THE tanker industry has made major progress in reducing oil pollution over the past decade, says a senior official of the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko). Mr Tormod Rafgard, managing director of Intertanko, said oil pollution from tanker accidents over the past 11 years ''was just half that over the previous 11 years''. ''Oil pollution from tanker operations in 1989 was just 15 per cent of the pollution volume in 1973,'' he told a recent meeting of Australian shipowners and maritime lawyers from the Australian Chamber of Shipping and the Maritime Law Association of Australia and New Zealand. And there has been even greater progress in reducing operational pollution, he stressed. Mr Rafgard said the statistics highlighted ''real and significant achievement, which the industry is eager to improve on''. While the vast majority of tanker owners continue to strive for higher standards, Mr Rafgard acknowledged that the problem of substandard ships had yet to be solved. He described such vessels as ''a constant threat to the environment and a danger to all''. Reviewing new initiatives to eradicate substandard ships, Mr Rafgard welcomed the drive within the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to improve flag state performance. He described the first meeting of the United Nations agency's new flag state sub-committee as ''a move in the right direction''. He also praised the efforts of members of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) to improve standards and promote quality. Mr Rafgard said: ''Intertanko has great confidence in the IACS initiative to audit its own membership. Today, IACS has 11 members. This number may be reduced when the audit is completed. ''Intertanko will only accept as members companies which, in the future, have their whole fleet registered with an IACS member.'' Returning to the tanker industry's own drive to resolve the substandard ships problem, Intertanko's managing director underlined the low returns in the tanker business, which exerted a negative influence on the prospects for further advance. He said that in Germany, for example, tax accounted for around US$10 of the cost of a barrel of oil, while sea freight represented less than $1. Mr Rafgard said: ''The daily operating cost - including capital contribution - of a modern very large crude carrier (VLCC) is about $45,000 to $50,000. ''Today's daily return is below $20,000. There should be room for improvement.'' Referring to the Australian Parliament's ''Ships of Shame'' report, issued following an inquiry into a serious accident in Australian waters, Mr Rafgard said Intertanko agreed with most of the key points in the report. Intertanko particularly agreed with the emphasis on the IMO's lead role in maritime safety and environmental affairs, together with the belief that more effective implementation and enforcement of existing regulations was the best way forward, he said. Intertanko chairman Andreas Ugland said during the recent Intertanko annual general meeting in Hongkong that Intertanko supported IMO Resolution A500, which called for no further regulations or rules unless there was a compelling need for them. ''We do have sufficient rules and regulations, the governments only need to ratify and implement them,'' he said.