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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lack of transparency key to tanker industry’s bad image, say journalists.

A group of international mainstream (i.e. non-shipping) journalists met in INTERTANKO’s London office this week for a relationship-building exercise. Present were the senior executives from BIMCO, ICS and INTERCARGO as well as INTERTANKO’s MD Peter Swift and several members of the London secretariat, including session organiser INTERTANKO’s Managing Editor Bill Box.

Part of the discussion was focused on image, and the journalists had been asked to prepare some thoughts on the tanker industry’s image and what could be done in practical terms to improve it.

Seasoned business journalists from The Times, The Financial Times, Le Monde, Reuters, Dow Jones, La Tribune, who only write occasionally about the shipping industry, had some pertinent insights into how the intelligent ‘man in the street’ sees our industry.

“Actually, we don’t think about it at all,” said one, adding that the exception is when there is a crisis – usually involving oil pollution. These mainstream journalists are quite happy to write about the tanker industry, but the challenge to us is to provide them with the sort of input that encourages them to write a story that is going to convince their editors, ‘grab’ their readers, and help sell their newspapers.

And when there is indeed a crisis and they do take a look at the shipping industry, then while it seems clear and easy from the outside, they soon realise that it’s not so straightforward once they start getting into detail.

They were unanimous in identifying the complex ownership structure of the shipping industry as their main stumbling block to seeing the shipping industry in a positive light. “The complexity of the shipping industry is enormous ... from the Baltic Exchange to flags of convenience … it’s obscure … full of quaint practices and obscure terminology.”

The impression they have is that during the Erika and the Prestige incidents, people were forever “throwing their hands up and saying ‘It’s not our fault!’” They believe that in past crises, the lack of transparency shown by the tanker industry, particularly over a ship’s ownership, has been one of the main causes of the tanker industry’s negative image. “If the owner is smart, he will hold up his hands and say ‘We are responsible … we are doing all that we can to find out why this happened … we are in control.’”

“You can’t choose when to be transparent and when not,” said another, adding that the owner should be there to field the questions and support his officers and crew.

And their solution? To make full information available immediately in times of crisis, to be proactive, to “make it impossible to hide behind the complexities of the industry”, to show that the owner is in control of the situation.