Business Profiles

Hong Kong Shipowners Association: Expert support for Hong Kong 

Supporting Hong Kong’s shipping industry through multiple strategic approaches and specialist partnerships, the Hong Kong Shipowners Association has enjoyed fast growth and global recognition since its formation in 1957. 

Having identified a need for dialogue and mutual support, 11 shipowners came together to create a forum for their interests. That was in 1957, when the Hong Kong Shipowners Association (“HKSOA”) was first incorporated and since then, what was an intimate forum has grown into one of the world’s largest shipowners groups. 

Today, the HKSOA represents members that own and/or manage a total deadweight carrying capacity in excess of 182 million tonnes and offers two distinct tiers of membership, allowing more than just shipowners to benefit from the collective’s experience, as Sandy Chan, Managing Director, revealed: 

“There are two categories of membership: Ordinary membership for Hong Kong domiciled shipowners, managers and operators; and Associate membership for other professions and services upon whom the industry would rely in the performance of their business.” 

By bringing two different yet intrinsically connected factions of the same industry together, under the umbrella of an association, everybody benefits, from the members themselves to those who require their services. The reason for such far-reaching positive results? Sandy believes it is the nature in which the HKSOA encourages and facilitates communication and collaboration: 

“The Association arranges forums in which members are able to meet and discuss issues of concern, informs the membership of important changes in the shipping environment through educational seminars and circulars, and represents the interests of members in national and international fora. 

Operating at the behest of a mission to protect the interests of all members, solidify Hong Kong as a maritime superpower and promote value-added services for the general public, the HKSOA now operates on a number of levels, including internal, local, national and global. Each level requires vast amounts of dialogue and plays a vital role in the overall aims of the Association, the most important being the acknowledgement of being a recognised and respected voice for the shipping sector. 

Internally, the HKSOA hosts events for members that serve to inform new developments, which are then relayed locally, to relevant government departments and stakeholders. Taking conversations to a national level requires close working relationships with mainland authorities, other associations and business partners and finally, international information sharing consolidates all of the hard work completed on a smaller scale: 

“At the international level, the Association is well known as the “Voice of Asia”. We support the principles of free trade, fair competition and a level-play field, and we participate actively in the global and regional maritime arenas. Presently, both the Marine Committee of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the Ship Insurance and Liabilities Committee of the Asian Shipowners’ Association (ASA) are chaired by HKSOA representatives.” 

Having become woven into the fabric of the shipping industry over the last 63 years, the HKSOA has seen a great deal of industry instability, with 2019 being a particularly challenging year. The trade disputes, coupled with stunted global economic growth meant that many shipowners felt the pinch, but then came the 2020 shipping sulphur cap to make things even more challenging. Sandy recognises these difficulties for the industry and is resolved to assist: 

“In the new year, it is even more important for the Association, as a trade organisation representing the local shipping community, to continue to do things that are positive and encouraging.” 

This brings us to the future. What has the HKSOA got planned, in terms of helping its members through the mire of industry uncertainty? A great deal as it happens, much of which is a continuation of carefully laid groundwork. This is particularly true when it comes to enhanced global collaboration, as the International Chamber of Shipping has accepted the HKSOA’s offer to host a representative office, namely the International Chamber of Shipping (China) Liaison Office, away from London, cementing Hong Kong as a leading maritime entity in the region. 

Another future focal point to identify is next generation shipping professionals. Not enough is being done to encourage young people to follow a career into the industry and Sandy reflected on how this should change: 

“Grooming young talent is especially crucial for the shipping industry as the sector is experiencing a period of unprecedented change on all fronts – operational, technical, commercial, legal and financial. We must have the right people to cope with these changes. In the years ahead, the Association will work closely with both the government and member companies in maritime education and training.” 

Involvement in a significant Greater Bay Area (GBA) development plan is also an exciting long-term initiative that would transform Hong Kong’s shipping industry into a modern, innovative and efficient enterprise. Two months ago, the HKSOA hosted its first GBA Forum in the annual Hong Kong Maritime Week to explore the growth potentials for, and business opportunities of, the GBA for maritime and maritime services sectors. It was well received, and the HKSOA is planning another one this year. 

Sandy is also keen to highlight a recent success of Hong Kong. In the past few years, the HKSOA has been working hard in seeking BIMCO’s (The Baltic International Maritime Council) agreement to add Hong Kong as a named arbitration venue in the dispute resolution clause in the BIMCO’s standard contract. In December 2019, BIMCO accepted the suggestion that Hong Kong be included as a named arbitration venue in its Dispute Resolution Clause in the standard contract.  

We are very pleased with this announcement. The arrangement will further boost the use of Hong Kong’s maritime arbitration services worldwide, and consolidate Hong Kong’s position as a leading, international maritime centre. 

The importance of this should not be underestimated. BIMCO is an international shipping association with members in more than 120 countries. To be an important part of such an enterprise will raise the profile of Hong Kong’s maritime industry no end, whilst adding credence to the work being done by the HKSOA. 

By actively seeking out new and important global relationships, nurturing the shipping industry professionals of the future and always retaining a local connection, the HKSOA is maintaining a difficult balancing act. Protecting the interests of those members that look to the Association for support now and being ready for what lies ahead requires significant expertise, but that’s exactly what the HKSOA is built on.