Hong Kong's small but powerful ship owner community is pressing an international drive to raise standards on new ships, beginning with Capesize and Panamax bulk types. "This is something that has been fermenting for a long time," said Arthur Bowring, director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association. Members report having to replace bulkheads and other parts of ships only a few years old and outside what are called special surveys.
"Shipyards, classification societies and owners are each trapped in their own vicious circles of intense competition," said Martin Cresswell, chairman of the Hong Kong group's technical subcommittee. "The only way forward is to set a common minimum standard so that ships on delivery are 'fit for purpose,' able to carry all common cargoes unrestricted worldwide with a common design life." He said many ships delivered are fully classed but are later found to lack the ability to load certain cargoes, or to have sufficient residual strength to be able to change loading plans or exchange ballast water at sea.
The technical panel noted that owners, societies and yards are unable individually to set higher standards. It urged the International Association of Classification Societies to develop "minimum holistic standards for new buildings and adopt a concept of class notations that describe operational limitations as being the exception to those standards.
"Ships seem to be increasingly designed so that the few artificial loading conditions required by class in the loading manual are adjusted to fit the allowable strength, rather than being based on expected loading conditions and the structure then being designed to give sufficient strength to accommodate them," Cresswell said. He noted that engine room machinery and equipment, while individually classed, isn't considered as a whole, "thereby compromising the ship's ability to operate safely."
The group is starting its campaign with Capesize (around 80,000 dwt) and Panamax (64,000 dwt) ships because they are simple. It later wants to extend the drive for commonality to tankers and small bulk carriers. The aim of the Hong Kong group at the outset is to "get people talking about and understanding the problem," he said. Higher standards would cost more, he acknowledged, "but that would affect everyone, so competitiveness need not suffer."