Manifest from a small island
extracted from the Association's 50th anniversary supplement.
Article by Sam Chambers
Established as a forum for owners, the HKSOA has since spread its wings to incorporate all sides of the maritime spectrum.
The fabled rags to riches tale of how many of Hong Kong’s current crop of shipowning families migrated down from the environs of Shanghai and Ningbo in the late 1940s escaping the encroaching Communists to build up some of the largest fleets the world has ever seen has been fabulously documented by Stephanie Zarach in a book published in November 2007 to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the association.
Almost a decade after the now famous names such as the Tungs, Paos, Chaos and Tsaos were up and running in Hong Kong, they regularly got together. A close bunch connected by their travails they realized that joining together to form an association would create a powerful voice and a greater collective problem solving capability.
The Hong Kong Shipowners Association came into being on 29 November 1957 with 11 founding members, including Great Southern Steamship, Western Steamship, World Wide Shipping, Wah Kwong, Fir Line, Shun Cheong Steam Navigation, Pan Pacific Transport, Nan Yang Shipping Enterprises, Tai Yip and Jebshun Shipping. The first secretary, P.C. Chen, and Chairman, Andrew Lam of Jebshun Shipping, were appointed in 1957.
In 1960, it was agreed to widen the Association’s remit by admitting associate companies acting as ship agents to the membership – the move can be seen in hindsight as a contributing factor to making the colony the maritime cluster it became. The articles of the association were further changed in 1985 to allow any Hong Kong registered firm related to shipping to apply for membership, a pioneering move at the time. The HKSOA quite rightly realized that for a centre to attract shipowners, it recognizes that that hub must provide the necessary ancillary services.
This ideology is exemplified by the association’s membership, which comprises all walks of maritime life from owners, operators and managers to ship finance banks, maritime lawyers, insurers and P&I Clubs, shipbrokers, classification societies and even journalists. Within this community strong relationships are fostered and plenty of business gets done, aided and abetted by the brilliant social calendar that sees leading maritime personalities come and speak to the membership regularly over lengthy, enjoyable three course luncheons at five star hotels.
Indeed the social element of the HKSOA has been a highly important side : from lunches, dinners, seminars, golf days, the association provides a convivial atmosphere in which to make new contacts and renew old ties. Back in 1974 a shipowner executive club, chaired initially by Dr. Frank Chao of Wah Kwong, was established in the Hong Kong Hilton. The shag-pile carpets and social glamour of the Hilton, however, were abandoned in the late 1980s when the HKSOA set up in its own premises on Queen’s Road East, where it can still be found today.
However, for all the advantages brought about by the secretariat’s social calendar the association’s chief purpose continues to be to promote and protect the interests of the Hong Kong domiciled shipowners and shipmanagers as well as the increasing number of the local professions and services upn whom they reply in the performance of their business.
With this in mind, lobbying the government and international regulatory bodies is a major focus to ensure shipping is not forgotten. In his latest chairman’s annual report, David Koo notes,”It is essential that we keep our industry in the forefront of our Government’s thinking and, in order to assist us with this, we are now encouraging one of our universities to supply us with monthly figures that show both the strength of our industry as well as our contribution to Hong Kong’s economy.”
Though Hong Kong might be a spec on the map, “an upland terrain which the sea has invaded” as a 19th century government official put it, its shipowning association has always punched above its weight, being very vocal on all technical issues. It was the HKSOA, for instance, that through its ‘fit-for-purpose’ campaign sowed the seeds for the Common Structural Rules. Likewise, it is now embroiled in leading the fight to lower sulphur content in fuels. It has been pivotal in helping China’s maritime sector reawaken – from manning to shipbuilding, Hong Kong’s imput on the mainland shipping scene cannot be underestimated.
Going further back, the HKSOA was instrumental in developing the now phenomenally successful Hong Kong Shipping Register which is one of the six largest flags in the world.
It is fair to say the whole Hong Kong maritime cluster has been built around the owners association. With the exception of Singapore, nowhere else in Asia offers the breadth of maritime service which explains why the number of owners flocking to the Special Administrative Region keeps going up and up.