Shipowners call for upping global shipbuilding norms

The Union of Greek Shipowners (EEE) has appealed to all international maritime organizations for the application of stricter standards of safety and quality by the global shipbuilding industry, emphasizing that safety in navigation begins in the construction of the vessels itself. «The human factor and natural hazards at sea are the main causes of maritime accidents and cannot, therefore, be eliminated. But in all cases what can be avoided is accidents caused by defects in the construction of vessels due to inadequate design and building, or due to deficient maintenance and repair work,» EEE said in a statement. A maritime company official in Piraeus told Kathimerini that Greek shipowners are willing to pay more for higher-quality and safer ships. «Shipowners the world over today buy ships without being able to influence their quality,» he argued. EEE members point out it is not the first time the association has called for improved specifications in shipbuilding. In the early 1990s the association advocated the adoption of the notion of «joint responsibility» by all those involved in the shipping industry for the attainment of higher quality standards. The notion was adopted by both the European Commission, in its statement on Safe Seas in 1993, and by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in a series of moves, such as the adoption of the International Safety Management (ISM) code, which came into force on July 1, 1998, initiatives regarding the safety of bulk carriers and measures concerning the compliance of countries in relation to ships that bear their flag. The same approach has been adopted by the Maritime Transport Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Nevertheless, it remains unclear why none of these initiatives by international organizations addresses the setting of the necessary standards that would make the shipbuilding industry a jointly responsible partner. EEE points out in the statement that it fully backs the proposals by the governments of Greece and the Bahamas, also advocated by the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), for the adoption by IMO of goal-based standards for stronger vessels. It said it is in favor of the IACS formulating common structural rules for the construction of stronger, traditional-type, bulk carriers. «We believe that this process will restrict unhealthy competition among shipbuilders as well as among seaworthiness certification agencies in the building of new ships, and will put an end to the prevailing trend in recent years toward the so-called «optimization» of shipbuilding, which the shipping industry neither needs nor desires. «The wider public, led by the media and the politicians, has adopted a «zero-tolerance» stand toward maritime accidents, particularly those that cause extensive oil slicks. This stand is obviously unrealistic and is, moreover, based on the erroneous view that only substandard vessels cause accidents.» Finally, the EEE statement notes that to date no convincing argument has been put forward to refute its position that «the adoption of goal-based standards and common rules by the IACS is fully necessary to ensure the building of stronger and more durable ships.» «This can be achieved with relatively low additional costs in shipbuilding, while the benefits in increasing ship safety and protection of the environment will be substantial,» said EEE.