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Monday, October 15, 2018

Shared responsibility, shared blame

The leader in today's Lloyd's List is copied below with their kind permission. The essence of this article corresponds well with INTERTANKO's policies and is giving us a renewed impetus to push "our" Chain of Responsibility.

 Lloyd's List 30 December 1999, leader.


AT a ceremony which followed this year's high level Mare Forum in Amsterdam, no fewer than 17 organisations formally signed the European Commission's Quality Shipping Charter.

It was, to quote the proceedings, a public affirmation of "the industry's willingness to support quality through self-regulation, so contributing to the elimination of sub-standard shipping, and to the future of a dynamic and responsible industry".

But the real importance of the charter was the acceptance by those organisations which signed it, that responsibility for safe and sound shipping was shared between all those elements which were involved in its employment.

Oil companies did not, it was noted, sign the document, worried apparently about antitrust implications.

Thus, charterers would be bound to take responsibility for the quality of the ships they employed and not merely be enthused by the lowest possible freight rate. Port authorities, pilotage people, shipbrokers and all those whose activities impinged upon the ship on her voyage would be similarly bound by the intentions of the charter, which was the legacy of commissioner Neil Kinnock, as he moved from transport to other more important fields.

Well meaning expressions of good intentions have a habit of returning to haunt those who temporarily enjoy the warm glow they provide. Certainly, the awful mess on the Brittany coast and the large-scale execution among the wild life, for which the loss of the product tanker Erika is wholly responsible, will produce dire consequences for the oil industry in the weeks ahead as the blame is distributed more widely.

For all their protestations that the shipowners bore the brunt of the blame, the French oil company TotalFina now finds itself firmly in the firing line and its executives will be fortunate indeed if they do not find themselves arraigned. In its way, this casualty might be considered a test of the Quality Shipping Charter and its moral obligation to a sharing of responsibility for shipping. It is easy to be wise after the event, but the choice of such an elderly ship for the transport of the worst possible pollutant around the Atlantic coast of France in midwinter will be something that the charterers will have cause to regret, and will have now to defend.

It might also be asked whether oil companies, which are trying hard to distance themselves from direct involvement in tanker ownership and operation, are well advised to continue with this policy. The memories of the Marathon funnel colours remaining as a final relic of the Braer might have been a potent symbol, but one cannot help feeling that the oil companies, as cargo owners and charterers, are fooling only themselves if they believe that they can avoid public opprobrium by contracting out their tanker operation. The French accident, which has already led to calls for boycotts of TotalFina products, has demonstrated beyond doubt that the public believes strongly in guilt by association, even if the shipowner was a third party. It might be suggested that commercial departments in oil companies need to be made aware of their responsibilities, and that technical departments, which are better able to judge the true quality of ships, need to have a rather stronger involvement, even if it results in the rejection of some apparent transport bargains.