Tuesday, February 20, 2007

'Prestige' Tragedy

Although I am a member of the Piraeus Shipping Community, I only have hearsay knowledge of this unfortunate accident. Rumours have been rampant with fingers pointing both to the Spanish Authorities and to the Owners/ Managers.Well, it is anymore a liability for a company to operate over-age tonnage and it is a practice that should be avoided if possible. Regardless of due diligence and good standards, the potential fallout in case of an accident is a very high risk that outweighs the possible rewards of continuing to trade out such vessels. Further as a Manager you must face an uphill struggle with classification societies, insurers, major oil companies, etc, that makes very problematical the operation of the vessel.On the other hand, it is well known that tanker industry operating standards have improved enormously over the last twenty years and Owners/ Managers have not been recognised nor rewarded sufficiently for their high standards. Normally, the ship standards are much higher than the shore standards. It is not at all unusual to see an immaculate vessel with a highly trained crew in safety gear attempting to dock at a dilapidated terminal that does not observe any serious safety standards except lip service. Mind you I am not arguing that all ships are immaculate and all terminals are dilapidated, but certainly politically and institutionally much less noise will be made about any deficiencies at the shore facilities rather than on the vessel. The vessel does not vote nor is it a source of local employment, the shore facility is much more important to the local community. All this reminds us of a rather famous Ibsen play...I think the most troubling pattern in recent accidents in Europe is the denial of refuge to vessels in distress and the callousness of shore authorities primarily towards the lives of the seafarers and secondarily towards the property of vessel and cargo owners. Plausible arguments can be made that knee-jerk reactions ordering ships in distress to go to deep sea rather than to be allowed refuge actually increase the likelihood of marine casualties and ecological disasters.As we see currently, there is such an hysterical shore reaction that tankers with no problems at all are being ordered to sail huge distances from the shore. Vessels and their crews are becoming untouchables.Personally I do not see any light in these matters unless there is an effort to upgrade shore standards and educate shore authorities to shipping matters. We suffer presently a generation gap, where shipping standards have improved enormously, but there has not been a similar movement on shore. This is presently impacting very negatively the shipping industry.

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