SHIP CLASSIFICATION GROUPS SEEK TO HARMONIZE GRADING SYSTEMS SAFETY CONCERNS PROMPT TALKS

SHIP CLASSIFICATION GROUPS SEEK TO HARMONIZE GRADING SYSTEMS SAFETY CONCERNS PROMPT TALKS

At least three of the world's major ship classification societies are in discussions aimed at harmonizing their ship grading policies in response to mounting concern about shipping safety.

Sir Roderick MacLeod, chairman of Lloyd's Register of Shipping, said he hoped the societies, which inspect and class ships to ensure they meet internationally agreed standards, would be able to make an announcement in two or three months.Currently Lloyd's Register and two other classification societies, the American Bureau of Shipping and Det norske Veritas of Norway, each operate their own systems for assessing the condition of a vessel.

An American ship classification official voiced support for the harmonization effort.

"We have different schemes, and being regulatory agencies for the marine industry, we have to keep an eye out for what the marine industry needs and wants," said Tom Tucker, vice president of the American Bureau of Shipping in Paramus, N.J. "There are differences right now, but they may lead to a more unified approach."

The ABS has a program intended to help owners extend the life of a vessel by 10 to 15 years. After a vessel survey, the program verifies actions taken by the shipowner to extend the vessel's life, and a report on the ship is issued.

Lloyd's Register operates a life assessment system, which advises shipowners of aging vessels on what improvements they need to make to keep the ship operating. At the time of a ship's 15-year special survey, for example, it would assess what work was needed to bring the vessel up to the condition of a 10-year-old ship.

In contrast, Det norske Veritas operates a five-point Condition Assessment Program, which refuses to class a ship that achieves a grade of less than 2.

Each society believes its practice is best, but they equally recognize that they face mounting concern about their role in ensuring merchant ships are safe to operate, particularly now amid growing evidence of an apparent drop in shipping standards.

Sir Roderick said when questioned at a Lloyd's Register reception last week that he would not trust the Norwegian system because it's "a mine field if you get it wrong."

However, his deputy chairman, John Hutchison, said the three classification societies are discussing ways they can harmonize their systems.

He added that one way Lloyd's Register is looking to improve shipping safety is to offer a service that provides quality assurance of ship management systems. This would look not so much at ship managers themselves, as at the shipowner's policy on matters such as pollution problems and ensuring proper manning.

However, Mr. Hutchison added that this development is still "in an embryonic stage."

David F. White in New York contributed to this story.