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Surveys on frontline of ethics

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In May, a number of our industry’s key players found themselves in the bustling port city of Las Vegas for the American Superyacht Forum. While this author did not have the chance to attend this year’s annual event, I certainly kept apprised of the topics discussed. This was done via Internet and conversations with actual participants.



One of the more interesting themes related to qualifications and ethics in our industry, or the lack thereof. When listening to the comments of friends and colleagues and reading summaries of this event, I immediately related their statements to the daily operations of our company, International Yacht Bureau (IYB).



As regular readers already know, IYB is the world’s only yacht-specific classification society.  The responsibility of IYB is similar to that of ABS, Lloyd’s Register, Bureau Veritas, RINA, etc, but focused solely on yachts. IYB verifies that yachts within its register comply with the standards established for design, construction and periodic survey.



For our surveyors to perform this function, they must have a combination of formal education, specific instruction, and on-the-job training. To be considered as an IYB surveyor, the candidate must have, as a minimum:



Qualification from a tertiary institution recognized by IYB within a relevant field of engineering or physical science (minimum two-year program);



Qualification from a marine or nautical institution and relevant seagoing experience as a certificated ship’s officer, preferably as an unlimited tonnage deck officer or unlimited horsepower engineer;



No less than five years experience in areas relevant to the technical or operational aspects of shipboard operational management gained through ship classification or statutory surveys, or seagoing service as a certificated watchkeeping officer, and/or employment in a technical role (for example, technical manager, superintendent, operations manager) in a ship or yacht management company; and



Written and verbal fluency in the English language.



After meeting the minimum qualifications, surveyors are subjected to a course of study and theoretical training, the objective of which is to provide a surveyor with familiarization to the hundreds of rules, technical standards, statutory regulations and any additional requirements specific to the type of survey they may be assigned to complete. This stage of training includes two modules: general and special.



General modules for theoretical training include subjects with respect to the functions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), flag-state administrations, and other classification societies. Significant time is spent on the process for the classification of yachts and the types of certificates and reports issued on completion of class and statutory surveys.



And there is an explanation of the company’s quality management system, personal safety regulations, and legal/ethical issues.



Practical training shall be commensurate with the complexity of the survey.  For example, the types or category of surveys, types of yacht, and special issues such as the hull, machinery, and electrical engineering must each be addressed. All of this training shall be carried out under the supervision of a tutor, preferably a senior surveyor or recognized industry expert.



Selection of a surveyor for a particular survey depends on the specialty/qualification to be granted and shall include classification and statutory types of surveys related to new construction, yachts in operation, and the materials and equipment related thereto.



When surveyors are trained to become auditors for the ISM Code, ISPS Code, and/or Maritime Labour Convention, an even higher standard is implemented. This includes experience in a senior capacity at a ship and/or yacht management company. Before participating in any Ship Security Plan (SSP) approvals or ISPS Code verifications, an auditor must have undergone a background security check.



Ethics play a crucial role in the daily operation of a classification society and its personnel. This can be especially challenging for surveyors in the field. It is difficult to discern a simple exchange of gratitude through a bottle of wine versus an actual bribe.



IYB, as all classification societies, lives on its reputation. Acceptance of our technical work can only be maintained by continuously proving integrity and competence. The flag-state administrations, insurance underwriters and yacht owners ultimately govern the industry members that demand our work and therefore the existence of all classification societies.



In today’s multitasking world, the role of classification societies has expanded to include a large portion of delegated statutory duties. Depending upon the particular flag-state and its commitment to marine safety, it will delegate responsibilities based upon the abilities and professional ethics of the classification society.

Anything detrimental to the societies’ reputation for integrity and competence must therefore be avoided. A surveyor must always realize that all of his activities are taken as indicative of his society, even in a social setting. For this reason, it is extremely critical that when a yacht owner and his captain choose a particular flag-state or the recognized organization appointed by that flag, that they complete due diligence on the surveyors and staff involved.



Furthermore, are there any conflicts of interest that would render their survey results biased? These may include ownership by a particular shipyard, brokerage house, yacht management company, or even the flag-state itself. Is there a financial incentive for a surveyor to “pass” a yacht?



One of my most memorable observations of “questionable”  ethics by a surveyor presented itself during the negotiation process of a 40m yacht several years ago. The buyer had decided to purchase the yacht “as-is” with no survey. The insurance company insisted upon a survey for its needs, but left the actual hiring and appointment to the new owner.



Simultaneously, the flag-state that the owner had chosen requested a safety inspection prior to registration. The flag stated that it would accept a report from any marine surveyor, provided it addressed general condition and an inventory of safety equipment.



The new owner and his captain appeared to know that the condition of the yacht was not up to standard. They made the usual calls around town, including to this surveyor, asking for a “liberal” view of the vessel. After being turned down by their selections, this resourceful team investigated the minimum requirements for a marine surveyor from the insurance company and the flag. What did they find? Nothing; no documented standard from either party.



So with that information, a new survey company was instantly born with the captain as its most senior expert. Its clientele? A single, solitary yacht that coincidentally was owned by the same person as the survey company and captained by the surveyor that just signed off on her.



Resourceful? Yes. Ethical? Absolutely not.



In my experience, this type of incident is not typical, but similar actions do happen more frequently than you can imagine. These are usually in the form of “facilitation fees” or a ridiculously generous thank you. Of course, IYB surveyors must politely decline all such offerings, regardless of how harmless they may appear.

When one of our surveyors was recently approached with a bribe offer, he abruptly stopped the survey and excused himself from the yacht. Rather than get angry with the captain and create an unwinnable situation, I was relieved to see that our surveyor remembered my statement during his training. It takes 20 years to create a good reputation and 2 seconds to destroy it. Don’t chance it. His actions were 100 percent correct.

Unfortunately, the observations stated at the Las Vegas conference and relayed here can be quickly confirmed in our industry. It is observed much too often. If we want to avoid government oversight and the implementation of excessively burdensome laws, it is up to each of us to self-regulate by raising the bar. Let us eliminate these illicit practices and outdated banana republic traditions.



Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (IYB), an organization that provides flag-state inspection services to yachts on behalf of several administrations. A deck officer graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, he previously sailed as master on merchant ships, acted as designated person for a shipping company, and served as regional manager for an international classification society. Contact him at +1 954-596-2728 or www.yachtbureau.org. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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