30 years ago

Human beings are remarkably adept at getting used to the way things are. It is, therefore, surprising to look back at old copies of HCB and remember how things used to be. 

March 1982 HCB issueReading the March 1982 issue, for instance, there are stories that seem thoroughly familiar to today’s business, while others take us back to a simpler, perhaps less rule-bound time (although, as ITOPF points out in this issue, that came at a significant environmental cost).

Among the articles 30 years ago was one looking forward to the impending entry into force of Annex I of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (Marpol 73/78), which today is such a part of the regulatory framework of tanker shipping that it is hard to imagine life without it. At the time industry was concerned at the financial impact of the new requirements, which were expected to lead to the premature scrapping of some tankers and higher capital expenditure on replacement ships because of the need to include segregated ballast tanks, crude oil washing systems and inert gas generators.

As we know, the tanker business got over these fears and is still around today, although if memory serves the 1980s were not exactly a boom time for owners. Annex I also included a requirement for reception facilities to be established to treat waste oils and dirty ballast water; this has been less successful and there are still many parts of the world where the availability of slop reception capacity is poor or non-existent.

The issue also reported on the second Paris Conference on Maritime Safety, which resulted in the signing by 14 European states of the Memorandum on Port State Control – generally known as the Paris MOU. Port State Control (PSC) is nowadays widely applied around the world and has been credited with improving levels of safety in maritime shipping, but 30 years ago that outcome was not assured.

Once again, a worry was cost, particularly in countries without a significant maritime administration that would have to build an inspection authority from scratch. There were also worries about the length of time it would take to circulate information about ships of concern. Of course, the development of information technology over the past 30 years means that this, at least, is no longer a problem.

The March 1982 issue had a special feature on the port of Kobe, Japan, which at the time was the world’s fourth largest container port in terms of teu handled. Knowing what we do now, it is rather unfortunate that in a piece entitled Kobe – a port for the 1990s we said: “By the time the 1990s roll around, Kobe will not only be ready to accommodate anything that future multimodal transport technology comes up with, the port will probably also play a crucial role in such developments.”

Little were we to know that the port would be devastated by the 1995 earthquake, nor that the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s would put a brake on Japan’s economic development. We were also perhaps a little over-confident in our assessment of what might or might not happen to multimodal technology – there have been plenty of examples since then of companies that have backed the wrong horse.

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