Important maritime industry discussions between shipowners, shipbuilders and classification societies were concluded in Shanghai on 9 November with an agreement on the need to maintain the debate with a view to ensuring safe and robust designs for the future and to enhance the quality of new ships. The discussions, coordinated by BIMCO, ICS, INTERCARGO and INTERTANKO, focused primarily on three major issues - building quality ships (shipbuilding standards), contractual relationships and shipyard capacity, including research and information flows.
The meeting recognised the desirability of encouraging the construction of ships that were more robust, safe and environmentally-friendly although this may in some circumstances result in higher costs. Acknowledging that increased margins would provide greater longevity, strength and reliability, it was stressed that the objective of ships that were “fit for purpose” would only be met if higher standards were introduced uniformly.
Additionally, these increased safety margins would compensate for the occasional human error in surveying. By ensuring universal implementation, owners, builders and classification societies would benefit from a common approach and avoid standards being driven down by competing interests within the respective industries. The critical and fundamental role of class in setting base level design standards was acknowledged, as well as the fact that owners often requested additional design margins in their specifications for new ships.
Shipbuilding contracts and the relationship between the owner, the builder and the classification society in the context of building quality ships were extensively discussed. It was acknowledged that while the builder must not be expected to disclose commercially confidential information, the owner had a right to be kept fully appraised of relevant developments in the design and construction of his ship, especially matters which were germane to its future operation. At the same time, the classification society must retain its professional independence.
Shipbuilders and shipowners have a common interest in avoiding excess supply capacity in their respective industries. Too many ships depress freight rates; too many shipyards push down shipbuilding prices to mutually unproductive levels. The critical importance of accurate information on shipyard capacity and demand forecasts for new tonnage, and the accessibility of that information to all relevant parties was stressed.