Charterers urged to pay for quality

CHARTERERS must be prepared to pay for quality ships and not expect serious owners to accept the insufficient income of market rates, says an international ship financier.

First International Group chairman Paul Slater said market rates were dragged down by the continued existence of large number of sub-standard ships operated by sub-standard owners.

''We must all combine to improve the quality of shipping, restore public confidence and stimulate serious investment in the industry,'' he said during a ship naming ceremony in South Korea.

The first of six double-hull product tankers - built and financed by First International on behalf of the Royal Dutch Shell Group - was named the Halia by Mrs Gini Herkstroter, the wife of the chairman of the Royal Dutch Shell Group, in the South Korean Halla Engineering & Heavy Industries yard.

Mr Slater, in reference to his GLASS - Global Authority for Ship Standards - initiative, said regular inspections of all ships and crews, and the filing of all inspections reports on a central database with full public access would force sub-standard ships and operators out of business.

Mr Slater said that while the Shell deal was large, it represented only a fraction of the enormous capital requirements of the industry as it replaced the ageing world fleet with modern ships designed to operate safely in an increasingly environmentally conscious world.

''The amount of bank debt available to shipping is at the lowest level for 20 years and the majority of it still concentrates on financing second-hand ships for short-term trading and speculative re-sale,'' he said.

Mr Slater said in this new age of shipping, sophisticated vessels such as the products tanker Halia did not build themselves.

They were the result of many months, if not years, of close co-operation between the owner, the charterer, financiers, operational interest, classifier and shipyard, he said.

Halla business group chairman Chung In Yung, said the vessel, which had been ordered by First International Product Tankers, Bermuda, for Shell International Marine, was an excellent, energy-saving type of vessel.

She would be completely free from vibration during sailing and was equipped with the most up-to-date, fully computerised ship control system and global maritime distress safety system, he said.

The remaining five vessels would be delivered to First International within the first half of next year, he added.

Shell managing director Ian McGrath said: ''Demand for both crude and product carriers is set to grow for the remainder of the decade, with many ships coming to the end of their economic life - most notably VLCCs (very large crude carriers) and smaller product carriers.'' It was the recognition of this need to find solutions to the challenge of renewal and replacement that brought First International Capital into contact with Shell, he said.

''Through the innovative leasing arrangement made with First International, Shell has been able to revitalise its products carrier portfolio with the introduction of six new ships,'' Mr McGrath said.

He said until the higher ''standards'' of the minority became the norm of the overriding majority, the industry would continue to have problems.