In nine months, Kwai Chung operators handled 8.6 million teu, up 14.6 per cent The Hong Kong shipping register reached the 10 million gross registered tonne (grt) mark last week, beating its target date of the end of this year. Director of Marine Tsui Shung-yiu said this was made possible through the joint efforts of the Marine Department, Hong Kong Shipowners' Association, Hong Kong Port and Maritime Board (PMB) and shipowners. The Hong Kong shipping register, which stands at 10.2 million grt, is expected to reach the 10.5 million mark by the end of the year. Initiatives including cost-saving measures and elimination of bureaucratic procedures, unveiled by the Government earlier this year to attract shipowners to register vessels under the Hong Kong flag, triggered the rapid growth. The proposals, outlined by Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in his Budget speech in March, have been aimed at stimulating shipping and related activities to stem the slowdown of container throughput growth at Hong Kong port. Judging by the strong throughput growth so far, the measures seemed to have been successful. PMB deputy secretary Roger Tupper said the port was forecast to reach 17.8 million teu (20 ft equivalent units) this year. Between January and September, Kwai Chung terminals alone reached 8.6 million teu, up 14.6 per cent year on year, including 1.06 million teu handled in September. The port was expected to average 10 per cent growth this year, in line with forecasts, Mr Tupper said. Since the SAR is not a national register, it imposes no nationality or residential requirements on officers or crew. Officers holding approved foreign certification from 19 jurisdictions are eligible to serve on the register's ships. In addition, crews from the mainland are available for Hong Kong-registered vessels. Mr Tsui said Hong Kong's register was not a flag of convenience and it would continue to adhere to international conventions on safety. He said there were three cases recently of Hong Kong-registered vessels being detained where Hong Kong surveyors helped the owners solve their problems. One Hong Kong-registered vessel was detained in Canada and an SAR surveyor was sent to evaluate whether the detainable deficiencies were reasonable. This resulted in the ship being freed, Mr Tsui said, adding that Hong Kong surveyors increasingly were helping shipowners solve problems with other jurisdictions through a better understanding of regulations governing port-state control. Mr Tsui said the register was attracting a much younger fleet than in previous years. In July 1998, the age of the registered fleet was 11.5 years to 11.75 years. Last month, the figure had dropped to between 10 years and 10.25 years. According to official statistics, the three-year rolling average rate of detentions of Hong Kong-registered ships between 1997 and 1999 under the Tokyo memorandum of understanding (MOU) and the Paris MOU on port-state control was 2.33 per cent - lower than most other registers. Last year, the Hong Kong shipping register was ranked the eighth-largest in the world. The Marine Department reported it had made 816 port-state control inspections of 671 vessels registered outside Hong Kong last year, detaining 157, or 23 per cent of ships inspected. In all, 4,100 deficiencies were detected.