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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The problem of multiple ship inspections today – a failure of trust

For many years ships’ officers, shipowners and their representative associations have justifiably complained about the multiplicity of inspections carried out on their ships - particularly on oil and chemical tankers. With inspections by flag states (and/or their delegated representatives), classification societies, ISM auditors, P&I clubs, charterers and terminals, port state control, U.S. Coast Guard, tankers can routinely see 30 or more inspections and audits a year. 

This inspection process, as currently implemented, is cumbersome and also frequently inefficient and ineffective. It should and could be simplified, said INTERTANKO’s Managing Director Dr Peter Swift at the Nautical Institute / Lloyd’s List conference during Nor-Shipping in Oslo. He highlighted the breakdown in trust that has led to the growth in the number of inspections, offering suggestions to reverse this growth, including proposals for the streamlining of commercial inspection procedures, improvements in the harmonisation and coordination of port state control measures, and ideas for greatly enhanced information sharing among many of the parties. 

While the problems arising from the proliferation of inspections are well-recognised, there has to date been relatively little concerted effort to address the issue and to find solutions, said Swift. The greater acceptability of reports from OCIMF’s (Oil Companies’ International Marine Forum) Ship Inspection Report Programme (SIRE) and the Chemical Distribution Institute (CDI) has indeed resulted in some reduction in the number of inspections. But, emphasised Swift, working counter to this progress has been the retrograde decision by many charterers to reduce the effective validity of a SIRE report from 12 to 6 months.  

It is particularly regrettable that the focus of inspections is nearly always directed to the ship, its condition, its certificates, etc., Swift pointed out, and that little consideration is given to the consequential factors of fatigue and stress in the ships’ staff – stretched even further by satisfying the needs of these inspectors. 

Fundamentally the ‘inspections problem’ is not of the ships’ making. They are on the receiving end of a much greater problem – the failure of trust in the bodies that oversee shipping. When flag states, class, insurers and others are not trusted, when there is a breakdown in trust in the performance of owners, managers and ships’ crews, the whole shipping industry should be concerned. Thus the problem of multiple inspections is actually symptomatic of a much greater malaise in the industry. 

Basically, explained Swift, a ship is inspected to verify its seaworthiness/ condition; to confirm the qualifications and competence of the ship’s crew; to verify compliance with statutory requirements. Together these inspections provide what is effectively the ship’s ‘licence to trade’. However these inspections are deemed by some parties to be insufficient, and charterers, insurers and others with a commercial interest in the ship often effectively provide a further ‘licence to trade commercially’. And then port state control is called on to act as the ‘policeman’ to protect the interests of coastal states. 

Swift concluded with a call on the IMO to resurrect its initiative to bring industry and regulators together to achieve a reduction in this unnecessary and unfortunate burden on ships’ staff.  

Contact: Peter Swift