“No one notices us when things are going right.” It’s a sad but all-too-commonly-held view that shipping is all but invisible to the public until there is an accident.
When high-profile accidents have thrust shipping into the public eye, societal concern has often prompted significant regulatory changes.
Multiple bulk carrier losses, particularly the Derbyshire, led to SOLAS Chapter XII. The ISM Code was introduced soon after the demise of Herald of Free Enterprise. Voyage data recorders were mandated after the Estonia incident and single hull tankers phased out after the Erika and Prestige oil spills.
The recent Costa Concordia tragedy raised huge public alarm and shone the global media spotlight on shipping. This pressure, especially in the countries that sadly lost their own citizens, will undoubtedly inspire regulatory change. The recent IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 90) decided not to review design and equipment issues until the facts of the investigation are known. Nevertheless operational recommendations were made with immediate effect.
Significant single incidents will always inspire public demand for regulatory change – and often rightly so. But today’s world offers new ways for pressure to materialise. Faster and easier communications allow messages to spread and campaigns to accelerate. This is coupled with an awareness of issues such as the environment and energy use as being globally shared, not restricted to those with direct geographical or commercial links with shipping. In no small part, this has directly affected the development of regulations such as the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and emission control of sulphur and nitrogen oxides.
Which other politically sensitive topics will catch the attention of the global public? Nuclear-powered ships? Gas-fuelled vessels? Arctic voyages? Only time will tell.
This week’s Posidonia is a highlight of the shipping calendar which allows industry members to demonstrate their services and share their successes with each other.
But with today’s always-on, interconnected, truly global world, it has never been more important for shipping to tell the outside world of its efforts and achievements in improving its safety and environmental performance.
Sharing success stories and genuine ongoing efforts will help to build the resilience of shipping’s public image and ensure that it is not just noticed when things go wrong.