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The role of the industry in promoting quality and safety in marine transport was at the heart of the Quality Shipping Campaign, launched by the European Commission and the UK Government in November 1997. The Campaign's aim was to bring together all players involved in the various fields of marine business in an effort to improve marine safety. It was based upon dialogue between all the marine industry and public authorities and its tools were, primarily, voluntary measures. As the Quality Shipping Campaign demonstrated, one of the greatest impediments to a genuine quality culture in shipping is the lack of transparency in the information relating to the quality of ships and their operators.
While much relevant information is collected and available, it is scattered and often difficult to access. One of the main conclusions of the Quality Shipping Conference in Lisbon in June 1998, was an unanimous call from the participants representing the whole range of industry professionals (including ship-owners, cargo owners, insurers, brokers, classification societies, agents, ports and terminals), to make such information more accessible.
In response to this call, the European Commission and the French Maritime Administration decided to co-operate in developing an information system collating existing safety-related information on ships from both public and private sources and making it available on the Internet.
The main principles in setting up the ShipsData information system were as follows: ShipsData should be a tool aimed at reducing substandard shipping, and it should be limited to safety-related information on ships;
- ShipsData has no commercial purpose; it addresses a public concern and should act accordingly;
- ShipsData should be an international database covering the whole world fleet;
- Active co-operation with all players involved in the maritime industry is needed;
- ShipsData will be a tool used for better selection of ships, but it will be used on a voluntary basis and there will be no legal pressure for industry to use it.
The setting-up and effective operation of ShipsData will help promote the exchange of unbiased information and transparency in maritime transport and thus allow persons involved in maritime transport to be better informed about the performance of ships and maritime organisations with which they are dealing.