Hong Kong always cheers, its bustle and busyness and sense of optimism invariably serving as a tonic after exposure to the pessimism found in rather more gloomy places.
So, while so much sentiment around the world is profoundly negative, China’s Special Administrative Region (SAR) seems determined to look on the bright side.
“When times are tough, you work harder” is not a bad philosophy, rather than the attitude that suggests that you retrench, or hunker down and ride out the storm, whimpering from time to time just to show you are still alive.
The Hong Kong way is firmly in the former camp, the dredgers and crane barges and pile-driving rigs and workboats buzzing around the latest great redevelopments of Victoria Harbour, all providing a noisy background to the recent China Maritime Week 2012, at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Around the maritime exhibition, it’s all the associated events that form a cluster of reasons to attend. The Young Professionals in Shipping Network (YPSN) is clearly a force to be recognised and packed its seminar to the doors with a group of youthful shipping people (along with some who had clearly lied about their age), which makes one instantly optimistic for the future of the maritime sector in this part of the world.
An industry, or even an organisation, that does not give encouragement and expression to its young people, is doomed by demographics, and in this respect the shipping industry, which is still suffering from its recruitment drought of the 1980s and 1990s, has a lot of ground to make up. Seeing the coming generation in action, with their well-balanced seminar on kidnapping and ransom, future ships and people, along with a 21st century take on the ‘Titanic’ distaster, provides a lot of reassurance for Hong Kong’s maritime future.
All the issues and concerns currently confronting the maritime world were to be found around the various seminars and symposia surrounding China Maritime 2012. Money – or the lack of it – for maritime enterprise was a compelling theme. The energies of the maritime world of the Philippines were on display. The depredations of pirates and the seeming inability of governments to act sufficiently firmly was a sentiment that would be freely aired. The step change in navigation represented by the mandatory move to electronic charts is something that very reasonably gives a lot of scope for professional concern. The environmental regulations that are targeting the shipping industry in so many different ways, and the power plants that might answer some of these problems, are areas that give the technically astute food for thought – and sleepless nights.
Ballast water makes a splash
For those who wished, figuratively speaking, to submerge themselves in both contaminated and clean ballast water, there was a whole day’s seminar on the subject, arranged by the Hong Kong Ship Owners’ Association, which had boldly invited no fewer than ten manufacturers of water ballast treatment systems to introduce their products.
This was not a shoot-out between
rival manufacturers who were wisely discouraged by the chairman from knocking each other’s products or boasting too overtly about their bacterial kill-rates. Rather, this was a presentation of what is available in the market, what is being reviewed by the IMO experts, and what is being offered to ship operators.
When the Ballast Water Convention comes into effect in the near future, operators must make some expensive decisions and take a leap into this new world. There are no easy choices, whether one is writing the specification for a couple of newbuilding Capesizes, or wondering how to retrofit a whole fleet, where regulation and reality seem so often to be irreconcilable.
There are, we are told, some 68,000 ships that will be required to fit this equipment, once the regulation and the convention bite, and such are the statistics and the timeframe that most people rather shy away from the practicalities of implementation. But in a largely unproven scenario, how is any innocent naval architect or even the most experienced technical superintendent to make a reasoned and sensible choice between systems that provide so little in the way of a common technical philosophy?
Do you opt for a system that exposes the ballast to filtration, the lethal brilliance of ultraviolet light and a good blast of ozone to be on the safe side? Are you attracted by filters, which effectively sieve out the nasties with fine meshes, or those that macerate the living creatures using a myriad of discs? Might you be gripped by the simplicity of disinfection through electrolysis and OH radicals, or impressed by the violence of a plasma attack upon the living creatures inhabiting your water tanks?
The pity is you cannot ask them how they might feel about any of these proposed treatments, whether it is electro-chlorination or oxidation, or whether a system without filtration is as effective as one that features this as an offensive weapon. What about backwashing and maintenance? Is there a guarantee on performance?
We are entering a new world here, with equipment being installed aboard ships that must be able to demonstrate compliance to some port state inspector who will have the powers to fine ships and shipowners enormous sums of money. But there will be no real way, outside a laboratory, for the chief engineer to determine whether the equipment is actually doing its job.
These choices aren’t for the faint hearted!