Home' Ships and Shipping : August 2009 Contents The following is an excerpt from a long interview with ABS
Chairman and CE Robert D. Somerville published in the
Summer 2009 edition of the ABS publication Surveyor
Over the last 38 years, ABS Chairman and Chief Executive
Robert (Bob) D. Somerville has seen a steady transformation in the
role of class and the modernisation of the tools which its engineers
and surveyors use to carry out their responsibilities. In a
wide-ranging discussion, Somerville highlighted the manner in
which these changes have brought the classification profession to a
crossroads. The direction that ABS chooses could lead to a
substantially different approach to the provision of classification
services in the future.
Question: That is a tall order. Politicians of every stripe do not seem
to have a firm grasp of maritime issues...
Somerville: That's true. Unfortunate but true. And the marine
industry at large does not seem to have been very successful in
redressing the imbalance. So, yes, class does have a tough task
ahead of it but I believe it is one that we must tackle head on if we
are to retain some semblance of control over our destiny. On
reflection, I think it is disappointing that more maritime
administrations within the EU member states didn't press their
legislative colleagues a little more firmly in support of class. After
all, surely the classification societies must be doing a lot of things
right if every one of those administrations relies on us to carry out
some of their responsibilities on their behalf. That is why the
statement of some of those involved in pushing through the new
EU RO directive to the effect that class was not doing its job was so
difficult to understand.
Question: Yet it is some of those same maritime administrations that
have imposed unlimited liability on the ROs that act on their behalf. Is
Somerville: Of course not. It is patently unfair. Why is it that
the classification societies, alone, out of all the differing parties
that have some responsibility for promoting maritime safety, are
forced to accept unlimited liability for their actions? It makes no
sense and is completely out of proportion to the services that we
provide and the fees that we receive. I have never been able to
understand why we have been singled out in this way and why our
arguments regarding not only the inequities involved but of the
potential to cripple classification as we know it, continue to be
ignored by the handful of governments who insist on enforcing
Question: Is it these and other government interventions within class
that have brought the profession to the crossroads?
Somerville: Not solely but it has certainly been a contributing
factor. For example, we haven't yet talked about the investigation
of IACS that is being undertaken by DG COMP, the European
Commission's Directorate General for Competition. Since this is an
ongoing investigation, I can't go into detail but it is another
example of a government's actions having the potential to change
the classification canvas.
Question: Is it true that, as reported in the press, this investigation
caused IACS to withdraw its Code of Ethics?
Somerville: Sounds strange doesn't it. Yes, the investigation led
to a review of the Code of Ethics by the various legal teams
assisting IACS and the IACS members. As a consequence of that
review, the IACS societies voluntarily decided to withdraw the
Code although I don't think that this will have any noticeable
Question: It has also been reported in the press that the investigation
may result in a change in the IACS membership structure. Is that likely?
Somerville: It's too early to fully understand the impacts but I
think it is unlikely that IACS will continue to operate in exactly the
same way as it did before the investigation. This investigation, and
the likely consequences, is another element that has brought us to
Question: If IACS changes in any significant way, can the recently
introduced Common Structural Rules (CSR) for tankers and bulk carriers
Somerville: A very good question and one for which there is, as
yet, no definitive answer. The CSR can only be effective if they are
subject to common interpretations and a coordinated approach to
their review and modification as we go forward. It is not yet clear
the degree to which a changed IACS will be able to do that. As I
have often said, I view the adoption of the CSR to have been the
most fundamental change in the approach to classification
probably since its inception. I am truly concerned that this
tremendous step forward in maritime safety may be compromised
in some way.
Question: What are some of the other factors that have propelled
class to this point?
Somerville: I think the important point to remember here is that
class has always adapted to changing circumstances. The system
would not have survived and flourished for more than two
centuries if it was resistant to change. It is just that the forces of
change seem to have sped up in recent years.
We live in a more regulated world than in the past. More
regulation of the shipping industry has meant that most flag states
have turned to their ROs to help them live up to their expanded
statutory responsibilities. That's why we are now auditors -- not just
for the ISM Code but also for security under the ISPS Code. The
latest regulatory initiative is the Maritime Labour Convention that
will probably enter into force by 2011. That will further expand
our regulatory activity.
The other source of regulatory change is the IMO. It is a much
more active body now than in its first 30 years of operation. IACS
has always worked closely with the IMO, assisting from a technical
standpoint in the development of new safety requirements and
then fleshing out those requirements in a way that can be included
in the class rules. Recent examples of this have been the various
new requirements for bulk carriers and the continuing effort to
develop goal-based standards.
Goal-based standards themselves represent a fundamental
change in the philosophy of establishing standards. It moves the
process away from the traditional prescriptive approach to one
which is, in essence, based on a clearer assessment of risk. As I said
at the outset, class has always been based on risk assessment. It is
just that we have a much more sophisticated understanding of risk
these days, and much more sophisticated tools to apply risk-based
standards. One of the future challenges will be to see if the
statutory framework is able to keep pace with the industry's ability
to adjust to and adopt these new practices.
Question: Can you give an example?
Somerville: Think about the basic classification survey regime. It
has been prescriptive in nature, based on calendar periods. This
approach is enshrined within SOLAS. Now, our understanding of
risk does influence these requirements in so much as experience
has taught us where corrosion is likely to be more prevalent for
example, and where that corrosion will have a greater impact on
the continued structural strength of a vessel and its ability to
withstand fatigue, buckling and yielding.
But we now have the tools to develop true risk-based inspection
programs that would provide for much more specifically targeted
surveys. In the same way, we have a clear understanding of
Class arrives at a crossroads
ABS Chairman and Chief Executive Robert (Bob) D. Somerville
CLASSIFICATION SOCIETY developments
August 2009 SHIPS AND SHIPPING
Links Archive July 2009 September 2009 Navigation Previous Page Next Page