Ship surveying is not everyone's idea of a dream job but for seasoned personnel like Barry Liu, surveyor of ships (ship), Marine Department, it is a career that brings a high degree of satisfaction.
In a nutshell, this unique profession can be categorised into three specific and often overlapping streams — nautical, marine engineering and naval architecture. A Marine Department's surveyor of ships in the naval architecture stream is required to possess a degree in naval architecture, a corporate membership of a naval architect institution, as well as a minimum of four years of post-membership experience. Those in the nautical and marine engineering streams, on the other hand, need a relevant degree such as those in nautical studies and marine engineering, a master mariner and chief engineer qualification respectively, and extensive seagoing experience to boot.
Depth and breath
Prior to entering the Marine Department in 1997, Mr Liu had gained seven years of experience with a Norwegian ship classification society that examined and certified international fleets. "During my tenure, I was posted to the company's office in Korea for two years," he explains. "The private sector has a breadth of experience to offer as it deals with many types of international fleet trading across the seven seas. You can become involved in a wide range of specialised projects." Conversely, the Marine Department takes a more administrative role as it oversees the wider scope of industry practice and policies, giving its ship surveyors different perspectives on the industry.
Since joining the department, Mr Liu has worked in two of the department's five divisions, with responsibilities including supervising the maintenance of government vessels in the government fleet division. He was also involved in the audit of Hong Kong registered ships and their management companies, port state control inspections on foreign ships entering Hong Kong harbour, alongside other statutory duties in the shipping division.
In his current capacity, Mr Liu deals with local vessels including the approval of drawings for new ships, vessel inspections and statutory requirement reviews. He also provides technical advice to other departments.
Early last year, the department started outsourcing inspection tasks for certain types of local vessels such as cargo ships, dumb lighters and fishing boats to maritime authorities in China, ship classification societies and authorised private surveyors. To align and maintain a high service standard across the department and external service providers, a corresponding ISO 9000 quality management system is being implemented. "We expect to complete the certification by mid-2009," Mr Liu says.
Over the years, Mr Liu and his colleagues have participated in overseas events like the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) conferences in the UK so as to keep abreast of changes to international maritime policies on such issues as safety, the environment and seafarers' welfare.
Not all at sea
Inspecting an international cruise liner takes a great deal of stamina and mental strength, according to Mr Liu. "It's like running up and down a 10-storey building while at the same time paying attention to all the technicalities associated with ensuring the vessel is maintained in strict compliance with the international maritime conventions," he says. Perhaps this is why the job is predominantly male-oriented, although there is a certain number of female surveyors in the private sector.
Running a job on a scheduled ship poses another challenge. On a clear day, for instance, it may take a team of three surveyors three days to survey a passenger liner, whereas adverse weather conditions might require extra manpower as well as time. To meet schedules, teamwork is fundamentally important.
Mr Liu adds that there are also ample opportunities for joint operations with other government departments like the Hong Kong Police and the Customs and Excise Department. For instance, Mr Liu was brought into a case against an oil smuggler last year as a technical expert. After a thorough examination of the vessel in question, he uncovered evidence that subsequently helped the Customs and Excise Department successfully prosecute the suspect. "Things like this tell me that my job is worthwhile," Mr Liu notes.
Since no tertiary education institution in Hong Kong offers formal academic programmes related to the industry, the majority of ship surveyors and their professional counterparts obtain their qualifications from universities in the UK. Aside from a strong academic foundation, a competent level of Putonghua can always come in handy even though the international language remains English. "A lack of language skills may constitute a safety issue on an international trading ship," Mr Liu says.