BRUSSELS has not endeared itself to shipowners over the years. The one-size-fits-all approach to regulation has often appeared unnecessarily awkward, uninformed and too often featured large sticks to beat offenders with while offering nothing in the way of carrots for those prepared to make an effort.
The latest move to name and shame substandard operators may on the face of it look like yet another indiscriminate salvo being fired in the direction of the shipowning community, but happily there is more sophistication here than many may assume.
Quality is finally being recognised as a positive force in Europe. The concept of rewarding operators with a good record with fewer inspections, while targeting resources on substandard offenders, is by no means a new idea, but the fact that it has now gained some traction in Brussels is a welcome turn of events.
The devil will inevitably be found in the detail, but if European Union transport commissioner Siim Kallas can genuinely implement a system of greater transparency and fair inspections then he will have offered the shipping industry a positive step forward and owners the opportunity to lessen their own regulatory burden into the bargain.
Bigger sticks are not in themselves an inherently bad thing. Substandard shipping is a justifiable target for any serious regulator and while those caught in the net may claim they are being unfairly discriminated against, we need robust standards to be set and policed.
In an ideal world, port state control should not be necessary if flag states and shipowners are doing their job effectively. But the reality is that inspections routinely find vessels riddled with even basic regulatory violations that are lucky to still be afloat.
We have said it before, but all regulatory shake-ups need time to bed in, and there is no reason to believe that these impending changes will be any different. What counts is how well these things work in the longer term and we have every confidence that given a fair chance, tastier carrots and bigger sticks could be a winning combination for all concerned.