Following is the speech by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, at a cocktail reception on "Hong Kong Shipping Register Crossing 100 Million Gross Tonnage" at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum today (March 4):
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Good evening. I am most delighted to be here today to celebrate with you the crossing of 100 million gross tonnage by the Hong Kong Shipping Register.
To many, the registration of ships is an unnoticeable and unnoticed administrative process. But in fact it has been a core feature of maritime commerce for many centuries. Since time immemorial, vessels have been engaged in trading activities across the world. Created first to control ships carrying cargoes in European seaborne countries and later to document ships for ownership, ship registration has become an integral part of international maritime business.
A vessel which hoists the flag of a chosen jurisdiction forms part of the territory of its flag's jurisdiction. From that moment onwards, it is regulated and bound by the law of that very jurisdiction. The flag state exercises regulatory control over the vessel and will inspect it regularly to ensure its compliance with prescribed standards and international codes. As ship owners can choose which flag state to register their ships with, the registration is in itself a vote of confidence in the flag state.
To Hong Kong, it's more than a vote of confidence. Hong Kong's maritime tradition is almost two centuries old. Hong Kong served as a port of registry under the UK Ship Register since the 1840s until the establishment of the autonomous Hong Kong Shipping Register in 1990 under the administration of the Marine Department. For those who are interested, our first shipping register is now on display at the other side of the hall.
Upon its inception in 1990, the Hong Kong Shipping Register had a mere 765 ships with a total gross tonnage of six million. According to a UN report in October 2015, Hong Kong accounted for 8.6 per cent of the world's total tonnage. Registries with good track record usually host younger fleets and keep a tight rein to ensure compliance with international regulations.
The Hong Kong Shipping Register currently ranks first in Asia and fourth in the world. It has the youngest fleet among the top 35 flags. Not only are we strong in numbers, Hong Kong-registered ships are also among the best performers in the world. The detention rate of ships flying the Hong Kong flag is only slightly above 1 per cent, compared with the world average of 3.5 per cent. We are delighted and indeed proud that the Hong Kong Flag is a reputable flag of choice and quality.
The success of our shipping register owes a large part to our excellent partners in the maritime services sector. There are over 700 shipping-related companies operating in Hong Kong, providing a great variety of quality maritime services ranging from ship management, ship broking and chartering to maritime law and arbitration. We are also the leading international ship finance centre in Asia, with eight out of the world's top 10 bookrunners setting up offices here.
The Hong Kong Port is one of the busiest container ports in the world. It provides frequent and comprehensive liner shipping services with about 340 container liner services per week connecting to around 470 destinations worldwide.
Our shipping industry has indeed achieved a lot in the past decades and we should perhaps all give ourselves a pat on the back for that. However, challenges are always just around the corner, one of which is the intense competition we are facing from emerging ports in the Asia-Pacific region.
As former United States President Franklin D Roosevelt once said, "A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor". The industry and Government should work closely together to rise to the challenge of any "rough sea", so to speak.
The Chief Executive has just announced in this year's Policy Address that the Government will merge the existing Maritime Industry Council and the Port Development Council to form a new Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board. The Board, to be chaired by me personally as Secretary for Transport and Housing, will be a high-level steering body to assist the Government in formulating strategies and policies to drive the growth of high value-added and professional maritime services in Hong Kong, foster talent development, and promote Hong Kong as an international maritime hub.
Three functional committees will be formed under the Board, respectively focusing on manpower development, promotion and external relations, and industry development. To strengthen industry participation, these committees will all be chaired by an industry person. The new Board will join hands with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and Invest Hong Kong to expand our efforts in raising Hong Kong's profile in the international maritime landscape.
The Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board will be serviced by the Transport and Housing Bureau. To strengthen our support to the Board, the Board Secretariat will be led by a Deputy Secretary carrying concurrently the title of Commissioner of Maritime and Port Development.
The Hong Kong Maritime and Port Board will be officially established in April 2016. With its establishment as a platform for the Government to work with the industry to devise strategies and oversee their implementation, I am confident that Hong Kong's maritime and port development will enter a new era and continue to go from strength to strength.
I would like to take the opportunity here to express my heartfelt thanks to all Members of the Hong Kong Maritime Industry Council and Hong Kong Port Development Council for helping to lay a solid foundation for our maritime and port sectors.
Last but not least, you may notice from our stage backdrop that the reception today is also an "Appreciate Hong Kong" activity, to demonstrate one of the key spirits of the campaign - that is, to show appreciation to the unsung heroes in Hong Kong's maritime and port community and to acknowledge their remarkable achievements over the years and decades.
On this note, may I express my gratitude to our industry partners once again for their continued support and dedication to Hong Kong's growth. Thank you and have a nice evening.