ABS’s Somerville: Class societies ænot an adversary but an allyÆ
Classification societies, which create standards for vessel construction and maintenance and undertake inspections, face “a difficult struggle ' to protect the future of this honorable profession,” said Bob Somerville, chairman and chief executive officer of the American Bureau of Shipping.
Speaking to ABS's annual meeting held at the New York Yacht Club, Somerville pointed to the latest round of antipollution regulations debated by the European Commission last year in the aftermath of the 1999 Erika and 2002 Prestige sinkings.
Wording on class in the Third Maritime Package, or Erika III as it is commonly referred to, “is of great concern,” he said.
A directive on classification societies within Erika III states: “the existing system no longer suffices and must be further improved.”
That statement “takes no account of the remarkable and constantly improving safety record of the international shipping industry, much of which can be attributed to a classification system that has reinvigorated its sense of purpose and its determination,” Somerville said, nor of the “remarkable improvement, to a statistically insignificant level, in the number of port state detentions of ships for class-related deficiencies.
“It takes no account of the remarkable degree of class unity and determination that resulted in the introduction of the landmark Common Structural Rules for tankers and bulk carriers,” which Somerville said “are expected to result in ships that are at least as robust, and in all probability more robust than comparable vessels designed to the most stringent of the now superceded class rules.”
He also said the EU statement does not take into account an expanding Quality System of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) and stringent audits to which its members are subject from the European Maritime Safety Agency.
“We continue to be judged by our very occasional failings but the consequences are dire,” he noted. “The EU, for example, has refused to be swayed by the IACS petition that class societies be accorded the same degree of liability protection that is enjoyed by every other sector of the shipping industry.
“The new directive continues to impose unlimited liability on class for simple negligence. It is only a matter of time before such a liability regime ruins one class society, and that will be the death knell of all societies in the form that we know them today.
“There is a growing body of increasingly influential opinion that either does not understand class or, even more worryingly, believes that there is a commercial advantage to be gained if class is abolished,” he said.
“Ultimately, class cannot fight and win this battle alone. Those other members of the safety regime who believe in the self regulatory classification process must realize the dangers that class is facing and provide support if rational legislation and regulation of this industry is to continue,” he said.
“Ultimately we have to convince the legislators that class is not an adversary but an ally,” he said.