Refining the principles of safe manning will have no effect unless there is international agreement on minimum manning scales, according to a marine official. Hong Kong Marine Department's chief of shipping policy (nautical) Suresh Anand said many Hong Kong ship managers accepted the idea of a minimum global benchmark on manning. 'My informal discussions with the ship managers have indicated that they would actually like to increase manning levels on their ships, but they cannot do so until there is a level playing field,' he said at a seminar recently. This could only be done if the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) stipulated minimum safe-manning templates, Mr Anand said. He urged ship managers to consider if such a template was needed to form the basis for minimum manning scales worldwide. 'Without such detailed guidelines, the ship manager is unable to counter the tremendous pressure on him to reduce manning as a cost-cutting measure,' Mr Anand said. The International Shipping Federation was working on issuing guidelines on implementing an IMO resolution on manning, but IMO action would still be needed to bring about greater harmony, he said. Ship management companies were being pressed by their principals to reduce manning levels because other flag states were permitting lower levels, Mr Anand said. 'If the owners of Hong Kong-registered ships are compelled to employ greater numbers than allowed on other flags, then, naturally, the owners are faced with unfair competition,' he said. Administrators from several other flag states had indicated they faced similar pressures. Some unscrupulous administrators were known to agree with whatever manning shipowners proposed, resulting in fatigued officers and crews, which had led to collisions, groundings and other casualties, Mr Anand said. New Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers and the International Labour Organisation Convention requirements on work- and rest-hour limits should help eliminate fatigue, he said. But they would not be of much help if unscrupulous shipowners compelled ship staff to maintain false records. Because most ships engaged in international trading were bulk carriers, container ships or tankers, Mr Anand proposed that vessels of between 5,000 and 10,000 gross registered tonnes should require similar levels of minimum manning for safe operation. Variations for type of operation, level of automation and level of maintenance carried out on board could be allowed for. He said it should not be too difficult to devise standard minimum safe-manning scales for passenger vessels linked with tonnage, number of passengers carried and length of passage. It would not be easy to stipulate standard manning for highly specialised vessels, of which there were not many. They were generally well manned because of the high cost of operation.