A leading Hong Kong shipmanager has praised the efforts of the Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board for its role in organising last year’s Hong Kong Maritime Industry Week.
“I sense a new dawn for Hong Kong Shipping,” says Bjorn Hojgaard, chief executive of Hong Kong’s largest shipmanagement company Anglo Eastern-Univan Group.
“The Government has become much more proactive in establishing the needs of our industry and working out how it can join with the industry to further the shipping agenda for Hong Kong as an international maritime hub. I think it is positive,” he adds.
“Hong Kong has thrived over the decades through a laissez-faire approach. Perhaps such an approach went too far for our industry. And I sense that the industry and government are now forging a new relationship with the intention of trying to leverage what Hong Kong is good at so that our place in the world as an international maritime centre is sustained and improved.”
Mr Hojgaard concedes that the new partnership may not be based on huge hand-outs from government to shipping but initiatives such as the HK$100m Maritime and Aviation Fund is symbolic of the new understanding.
“I think it has made a difference. The Hong Kong Maritime Industry Week was fantastic. It created a buzz that I think we have lacked in Hong Kong for a while.
“There is a growing awareness within the industry in Hong Kong, that we are part of an ecosystem, which, if people join together in sufficient numbers, they can leverage to everybody’s benefit.”
The organisation of the Hong Kong Maritime Week, which attracted some 30 events across the territory, was the most high profile venture undertaken by the HKMPB after it was established in April 2016. Planning for this year’s Maritime Industry Week kicked off today with a meeting of the Board, which comprises members from both industry and government.
On developments in shipping more generally, the spotlight has been on crew welfare once again with the publication of an InterManager report on crew fatigue. Interestingly and “offering a very personal view point,” Mr Hojgaard says he that a focus on fatigue is something of a “red herring.”
“Personally, if I had to go on-board ships today I would probably find I have too much time on my hands,” he says.
“When you are working on-board you need to get adequate rest and adequate food. But you basically want to work. The worse things you can do are sit and look out the window or watch a film. What is the value of that? I think we used to work many more hours than we do today. Working practices are well regulated and people follow the regulations.”
What is taken very seriously at Anglo Eastern Univan is the health of its seafarers.
“All the company’s seafarers are subject to pre-medical physical examinations that go beyond the minimum standard requirements. Of course, as the seafarer gets older so the tests become more stringent and more frequent, says Mr Hojgaard.
In a world where it could be argued life has become more stressful for us all, the seafarer is often more vulnerable than most. According to a report citing the World Heath Organization, seafarers are the second most at risk profession worldwide when it comes to suicide.
We train our own cadets and take on 500 graduates every year,” he says. “The mental well-being of our seafarers is therefore vital and our approach to this reflects that importance.
“We believe in doing the work early and create a psychometric profile of cadets even before accepting them into the programme. The object is to discover if the cadet has the mental strength and fortitude to cope with a life at sea.”
The company takes this hands-on approach at the outset of a cadet’s career for the obvious reason that if a cadet cannot cope with the possible homesickness or perhaps loneliness, it’s a little too late if he or she is already on-board.
Unlike the arrangement with physical inspections, senior officers on-board and superintendents monitor the mental health of cadets on an on-going basis.
Opinion is divided on the reasons, beyond the obvious one of being away from home for extended periods, for seafarer melancholy. Some suggest that being constantly in touch virtually 24/7 is important especially for young cadets. Mr Hojgaard believes changes in trading patterns and the ubiquitous use of the Internet are aggravating factors.
“Getting an email or text that brings bad or upsetting news in a place and situation where the recipient cannot act in an effective way to remedy it leaves him or her disempowered and vulnerable.
“It is important that there is space to voice concerns on-board. But with smaller complements on board, short port stays and no alcohol, it is a different type of environment than in the past,” he says.
“Go back 30 years, when people were sailing eight to nine months a year. Then there was much more opportunity to make friends. It was your whole life. Today there are fewer crew on-board for a shorter time and they are all in contact with home or some environment away from the ship. The result is much less bonding going on. This is why we need to monitor the situation and look out for signs of depression,” Mr Hojgaard concludes.