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HK flag service upgrade required

As the Hong Kong Shipping Register passes the 100m gross tonne mark there’s no time to rest on its laurels.

Hong Kong has become only the fourth shipping register in the world to crack 100m gross tonnes on its books. The Hong Kong Shipping Register (HKSR) passed the 100m mark gross at the end of September with a total of 2,449 ships, the territory’s Marine Department said in an October release.

The HKSR was set up on December 3, 1990, with a gross tonnage of 6m. It slumped at around the time of the 1997 reunification with China but has steadily built itself up ever since.

Local owners, while applauding the landmark, have confided with SinoShip that the Marine Department needs to up its headcount and service quality to remain competitive among the biggest names in ship registry.

The department has been crippled by an ongoing court case into the Lamma IV, a ferry that sank in Hong Kong waters with the loss of 39 lives three years ago. A number of department employees – and key flag personnel – have been embroiled in the case and have not been able to carry on working at the department.

The flag’s stunningly fast growth has not necessarily been commensurate with the number of staff running it. Part of this problem is that the funds raised from the register go into a central government fund and are distributed across the Special Administrative Region, rather than being ploughed back into the flag.

At a shipowner lunch hosted by our sister title, Maritime CEO, in September there were calls for the Hong Kong flag to be run on a much more commercial basis – to make it a de facto separate organisation from the Marine Department. Repeatedly the service quality of International Registries, Inc, which runs the Marshall Islands, the world’s third largest flag, was highlighted as something that the Hong Kong register ought to aspire to.

“To compete a ship’s register must be competitive with other commercially run registries in terms of service and round-the-clock availability,” one leading owner commented.

“It lacks in commercial awareness and does not engage with industry proactively to develop and progress as we could hope for,” were the thoughts of a top shipmanager.

Meanwhile, another senior shipowner discussed his HR concerns at the register. “The loss of seasoned and experience master mariners and marine engineers, which used to represent a robust portion of the personnel is being felt,” he maintained.

The local shipowners’ association has held plenty of dialogue with the Marine Department and the government of late on ways to improve the flag and there is hope that these suggestions have been taken onboard as it races beyond the 100m mark.


This article first appeared in the recently published Hong Kong Market Report 2015, published by Splash. Readers can access the full magazine for free by clicking here

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