IRClass chairman sets out his IACS priorities

When Arun Sharma, executive chairman of the Indian Register of Shipping, known as IRClass, becomes chairman of Council at the International Association of Classification Societies on 1 July, one of the subjects he believes is important is to give a “slightly longer term for IACS chairmanship,” which would provide “continuity and time for effective implementation of decisions taken,” he said.

IACS has a permanent secretariat in London but its chairmanship changes each year by rotation and this will be the first time that IRClass has held this responsibility since it became a full member in 2010.

ShipInsight’s technical editor Paul Gunton explored IRClass’s plans for IACS with its executive chairman, Arun Sharma

In an exclusive interview with ShipInsight during last week’s Nor-Shipping exhibition in Oslo and a subsequent statement, he also said that “some functional and organisational changes may be required in the working of other IACS supporting bodies.”

Improving governance in IACS, “is an ongoing issue, like in most organisations,” he added, and “IRClass would be open to consider matters relating to IACS governance during the chairmanship, if the members so desire.”

Mr Sharma also said that IACS is looking at developing a data-driven policy in its decision making. Without data to back up a proposal, “it is just a hunch,” he said, but IACS will have to decide what data would be needed to guide its policy decisions, how it would be collected and how it could be used. This would be “a very important step and will be one of the priorities in the coming year,” he said.

Mr Sharma has been head of IRClass since 2011 after many years at India Steamship, where had had held a number of senior positions. Based on that experience, he said that getting factors such as those he had outlined right is “how you make things move more quickly and in the right direction.” As a result, “the processes within IACS may be looked at to give it a more proactive approach to industry matters towards faster decision making.”

He also plans to focus on improving interaction with others in the industry and to benefit from their input, which he believes will help to “future-proof IACS to maintain its relevance with a possible increase in IACS members [and to] support industry in dealing with the technological aspects of low- and zero-carbon emission fuels.”

He also wants to work with IMO on matters related to maritime autonomous surface ships and cyber security and for IACS to take a larger role in industry matters beyond technical and regulatory themes with a view to helping owners in implementing their regulatory requirements.

As an example of what he had in mind, he referred to a one-day seminar that IRClass had held in May at its head office in Mumbai to discuss the two important subjects of compliance to 2020 sulphur limit and greenhouse gas emissions.

It was the first of its type and attendees included shipowners and operators alongside representatives from sectors such as consultants, engine suppliers and bunker providers. They found it helpful in understanding the issues they faced, he said, and “similarly, IACS can focus on dealing with the technical and safety aspects of new emerging fuels for lowering emissions” through seminars and round-table meetings.

Another area where class societies and the wider maritime industry must focus is the human element in shipping to deal with technological and regulatory advancements that could require upskilling and reskilling of the workforce, he said. “A ship is as safe as the people who crew it,” and those crew are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with advances in technology and to understand what their systems are telling them, he said.

He explained that although it has long been said that 90% of accidents are caused by human error, because of those advances if a ship runs aground now, it may not be because the bridge team was inattentive; it may be because they did not understand what they were seeing and this needs to be addressed, he believes.

As he looks forward to his year in office, the biggest industry development for many years – the sulphur limit on fuel that will come into effect on 1 January 2020 – will come into effect half way through his term.

But that may not be of great concern to the industry, he said. “I am not trying to oversimplify this, but people are doing their homework,” he said. Seagoing engineers are experienced in switching between a range of fuels, he said, and “I have never seen a major hassle in any of these changeovers. Those who are not exposed to it at sea are a little more hyper about it.”

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