PSC overhaul could benefit ports

Port state control is a phrase containing three impressive words, but it has to be read carefully. States, not ports, exercise control over ship quality.

For instance, in the UK the Maritime & Coast Guard Agency supplies the inspectors. From 2011, the Paris Memorandum of Understanding, a key part of the drive in Europe to eliminate the operation of sub-standard ships, is bringing in a new inspection regime. With some 80,000 vessel calls every year in the European Union, port authorities have a considerable stake in how it will work.

If the new system does bring results, it will be a relief for port superintendents. The chances of ships crashing into quaysides, getting stuck in port with unpaid crews or untradeable cargoes, and the hassle of monitoring detained ships will have been reduced.

One positive aspect for port authorities when a ship is detained for poor operation, is that its protection and indemnity cover remains in place, enabling claims to be lodged against its owner, who has the further indignity of being likely to face a hefty increase in premium at the next P&I renewal. Some 5% of checks in 2009 resulted in a detention.

Richard Schiferli, general secretary of the Paris MoU, says that “good ship owners have nothing to fear, but everything to gain” when the new regime comes in. Normally, 60% of ships inspected are free from deficiencies.

The worst tonnage is operating in the southern part of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, according to Mr Schiferli, who forecasts that from 2011 many ships, mostly small and general cargo vessels, will be banned from the region. 

The MoU is changing its target of inspecting 25% of individual ships calling at each member state to a shared commitment for full coverage of all ships visiting ports, and this will extend to anchorages, in order to catch ships trying to avoid port state control.

Inspections will be linked to company performance, and will be based on risk assessment criteria, under which the better operators, ship types and flags will be rewarded with less frequent inspections.

Mr Schiferli told a meeting in London of the International Maritime Industries Forum that there was increasing co-operation with underwriters, “because they are part of what is the chain of responsibility within the maritime business.”

Such co-operation looks set to benefit the ports themselves, through the diffusion of knowledge about the quality of client shipping companies which make use of their facilities.

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