The oil tanker industry has lost its way. The twin pillars of tanker industry regulation had been:
The Classification Society system was always deeply flawed, combining as it did dependence on the regulatee for fee income and potential competition among the Societies for that income. However, a combination of a strong tendency among the owners to stick with their national classification society and, in the best societies, a long tradition of technical professionalism managed to keep the class rules at a slowly declining but still marginally satisfactory level through the mid 1970's. Since then the combination of inter-class competition and the ability of the ship yards to rewrite the rules via the down-ratchet has resulted in a further decline in the class rules to imprudent levels. See Devanney and Kennedy, The Down Ratchet and the Deterioration of Tanker Newbuilding Standards
Almost every measure of tanker strength and reliability are down at least 15% from the marginally satisfactory ships of the mid-70's. The shipyards are now producing ships that are so flimsy and unreliable that they are willing to guarantee them -- a very limited guarantee -- for only a year. The classification societies are now run by businessmen who are far more interested in "growing the business" than in maintaining industry standards. Within the societies, unreasonable and inflexible traditionalists who do not get with the program are passed over and eventually leave in disgust. The class tradition of tough, disinterested surveyor has pretty much disappeared.
Third parties can sense that something is wrong. Generally, this perception is in response to a high profile oil spill. However, third parties cannot know what the real problems are, especially in the emotional, media dominated aftermath of a big spill. Much less do they have the ability to develop efficient solutions to those problems. The results has been regulation that is both ineffective and terribly inefficient. We have mandated pollution prevention measures that have resulted in more pollution than would have occurred without the regulation while consuming an enormous amount of resources This is the opposite of conservation. We have overlooked -- and in certain cases, outlawed -- alternatives that would have reduced pollution considerably while consuming little or no additional resources. We have erected paperwork barriers to new entrants protecting inefficient and incompetent owners and managers. The basic problem is that the regulation is being written in an emotional and easily manipulated atmosphere by politicians who understand neither the problem nor the possible solutions. (This is not just a tanker industry problem. This problem of efficient regulation of highly technical industries is endemic to modern society.)
The situation would be much improved if there existed an organization to which these third parties -- and the industry itself -- could turn, which meets the following criteria:
Labels: accidents, business, cheapness, Class, New ship, oil spill, Regulations, Safety, shipyard, Tanker, technology