Jan2012 - NI HKG

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Hong Kong SAR Branch Seminar 2011 - 'To The Future'
Philip Wake, MSc FM

Under the dynamic leadership of Ms Petty Leung MNI, the current Chairman of the Branch, with the able assistance of Captain Alan Loynd FNI and other members of the organising committee, this one day seminar brought together an excellent cast of speakers and was well attended. Looking to the future is never an easy task and it is an all too familiar trait to ignore the lessons of the past, so it was interesting to observe how the presentations tackled these hazards.

The keynote address was given by Captain Roger Tupper FNI, Director of Marine for the Hong Kong SAR Marine Administration, undertaking one of his last duties before retirement. He reflected on the past 10 years, which had seen reasonable growth for a mature port with success on the marine environmental front but a lack of progress in air quality improvements. He felt the forecast for increased trade growth was correct due to the effect of mainland China's economy but was most concerned about the growing shortage of experienced people for shipping services generally. The negative effects of eriminalisation and piracy were certainly deterring recruitment and reducing retention in his opinion, a view supported throughout the seminar, and much more needs to be done to project a positive image for the industry. These could include targeting sub-standard shipping operations through making IMO audits mandatory, toughening Port State Control further, and enforcing the STCW White List.

A fascinating presentation from Stephen Davis, Research Fellow at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, set the port in its historical context, showing that its development was largely the result of major `game changers' rather than evolution. Wars played a large part in this development, with associated political results and commercial opportunities. Whilst future wars could not be discounted, there is more likely to be gradual evolution in future, due to both political reasons and the development of the Chinese economy.

Moving from the regional to the international scope, Captain Steve Pelecanos FM, a Queensland Pilot, gave a refreshingly honest appraisal of the state of shipping operations including pilotage. Increasing the size of ships but not of ports, reducing power to deadweight ratios, increasing dead slow speeds, reduced manning, etc. were all factors in making accidents inevitable. It is an inescapable fact that many of these accidents will involve pilots but that does not diminish the importance of their local knowledge, independent judgement, and ship handling skills – indeed it makes these attributes even more important in protecting the marine environment and port assets. He spoke passionately about the need for a systems approach to counter the risk of single person error and advocated that all aspects of the human element of pilotage to be brought under a Pilotage Safety Management System. This would help to reduce risk and ensure that technical developments are properly assessed, included in training, and utilised to best effect. Above all, the pilot must be part of the bridge team and all involved need to be aware of the increasing threats to the traditional limitations of liability in the maritime world.

The seminar programme then appropriately brought in experts from the salvage, naval architecture and insurance fields to expound on the increasing risks in the maritime world. Chandran Mathavan from the International Salvage Union, Ankur Thakore of London Offshore Consultants and Nichola Mason from Skuld gave case studies of recent casualties and looked at changes to the risk profile. A common theme was the multiple agencies involved in any emergency situation and the importance of early communication between them. There was a good deal of support for the UK's Secretary of State's Representative (SOSREP) system of overall control, which means that casualty response is based on professional rather than political considerations.

Inevitably, these presentations touched on the increasing trend of criminalisation of seafarers involved in accidents, so the next presentation from Superintendent John Cameron of the Hong Kong Police was particularly interesting. He did not duck the issue and admitted that in certaincircumstances the criminal investigation will take precedence over any safety issues. However, the majority of his force's work focused on search and rescue, security, and illegal activities such as smuggling of goods and people. Appreciative though the delegates were of this work, it does not alleciate doubts about looking on violation of the Colregs as a criminal act. So the scene was set for Conor Warde of law firm Blank Rome to provide pertinent advice on how to counter the threat of criminalisation. Illustrating his advice with recent well known casualty cases such as the Casco Busan as well as various MARPOL related incidents, he emphasised the importance of operating within the international and national regulations, preserving all records and telling the truth at all times. This preservation of records in the electronic age was the theme picked up by Jon Zinke of Keesal, Young & Logan who praised the Institute's publication The Mariner's Role in Collecting Evidence as providing the most useful advice which needs to be part of a mariner's standard professional knowledge rather than read up at the time of an accident. He also stressed the usefulness of electronic records in understanding what really happened, as the human mind is often unreliable in recall mode. Lessons could and should be learnt from the use of the Voyage Data Recorder (VDR).

Completing the seminar presentations were two Fellows of the Institute focussing on the pressures on the mariner in the future. Both were supremely qualified to do so as the first was Captain James Robinson DSM FNI Irish Navy (Retired), our President, who served in merchant ships in the early part of his career before transferring to the Navy. He spoke as robustly as ever on the budgetary pressures facing all mariners but focused much of his thoughts on the twin scourges of the modern world – criminalisation and piracy. Whilst neither is central to the Institute's constitutional remit of professional standards and advancing nautical science, he emphasised that they are so fundamental to the active mariner of today and the future that they could not and would not be set aside by the Institute. Working with our membership and other professional and industry bodies, much could be achieved in addressing these issues, particularly in raising the awareness of politicians and the general public of their serious consequences. Arthur Bowring, Managing Director of the Hong Kong Ship Owners' Association, picked up on these points and then gave a lucid summary of the many other pressures facing the mariner in an increasingly dangerous world of financial meltdown and other economic factors. These included increasing environmental awareness and therefore constraints, consumer activism, and an avalanche of regulations - yet the barriers to entry in the shipping industry remain worryingly low. He asserted that industry led regulation is more effective than prescriptive government laws although the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 would be a positive force as it has real teeth to be implemented effectively. He felt that there will be a need for formal Continuing Professional Development (CPD), as simple familiarisation training is no longer fit for purpose in our rapidly changing and technologically advancing industry. Summing up, he said the bar needs to be set higher to ensure that shipping delivers the safe, efficient and environmentally sound service that the world wants and needs. This was a positive note to end on and one with which there was no argument. It was also agreed that such professionals need to meet together more often to shape the future and that the industry needs to get the message across to mariners of how important their job is whilst also persuading governments that they must do more to protect them from piracy. Finally, all agreed that accidents are not intentional and therefore should never lead to criminal charges.

Seaways January 2012        
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