Like death and taxes, ship inspections are something that cannot be avoided. However, shipping companies, and in particular ships’ masters, have frequently voiced concern about the proliferation of ship inspections, which invariably take place during busy port operations when the crew is already fully occupied. ICS therefore welcomed an IMO initiative to address this important issue, which commenced with a meeting early in 2000 between the IMO Secretary General and the principal industry organisations.
It is widely accepted that the root causes of the growth and multiplicity of inspections are a lack of confidence in the quality of traditional inspections undertaken on behalf of flag states, and concern about standards of ship ownership and operation. The arrangements for statutory surveys have been harmonised in recent years, but port state control and inspections by charterers, insurers and others have become the norm. The ISM Code, once applied to all ships and fully bedded in, should discourage unnecessary duplication, but until then the key is to refine existing arrangements.
Improved co-operation between port states inspecting ships within different regions is seen as one area where better targeting and elimination of unnecessary inspections should be achievable. In co-operation with the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA), ICS has been developing proposals for consideration by the European Commission and the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Port State Control. Changes within the Paris MOU are important because they tend to set the benchmark for procedures followed by the other MOUs now being established around the world.
Proposals include revising the Paris MOU target for port states to inspect 25% of all ships visiting their national ports. This was a useful target when the Paris MOU was first established in 1982, but now gives rise to the unnecessary inspection of well operated ships at the expense of thorough examination of truly sub-standard vessels. In addition, ICS has suggested increased harmonisation of port state control procedures amongst both national ship inspection services within the regional MOUs and between the regional MOUs themselves, especially the Paris MOU, the Tokyo MOU and the US Coast Guard.
But the most numerous inspections – perhaps as high as 70% in the tanker trades – are the commercial surveys conducted on behalf of charterers and shippers. ICS fully supports the objectives of such surveys, which help prevent any unsafe ships from trading. However, there could certainly be greater co-operation amongst charterers, and between charterers and ship operators. Not only should it be possible to reduce the number of inspections, but their timing and scope could be improved.
Effective use of the new global communications networks and IT systems, such as the Equasis database, should over time help to limit the number and inconvenience of unnecessary inspections to which responsible and fully compliant operators can currently be subjected.