Monday, June 5, 2000

Class tensions

Patience is wearing a little thin in the once-cosy world of classification societies.

Many in the larger, stronger societies are getting a little weary of efforts by IACS, the International Association of Classification Societies, to paper over the cracks in the classification system following the Erika disaster.

Some of the tensions surfaced in a statement just released by Helge Midttun, who took over as CEO of Det Norske Veritas on May 25.Midttun

"DNV is disappointed that the International Association of Classification Societies, IACS, was unable to take firmer action at its Council Meeting last week in response to the Erika accident," declared Midttun. "Ship classification has a serious problem when the shipping market and public opinion expect firm and immediate action, yet the IACS response is to postpone the necessary decisions. We must look for ways to restore confidence in class by improving the decision-making processes of IACS and how the organization works," he said.

Midttun makes it clear that no recent single accident has harmed the standing of the classification societies more than the sinking of Erika. All classification societies have to improve their performance in order to re-establish confidence in class. Public and government reaction after the Erika accident clearly shows that the expectations of class are high, and certainly not met in this case.

"The only way confidence can be restored is by delivering quality in our services," Helge Midttun says. "Under-performance by one classification society reduces confidence in the whole classification concept, and must lead to consequences for any society which fails to deliver high quality."

DNV advocated a suspension of the Italian class society RINA until the result of an IACS audit was clear. This was not supported by a sufficient number of IACS members. Helge Midttun says that he is not impressed by what has been achieved through IACS in the six months since the loss of Erika and the resulting oil pollution. So, how wimpy was the IACS Council at its recent meeting?

An IACS statement says the meeting concentrated on two recent serious ship accidents, involving the Erika and Leader L

The council reviewed the situation and information on the Erika case and, "noting that the special audits of Erika and nine other ships recently transferred to RINA are not yet completed, endorsed earlier decisions of the IACS Meeting of February 16th to tighten the safety net for older ships, with the aim to eliminate sub-standard vessels. Council realized it was too early to take additional measures at this point."

On the thorny issue of self -policing, "it was agreed that the IACS Internal Quality System is basically sound. It will be further strengthened regarding common self regulatory actions within IACS. IACS is introducing a Quality Management Review at Council level, addressing the performance of individual societies and the adequacy of the classification scheme in general. The aim is to achieve uniformly high quality standards amongst all IACS members with respect to all types of ships and flags. " The council noted that RINA is presently undertaking a critical review of its Internal Safety Net, parallel to finalizing its own Erika investigation.

The IACS council was tougher on the Polish Register of Shipping--an associate member of IACS. In the case of the sinking of the Polish Register classed Leader L in the Western Atlantic on March 23, 2000, IACS reviewed the results of its special audit into the handling of the ship by the Polish Register.

The review, says IACS, "showed evidence of serious managerial shortcomings on the part of PRS similar to those which led to its temporary suspension from IACS membership in 1997. The Council noted that LEADER L had been operating under PRS class, evidently in poor condition, for some time. The facts in the audit report were not disputed by Polish Register of Shipping. IACS Council, in its determination not to tolerate substandard ships within the Association, consequently decided to terminate PRS's associate status in IACS with immediate effect."

Midttun says booting out the Polish Register was " a necessary move."
He also commended some other IACS decisions that are likely to be on the agenda when IACS holds press conference at the Posidonia event in Piraeus later this week.

"The establishment of an Accident Investigation Team and a Crisis Management Team will make IACS more able to respond relevantly and quickly when needed," said Midttun. "The two permanent teams show a willingness to delegate more authority to the Chairman of IACS."

He hailed an IACS decision to ban the use of non-exclusive surveyors on statutory surveys within a year as "another step towards improved quality and more consistent surveys by all the member societies."

The decision means that an IACS member society either has to have its own global network of exclusive surveyors, or enter into agreements with other societies to provide this service.

"I expect," says Midttun, "that we will see alliances between member societies which today operate with extensive use of non-exclusive surveyors, and societies that have an infrastructure with mainly exclusive surveyors. Such alliances are necessary as a consolidation of a fragmented industry."

It is widely believed that one of the first such alliances to be announced will be between Det Norske Veritas and Germanischer LLoyd.

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