By Ryan Skinner (email)
I've been there before. The rulebook that's pulled over the shipping industry like a straight-jacket doesn't work. It creates paper-compliers (following only the letter of the law) and stifles innovation.
Nobody (except Norwegians, god bless my host rulers!) likes a nanny state, which is the demeaning status the IMO has been brought to by its class of uber-technocrat mandarins. Their rules become an impenetrable barrier between people who do things and true excellence.
But, how can you prescribe a certain level of performance without rules? Let's abandon the territory of sticks for a second, and look at carrots. How many national R&D systems long ago understood that steering the direction of innovation (via technocrat diktat) was hopeless, and gave the steering back to industry itself?
That is, shipping companies themselves know what performance means. They know what failure looks like. Let them direct their own resources towards excellence.
But, but, but, but, I hear you whining, how about those who run operations of zero-quality to compete purely on price? How can a quality operator compete with them?
You don't need to be a Nobel economist to understand that price is alpha and omega. That's always been the fundamental of shipping, hasn't it? Move things from here to there at the lowest possible price.
At the same time, you don't want to see oil slicks the size of Rhode Island pouring from countless tankers strewn about the world's beaches like bulimic bikini models.
Shipping has always seemed to have an enforcement problem. Because it crosses borders daily and operates in international space, efforts to police the industry have always seemed handicapped.
A few years ago, I delved deeply into the Milosevic case in the Hague, and particularly the unique status of the International Criminal Court, whose creation Wikipedia deems "the most significant reform of international law since 1945." Here was a body who managed to apply a set of global morals in the face of rigid and protectionist nations.
Even if I hate his despotic technocratic cousin, I do love Johnny Law. Nothing warms my heart like a tough sheriff (must be my American blood). Imagine if shipping companies were allowed, within some limitations, of operating as they saw fit. So far, so good. But if they screw up, they get hit hard. Very hard. We're talking very, very painful fines here.
After the Valdez incident, US authorities created OPA 90 to burn tanker companies that messed up. At the time, I was able to document how some shipping companies created straw management companies to minimize their liability. That was a fault with a national law. Let's empower a real supranational authority to bring some international order to the high seas.
It's either that or slowly suffocate from rules. These are the choices. Pick your poison.