present proposals for improved navigational safety and environmental controls within the framework of the IMO, he said. Mr Rafgard said: ''Patchwork solutions country-to-country - a series of ill-considered responses to political pressure - offer no solution. At worst, such unilateral schemes could actually increase shipping hazards.'' Meanwhile, the chief of the Hongkong chapter of Friends of the Earth, Mary Riley said in a statement that Shell's memorandum entitled Prevention of Oil Spills from Tankers suggesting a number of possible solutions to oil-spill accidents should be applauded. ''However, we should also consider the broader problems of how to ensure maritime safety and how to avoid the destructive effect of maritime accidents on the environment,'' Ms Riley said. She pointed out that self regulation in the shipping industry was not sufficient to prevent accidents or to avoid serious consequences for the environment as recent accidents in the Shetland Islands Malacca Straits demonstrated. Ms Riley said studies were needed into ways to achieve better co-operation in policing international waters as there were too many accidents, too much piracy and too little control over sea lanes. But there was no harm in applauding the shipping industry on its achievements in international maritime regulation, as long as the pressing improvements needed to make the seas safe for animals, plants and non-destructive uses by mankind was not forgotten, she said.