Three leading bodies responsible for surveying ships and verifying them as seaworthy launched an initiative on Thursday aimed at dispelling growing industry concern about the thoroughness of safety checks. Classification societies Lloyd's Register (LR), the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) and Det Norske Veritas (DNV) said they had laid down a 10-point action plan
. "We've got to get away from this reputation that we... most definitely have of being too slow to react (to safety concerns)," said LR chief executive officer David Moorhouse. Classification societies' surveyors conduct detailed surveys of ships for corrosion and safety hazards every year. The leading 10 classification societies have long been governed by one industry body, IACS, of which they are all members. Moorhouse described the IACS committee mechanism as "like pushing treacle up a hill", and said that together with ABS and DNV he had become very frustrated by the lack of progress being made on safety issues that arose after the Erika tanker disaster.
The Erika broke in two and sank in heavy seas in December 1999, leading to widespread pollution of France's Brittany coast, and revealing flaws within shipping's regulatory system.
Key to the 10 new initiatives is a requirement to double up surveyors when surveying ships over 15 years old. In addition, information on ships' structural conditions will be shared between societies, and a condition "warning system" introduced. One of the more controversial measures is a plan to bar shipowners from changing societies to avoid paying for mandated repairs, a practice known as "class hopping".
Moorhouse gave the example of a 25-year-old vessel LR had recently surveyed which required four major repairs. "Within one hour of us telling the owner, they notified us of their intention to transfer class," he said. The implication was that the owner had found a more lenient society to class the ship which would not be so stringent on safety.
Another controversial measure was tightening up of the management audit system (ISM), a subject ABS Chairman Frank Iarossi described as a "hornets' nest."
Moorhouse said that the decision for LR, ABS, and DNV to move ahead of the other seven IACS members came in December last year, "after a period of extreme frustration".
"We've tried to be very patient," said Iarossi. "A lot of pressure came on us after the Erika 15 months ago. For 12 months we tried to keep our selves in check and hope IACS took up the mantle."
After 12 months, he said, LR, ABS and DNV realized they shared common frustrations. "We can only change things, not by sitting around in a group of 10 (IACS) but by going off and setting an example," said Moorhouse. He conceded that shipowners classified under the existing system might object to the new initiatives. "We may even lose some business," he told Reuters. All three were keen to stress that they were not trying to undermine IACS. "We're not trying to create some exclusive club," said Moorhouse. "We're trying to force the pace of change. We want others to join us." Classification societies are not strictly profit-making organizations, but have considerable resources. LR Group's most recent results, for example, show turnover of 323 million pounds ($465.9 million) and reserves of 304 million pounds. ABS forecasts revenues for 2000 of about $200 million. - (Reuters)