How much longer will we be the “baddies” in the film?

On Friday the 1st July 2001 in London, was the location for the Conference of the Organization of European Maritime Law which theme was “The Maritime Industry in the New Millennium”.

Among the invited to this conference were the European Safety Commissioner, Mr. Willem de Ruiter and the outgoing president of Intertanko, Mr. Westye Hoegh.

Lloyd’s List, in an extensive article covering the conference, has not only mentioned the opinions of these distinguished member of the maritime industry but has also mentioned the concerns and discussions, expressed openly and without hesitation, about Panama.

It seems that there is an overall concern about Flag States and about IMO being unable to make Administrations comply with their regulations, and Mr. Ruiter went one step further commenting on this feeling when he said that IMO would not achieve its goal of implementing existent regulations.

Mr. Hoegh, in his intervention, said that the “ONLY” way to achieve this implementation is to transfer the authority to Port States.

Mr. Ruiter then pointed out that the ineffectiveness of IMO rested on the implementation of the conventions.

But the worst was to come. The speakers were talking about the Flag States’ investigations of accidents when Panama’s name was mentioned and was then hardly criticized for not investigating its accidents.

Black humour came into the room when Mr. Hoegh, not agreeing with what Mr. Ruiter had said, said in a humoristic and sarcastic way that it was not true that Panama did not investigated accidents. “Panama has investigated ONE accident”, said Mr. Hoegh while having a laugh or two with the presents due to his comic and humorous comment.

Around 22 percent of the world merchant fleet is under the Panama flag and, under the SOLAS Convention, Panamá must investigate any significant accident onboard a Panamanian vessel.

Currently, there is an ongoing discussion within IMO, in case the reader is not aware of, about including in international regulations the use of the so-called “black boxes” as compulsory so as to obtain info and data after an accident, just like in the air industry. Mr. Ruiter went further by saying that these black boxes would be of no use unless Flag States would properly investigate the accidents.

The article goes on by talking about Mr. Ruiter’s statements but at the end it goes back to the Panama subject, saying that whether to exercise or not international conventions on European waters should not be the privilege of countries like Panama and Liberia.

The reader can appreciate that the line of action within the European Union is that of not only keep on criticizing Panama but also keep it on check so as to prevent it to show the strength it has. I think it is extremely important that Panama’s maritime sector, once and for all, grows aware of the importance of carry out our duties so we can also exercise our rights

As it was mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Panama has to be elected into the IMO Council in the upcoming November. We must be elected, thus staying “in the game” and we cannot allow the European Union to threaten us through their Port State Controls, being Panama’s huge chunk in the world’s fleet secured.

If Europe had in its registries the number of vessels that are flying Panama’s flag today then it would be impossible to stop them of doing whatever they wanted to do in the name of its big registry. But that is not the case today and its fleet is completely reduced and is of a convenience status, offering subsidies and being controlled by the unions. Lack of flexibility and poor economic vision were the main drivers behind shipowners leaving Europe to look for registries with better economical incentives, effectively killing the European fleet. Now that Europe has realized how much dependant of the shipping industry as the way of importing and exporting goods they are, they desperately want the decision power back. They complain about environmental damages yet their rivers are being contaminated by their local industries.

But let’s not fool ourselves with these facts. The truth is that if Europe does starts harassing our ships while calling at its ports then shipowners will start an exodus from our registry to avoid being the target of Port State Control inspections in European ports.

Panama badly needs to organize its maritime sector and avoid Port States to seize control. But to achieve this we need to show that we are capable of good organization, coordination, control, investigation and punitive actions. How long more will it take this message to achieve some action? Hopefully, before it is too late. How long more will it take the AMP to get the priority it deserves? To get enough budget? How long more it will take for us to realize what a strong noise we are capable of making? My guess is that it will be until 50 Panamanian-flagged ships are detained each day and shipowners will rather take their ships out of our registry and into the flag of the Republic of “WHO-KNOWS-WHERE-BUT-DON’T-DISTURB-ME”. My hope is that it will not take that long and that making use of our brains and our resources we can stop being the bad guys of the film and go on to be the most respected and praised stars of the industry… Hopefully we will start thinking about this before it is too late because if we do not respect ourselves, then who will?

© 2000 Maria Dixon – ISM Shipping Solutions Ltd.

Translated from the original version. An edited version was published in Mundo Maritimo section of El Universal, Grupo Editorial Universal, S.A. Panamá, with permission from the Author