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Tanker vetting and issues of trust

The attack by the Intertanko on the proliferation of tanker inspections by charterers has brought the patchwork quilt of shipping regulation into sharp relief once again.

Intertanko argues that the cost of these multiple inspections has reached an estimated $300m a year for tanker owners and is unnecessary if the charterers would adhere to the well-established SIRE system of sharing reports. SIRE was set up in 1993 by the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) to standardise tanker vetting inspections and was supposed to streamline tanker vetting by the sharing of reports by members to avoid the need for multiple inspections by charterers.

Intertanko's ire is understandable but this current row is just a replay of many similar situations in shipping regulation of which tankers are just the forefront because of the damaging consequences of oil spills.

The issue is trust. Clearly some charterers do not entirely trust the reports that they have not commissioned themselves. The costs and consequences of mistakes in the tanker industry have ratcheted up over the years and so it is understandable that charterers want to protect themselves. It used to be the case that in the event of a tanker accident it was the owner who was pursued in legal terms. Now it could be the charterer as well as Total's experience in the case of the Prestige spill showed. Increasingly litigants have recognised that it is the charterer who has the big bucks and have gone after them.

But as said at the beginning this issue has a long history in shipping. Port state control was introduced because the importing nations no longer trusted flag states to do their jobs, nor the classification societies, who were deputised usually to act as inspectors for flag states.

Insurance companies did not trust classification society certification so instituted their own inspections of vessels applying for entry, thereby exacerbating the proliferation of inspections for shipowners.


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