I have read the Boulton Lecture by Peter Murphy in the April 2014 issue of Sea Breezes, and I have to say that I think it is the best article on the general deterioration of ship owning, ship management and sea-faring standards that I have ever read.
I think it should become compulsory reading at ICS, IMO, EMSA, USCG, UKMCA, AMSA, International Group of P&I Clubs, IUMI, Lloyd’s of London, etc. There are many more organisations that could be added to the list. I can speak with a degree of knowledge having been at sea, worked in maritime law in London, (and still doing so on an occasional basis), run a UK towage and salvage company for over 10 years and been involved with the International Salvage Union for over 30 years (the last six of which I was its Secretary General).
There were times when the Banks were lending money too easily to a plethora of shipowners which was not always in the best interests of good ship owning. Changes in shipping management often resulted in people who had no feel, no real understanding and no knowledge of shipping being empowered to make decisions about ship management and operations; Publicly quoted companies sometimes took the place of traditional family owners resulting in an understandable drive to improve shareholder returns but sometimes there was no long term commitment, it was just to sell the business at a higher price. Cargo shippers not being too concerned or not even knowing about the quality of the tonnage in which their cargo is being shipped. Flag States, Legislators, Regulators and others allowing the ‘economies of scale’ concept to go to ridiculous proportions. All that said, fortunately there are today many fine shipping operators. Ship owning continues to be a fascinating and challenging business and there are more cargo ships at sea than at any time in the past.
However, for the sector of the industry with which I have been most closely involved, the marine salvage industry, there are at least three major concerns. How to deal with a mega cruise liner with possibly 8,000 people on board which has suffered a serious casualty in difficult weather conditions in a relatively remote location; how to deal with the container ships of up to 18,000 TED, and maybe even larger in the future, if they run aground in some remote/exposed location and need lightening; how to recruit, train and keep the personnel that will be needed by the salvage industry in the future. In recent years shipowners have been lucky, if that is an appropriate word.
The tanker industry has dramatically improved its record since the terrible times of the 1970’s. The number of bulk carriers sinking like stones has also declined dramatically. The Costa Concordia was incredibly fortunate to lose only 32 passengers and crew. A night time casualty capsizing on to the rocks with over 4,000 people on board is the stuff of nightmares. The container ships; MCS Napoli, MSC Flaminia and Rena which became serious casualties are all comparatively small vessels by current standards. So far as I am aware, to date the largest container ship casualty is the Emma Maersk, 15,500 TED, with a flooded engine room off the Suez Canal. Fortunately she was close to a container terminal where she was discharged. An 18,000 TED, or similar vessel, with over a billion dollars worth of cargo on board, plus the ship at risk, if it all goes wrong could be a totally different situation. Sooner or later luck runs out and that’s when skill and experience is needed, hopefully to avoid a problem becoming a casualty in the first place, but if that fails, then to deal with the casualty if things really go wrong.
Master Mariner, Marine Consultant