Panama told register needs fund backing

WORLD-WIDE Shipping Agency chairman Helmut Sohmen has advised Panama's politicians not to concentrate only on the income side of the country's shipping register, Secnaves.

Addressing the Second Maritime World Conference and Exposition in Panama City last week, Mr Sohmen said they should also be conscious of the need to use the revenue generated by the register for ''appropriate investments to safeguard the long-term future of this national asset''.

If, for example, delays in the required financial contributions to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) resulted in Panama not getting a seat on the IMO Council, ''then the politicians must be told that this is not good news to the shipowners flying the Panamanian flag'', he said.

Mr Sohmen said he was sure the contribution to the national revenue that the shipping register produced for Panama was on the minds of all the political candidates for national office.

He said Hong Kong shipowners had backed the Panama Register for many years and ''we would like to believe that our interests as owners with vessels in Panama are properly represented in that forum, and certainly want Panama's voice to be heard''.

He added: ''We all support IMO and salute its efforts to provide for an international regime of workable rules for the shipping industry at large, and we don't wish to see this very effective organisation weakened in its work by political turf wars.'' Panama and Liberia - two of the largest flag states - failed to find enough backers to win places on the IMO Council for 1994-95.


Pressure on the Panamanian register administration is growing following the sacking last month of Secnaves safety director Sabina Gonzalez.

Ms Gonzalez, a widely respected 17-year veteran of Secnaves, was abruptly removed from her post by Manuel Jose Berrocal, the newly-appointed Minister of Finance and Treasury.

She was removed following the publication in a trade magazine of remarks mildly critical of the Panamanian Government for its lack of support for the register.

The dismissal has revived concerns about political meddling in the register, its stability and professionalism.


Suspicions have been revived that the Government sees Secnaves as a cash cow to be milked but not fed.

The Hong Kong Shipowners Association has sent a letter of protest reflecting the widespread dismay and concern about the role played by politics in the administration of the register.


Association members have 307 ships of 16.13 million deadweight tonnes under the Panamanian flag.

Mr Sohmen recalled that in the past there had been complaints by owners about unauthorised practice by Panamanian consular officials, particularly as regards the charging of inspection fees and fines.

He pointed out that Panama was also ''rather late'' in ratifying the IMO Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Convention.


Some owners also criticised Panama for not approving the validation of Filipino officers' licences, he said.