IMO CHIEF: SOME OWNERS ARE TURNING BACK THE CLOCK ON SAFETY ADVANCES

IMO CHIEF: SOME OWNERS ARE TURNING BACK THE CLOCK ON SAFETY ADVANCES

The head of the International Maritime Organization is accusing some shipowners of deliberately putting lives at risk by failing to maintain their ships properly.

In his annual address for World Maritime Day, celebrated today, IMO Secretary-General William O'Neil warned that the recent improvements in maritime safety are being jeopardized by irresponsible shipowners "who would rather risk losing the ship and those on board than undertake and pay for the cost of carrying out the repairs they know to be necessary."Mr. O'Neil also blamed evidence of worsening safety standards on some governments that are "quite happy to take the fees for registering ships under their flag, but fail to ensure that safety and environmental standards are enforced."

With so many global ship safety regulations now in place, the casualty and pollution rates of flag states should be roughly the same, Mr. O'Neil said. But in practice, they vary enormously.

"That can only be because IMO regulations are put into effect differently

from country to country," he said.

While the IMO already has taken steps to prevent such diversity of safety standards, the IMO secretary-general said the agency's efforts were being undermined by those owners and administrations that ignore the rules. For example, some vessel operators "quite deliberately move their ships to different trading routes if governments introduce stricter inspections and controls," Mr. O'Neil said.

"The idea that a ship would willingly be sent to sea in an unsafe condition and pose a danger to its crew is difficult to believe, and yet it does happen," he said.

Mr. O'Neil stressed the need for a change in attitude about safety and the passive acceptance of the inevitability of disaster.

"When a ship sinks, we should all feel a sense of loss and failure,

because accidents are not inevitable - they can and should be prevented," Mr. O'Neil said.

Meanwhile, a leading expert on loss prevention said Wednesday that lack of crew loyalty to shipowners was a factor behind many accidents.

Capt. Phil Anderson of the North of England Protection and Indemnity Club said the shipping industry needed to examine the causal chain behind accidents and examine closely the minority of ships that currently operate with virtually no accidents.

"The advent of multinational management companies and crewing agencies has certainly made it more difficult to maintain the traditional community spirit and sense of common purpose which once existed on those ships," he said.