Hong Kong’s Secretary for Transport & Housing, Frank Chan revealed details of the Marine Department’s first regional desks at the annual Hong Kong Shipowners Association/Marine Department annual lunch last Friday (3 May).
Mr Chan, who is also Chairman of the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board, said officials were working at full steam to ensure that regional desks of the Hong Kong Shipping Registry would begin operations in London, Shanghai and Singapore by early 2020. According to Mr Chan the network will subsequently be extended to Australia, North Asia and North America, although he offered no timeframe for these desks.
The first objective of the regional desks is to facilitate the SR’s ability to provide shipowners with a timely response and necessary support in times of need.
“The regional desks will provide a suite of services such as ship registration, and ship inspection. Most importantly they can respond to port state inspections and attend to other emergency situations as required,” Said Mr Chan.
In addition to these functions, it is envisaged that the London desk will play an important role in enhancing Hong Kong’s presence at the International Maritime Organisation.
“Together with the new expertise to be formed in the MD headquarters, our regional desk in London can take a more active role in IMO’s policy formulation so as to enhance our overall influence and status in the international arena,” he said.
The move by the SR to offer a more comprehensive geographic presence for shipowners was first signalled during the 2018 policy address delivered by Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam.
The lack of overseas SR representation had long been a bone of contention among many shipowners. A report issued in early 2018 by the Financial Services Development Council stated that the absence of an overseas presence meant that the Shipping Registry was being compared unfavourably with a leading flag of convenience.
Established in 1990 with gross tonnage of 6m GT, yesterday’s luncheon celebrated the SR surpassing the 125m GT mark. The latest record figure accounts for close to 10% of the global fleet. Over the last 12 months the global detention rate of Hong Kong registered ships was 0.82%, comparing favourably to the global average of 2.8%.
Mr Chan unveiled further good news for the Marine Department headquarters, announcing the end of a successful recruitment campaign as five assistant marine officers and six assistant surveyors of ships joined the ranks of Department on 3 May. “This will give the Marine Department new strength and vigour to serve the maritime industry better,” Mr Chan remarked.
Further measures introduced at last year’s policy address were also updated by Mr Chan, notably the injection of an additional HK$200m into the Maritime and Aviation Training Fund from this year.
“Over the years we have invested heavily in manpower developments to provide knowledge for the future of our maritime industry. Happily, our efforts under the MATF are coming to fruition.,” he said. “The training fund has benefitted around 7,000 students and practitioners with 60% of them coming from the maritime sector.
“This is a remarkable achievement in only five tears. In particular the Seagoing Training Incentive Scheme, which offers a monthly subsidy of HK$6,000 to seagoing cadets. The Scheme has attracted a total of 246 cadets so far. And earlier this year we extended our financial support to cover cadets preparing for professional examinations ashore during and after completion of their cadetship training. Those awaiting promotion to officer rank after passing their examinations may also benefit. Upon the injection of the additional HK$200m into the MATF we shall introduce further initiatives to support our aspiring seafarers in the future.”
Finally, a concession aimed at liner shipping was announced as a response to some hard lobbying by the industry. Mr Chan said that the authorities had “found room to streamline procedures for issuing exemptions by the Marine Department.” This would mean that in addition to directors themselves, senior officers within the Marine Department would be empowered to approve such exemptions.
Mr Chan added: “We have taken your [shipowners’] advice seriously. And knowing that every minute counts to our shipowners we are prepared to take forward the legislative amendment to make this happen.”