Maritime executives from eight Asian countries or territories met this week in Tokyo through the Asian Shipowners' Forum.

Issues addressed included threats to antitrust immunity, the promotion of rate stabilization and uniform safety standards for vessels.The group expressed hope that legislative initiatives in Japan, Australia and the United States would not undermine existing legal protection for the shipping industry.

"We all expressed concern (about attempts to) undermine antitrust immunity," said Jiro Nemoto, president of Nippon Yusen Kaisha and chairman of the forum, at its conclusion. "This is contrary to historical trends."

The group, which includes carrier representatives from Australia, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan, also expressed its hope for stable revenue streams, in part through enhanced scrapping programs.

And it called for uniform standards on vessel age and condition to prevent accidents that cost lives and money and hurt the environment.

"(There's) a need for single standards for the age of ships and quality of ships," said Shiro Nagumo, president of Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha. "At present, each (carrier) has their own standard."

Still, none of the proposals are binding on members so the forum is largely an advisory body. Mr. Nemoto said the important thing is to get every line moving in the same direction. But he added that this can be difficult given the diverse size, strategy and service outlooks of different Asian carriers.

Japanese carriers reportedly have put renewed energy into the Asian forum since the appreciation of the yen, in a bid to help ease rate gaps between conference and non-conference carriers, a major industry issue now.

Within the Asia region, there are large differences in the outlook for ocean carriers, Mr. Nemoto said.

National carriers from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore are seeing strong cargo volumes and vibrant national economies. Countries such as Taiwan and Australia are in the middle, while South Korea and Japan are rather pessimistic.

John Bicknell, chairman of Australia's ASP Ship Management Corp., said carriers are now grappling with unrealistically low freight rates and severe competition for cargo. This has prompted owners to keep ships longer than they expected, use more low-paid crews and do less maintenance, leading to more ship accidents.

According to some estimates, the delay in ordering new ships will eventually lead to a backlog of $400 billion in new ship orders by the end of the century.

Mr. Nemoto also called for the Chinese government to ensure that its maritime industry remains open to other countries. The next meeting of the Asia Shipowners' Forum will be in Beijing in May 1994.

On the bright side, he added that worldwide scrapping of vessels in 1992 reached 11 million deadweight tons surpassing expectations.

Other representatives attending the meeting included Kuen Soo Lee, president of Hanjin Shipping Co.; Hee Tae Hwang, Hanjin's vice president; Q.G. Fang, director of China Ocean Shipping Co. and Timothy C.M. Liu, president of Hong Kong's Heiwa Shipping Agency.

Also attending were Yeo Y.T. Chine, deputy managing director of Orient Overseas Container Line; Philip Low, manager of Neptune Orient Lines Ltd.; and Jimmy J. Wang, representative from the National Association of Chinese Shipowners.