The new generation of shipowners does not know enough about ship design to ask the right questions when ordering a new vessel, Sir Roderick MacLeod, chairman of Lloyd's Register of Shipping, claimed here this week.

He is concerned that specifications for new ships are too low and says new building techniques "are moving closer and closer" to the danger level in terms of stressing.As owners embark on major fleet renewal programs, they need to know much more about such matters as corrosion and stressing, according to Sir Roderick. Instead, there is a new breed of shipowner who is much more interested in the capital appreciation of the ship than in sound maritime practices.

Lloyd's is the leading classification society, responsible for checking the seaworthiness of nearly one-fourth of the world's merchant fleet.

Sir Roderick's views are backed by the American Bureau of Shipping. Constantinos Katsaras, an ABS surveyor, said ships are being built to lower specifications now than they were a decade ago.

Traditional owners such as the Greeks care much more about the quality of their ships, according to Mr. Katsaras. But an operator who tried to maintain the same onboard standards as 10 years ago would not be able to compete.

Mr. Katsaras shares the opinion that a well-maintained ship could continue to trade for 40 or 50 years if the original design specifications were good enough.

But many of the newer owners just want to make short-term profits on rising asset values "and this is a problem," Mr. Katsaras admitted during an interview this week.

He pointed out that whereas Japanese shipbuilders used to employ the same subcontractors all the time, they now invariably accept offers from the cheapest. This has contributed to declining quality, Mr. Katsaras claimed.

The classification societies have been the target of considerable criticism in recent years, particularly from insurers, for allowing maritime standards to slip.

Some of the ships approved as seaworthy have been described as nautical slums. Only this week during the Posidonia 90 exhibition in the Greek port of Piraeus, a prominent Greek owner accused the societies of classing ships that are built from unsuitable materials and claimed many of the leading societies are not carrying out their duties responsibly.

One of the problems is the fact that the societies compete with each other for business in a market that has been shrinking in recent years.

At the same time, they are employed by the owners. Some critics argue that organizations responsible for safety should not be subject to commercial pressures.

Sir Roderick acknowledged that some of the complaints in the past may have been justified, but pointed out during an interview that most of the major classification societies are responding to their critics by introducing a range of new services and surveillance systems.

Lloyd's, for example, unveiled details at Posidonia this week of a new monitoring system that will enable a ship's master to measure hull stresses during a voyage or while a containership, tanker or bulk carrier is being loaded or unloaded.

Recognizing the problems associated with an aging world fleet, members of the International Association of Classification Societies agreed at their annual meeting in Tokyo last week to introduce tougher inspection rules.

The Norwegian classification society, Det norske Veritas Classification A/ S, has been one of the most innovative and was the first to introduce an environmental classification standard for tankers.

The voluntary service classes a vessel according to where cargo tanks are located, how they are protected and whether the ship is fitted with a double bottom or double skin.

A great deal of interest is being shown in the service, according to Elvind Grostad, head of marketing at DnV, especially from charterers who now want to know much more about a ship before chartering.

However, Lloyd's wants to wait until legislation on tanker design is passed in the United States before launching a similar sort of service, Sir Roderick said.

He is, though, very enthusiastic about a new quality management assurance project announced a few weeks ago by five leading ship management companies, together with Lloyd's, Det norske Veritas and the German classification society Germanischer Lloyd.

The group wants to draw up a code of conduct for ship management by October or November that may, eventually, become a global standard. The idea is to look at the quality of both ship and shore management. The American Bureau of Shipping is showing interest in the concept.

Although this is unlikely ever to be incorporated into a compulsory class inspection, Sir Roderick sees the development of a management code as "a very valuable discipline" both in terms of safety and economics.