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Publication No.VBP 2846.
EDITORIAL SEPTEMBER 2009
The last few years has seen a dramatic increase in the number of incidents which
effectively make criminals of honest, caring seafarers and ship owners.
I cannot, obviously, claim that all those involved in the shipping industry are
honest, ethical and responsible. I can easily claim, though, that the vast majority are.
The problem has been intensified recently by a number of factors. The most
important of those, it seems to me, are :--
• The dramatic increase in terrorism paranoia following the 9/11 attacks on New York
• The rapid spread through other developed countries of American style litigation fever
• An increasing reluctance on the part of politicians and bureaucrats to accept
responsibility for their own failings (ie. passing the buck)
• An increasing realisation that ship owners tend to be wealthy and, therefore, "sitting
duck" targets for litigation
• An understanding that ships are valuable assets that can be readily held to ransom
and not only by pirates
• The poor lobbying and public relations performance of much of the global shipping
industry, not only ship owners
• The fact that most accidents, involving ships, by the very size of the participants, are
large scale, obvious and very difficult to cover up
• The bad image created for the shipping industry by many of the world's NGOs
politicians, bureaucrats and educators.
All these factors seem obvious. It is, therefore, incomprehensible to me that so much of
the shipping industry -- owners and managers as well as officers and crew -- continues to
believe that it is someone else's problem or that "it couldn't happen to me".
You would find it hard to believe that the 'Pacific Adventure's' problem so hurt a
company like Swires. You couldn't find a more responsible, environmentally conscious
and caring company.
Much the same applied to BHP some years ago with the 'Iron Baron'. The expensive
over reaction to its grounding was staggering.
The list goes on. The 'Heibei Spirit'. The 'Tasman Spirit'. The 'Prestige'. The 'Erika'.
The 'Coral Sea' and many, many more. All, in my view, have been very unfairly treated
in one way or another.
All these incidents cost the ship owner concerned and his insurers large amounts of
time and money. Often this is spent to do things that nature would have accomplished
anyway. Obviously the costs of unecessary over reactions will be passed on to charterers
and, eventually, to shippers.
Some of the crazy over reactions would be funny if they were not so ridiculously
expensive. I seem to recall BHP spending about US$10 million to clean oil off a few
hundred penguins following the 'Iron Baron' grounding. What most people did not
learn about that was that the Tasmanian state government had conducted a penguin
eradication programme a few weeks previously. They shot some thousands of them,
apparently in the same area.
While Australia tends to vigorously over react at the political and bureaucratic levels,
it is not alone. Spain, France, Greece, Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan and the United States,
among others, have all behaved badly towards shipping in recent years.
It is interesting to compare the treatment of shipping with that of road transport, for
example. The amount of fuel oil spilt by the 'Pacific Adventurer' was more or less what
could be carried in a standard road tanker. They apparently crash from time-to-time and
we hear almost nothing about them.
Their oil is simply "dispersed" without fuss. This means that it is washed down the
gutter and drains to eventually find its way to the sea. So what?
The disproportionate responses to shipping accidents need to be moderated. Ship
owners and operators must obviously behave responsibly but they should not be treated
like a mixture of money tree and ogre when a very rare accident occurs.
There are, in my view, many shipping industry organisations and associations that
should be working much harder to correct this. Some, like INTERTANKO and the
Nautical Institute are doing a good job for their members. Most, though, are weak and
half-hearted in their efforts. The all important IMO is, as always, pathetic.
We all should be doing much more or we'll all suffer. The favourite expression of the
leader of one of the most extreme and troublesome NGOs is: "If you don't fight, you
lose". He is absolutely right.
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