Oil tanker defects 'not recognised'

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The Independent Online
A FIFTH of the world's 3,250 oil tankers fail to meet international safety standards, yet few of the defects are picked up by government agencies or insurers during compliance inspections, according to the oil company Shell, writes Gail Counsell.

A briefing paper prepared by the company in the wake of the Braer disaster in Shetland is critical of the lack of international enforcement of standards of construction and maintenance. Last year, Shell found that about 20 per cent of the tankers it was considering chartering were sub- standard. Yet European governments detected faults in only 8 per cent of ships in 1991.

The paper says the 14 European countries, including the UK, that signed a 1982 agreement to toughen the enforcement of international standards conducted only 1,600 inspections in 1991. Shell voluntarily performs more than twice as many - about 3,500 last year.

Shell says the big six oil companies, which account for about a quarter of the oil cargoes on the high seas, have been forced to make their own inspections by the failure of governments properly to police the tanker industry.

It says some of the blame for poor enforcement lies with 'classification societies'. Many countries with which ships are registered delegate responsibility for regulation to these independent organisations.