HONG Kong Shipowners Association has revealed a 17 per cent drop in tonnage despite a rise in the number of ships in the group's fleet. Association director Michael Farlie said the biggest-ever annual drop in tonnage was due to the change in profile of the fleet. The annual review of the fleet shows that at the end of December the number of vessels stood at 1,294, up from 1,223 in 1992. Total tonnage dropped to 60.5 million tons from 71 million deadweight tonnes (dwt). ''The explanation of this apparent anomaly is that the type profile of the fleet has changed,'' Mr Farlie said. Many big-sized ships had been sold and the fleet now includes some 224 coastal and river barges, tugs and ferries, the latter belonging mainly to new members. Mr Farlie stressed that the important factor, which in time may help to improve the market, had been the deliberate shedding by Hong Kong owners of many old dry-bulk carriers, ore-bulk-oil carriers (OBOs) and tankers. There was also a significant disposal of container vessels and reefer ships, he added. Some owners also disposed of some general cargo ships. On the plus side, 28 multi-purpose vessels totalling 500,000 deadweight tonnes (dwt) were added to the fleet. An important aspect ''is that our members are now beginning to display a trend in favour of the Hong Kong Shipping Register,'' said Mr Farlie. Association members' Hong Kong registered fleet has risen from 8.5 million tonnes to 11 million deadweight tonnes. Of the 595 vessels on the Hong Kong Register, 324 belong to Hong Kong owners, accounting for 6.37 million of the 7.8 million gross registered tonnes. Having welcomed several more mainland members into the association last year, ship registration in China is beginning to make a noticeable impact on the members' fleet for the first time, with 94 units totalling some 270,000 deadweight tonnes - mainly coastal tugs and barges. While Hong Kong owners remain heavily committed to open registers, this year's figures reveal that Liberian registered tonnage is down to 18.4 dwt (244 ships) from 20.8 million dwt. Panama is down to 16.1 million dwt (307 ships) from 17.4 million dwt, the Philippines from three million to 1.6 million dwt (39 ships) and Bahamas from 3.7 million to 2.7 million dwt (50 ships). Fifty-four Hong Kong ship, aggregating 3.6 million tonnes, are registered in Norway, 37 ships (1.8 million dwt) in Singapore, 24 ships (393,370 dwt) in Cyprus and 21 ships (845,046 dwt) in Vanuatu. Mr Farlie feels Hong Kong owners' fleet is on average ''getting younger and probably fitter to cope with the hard years ahead''. ''The inclusion of China elements is an interesting and welcome development for the association,'' he added. The association's membership has continued to grow. During the year under review, 23 members joined and 16 resigned. The total membership now stands at 210 companies.