The Hong Kong Shipowners Association director of regulatory affairs Gautam Ramaswamy is a master mariner who brings seagoing input to the bureaucracy of regulations
The Hong Kong Shipowners Association was incorporated in 1957 to create a forum for shipowners domiciled in Hong Kong. Over the past 64 years, the Association has grown into one of the world’s largest shipowner associations, its members owning, managing and operating a fleet with a combined carrying capacity of over 182M dwt.
The Association’s chief purpose is to promote and protect the interests of the Hong Kong-domiciled shipowners and ship managers, as well as the increasing number of local professions and services upon whom they rely in the performance of their business.
Over time, Hong Kong has grown into one of the world’s leading maritime centres. The Hong Kong Register of Ships is the world’s fourth largest, and Hong Kong’s maritime industry is considered to be one of the most active participants in the development of international regulation.
This led to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) choosing Hong Kong as the base for its first ever office outside of the UK. The office is hosted in the premises of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association and the secretariat of the Association collaborates closely with the ICS. The technical director of the Association, Martin Cresswell, is also the chairman of the ICS Maritime Committee.
Capt Ramaswamy’s activities include representing the Association at various committees of the ICS, such as the Labour Affairs Committee, Manning and Training Committee, Shipping Policy Committee, Maritime Law Committee and the Insurance Committee.
In addition, he is part of the team of experts in the ICS Crew Change Task Force and the STCW Review Working Group. He has also participated in the various industry efforts led by the ICS safeguarding seafarers’ affairs.
Capt Ramaswamy is a master mariner with coal-face experience in various facets of the maritime industry. He is a fellow and member of a number of professional institutes and has served on some of their committees. He was a member of the Seafarers’ Advisory Board of The Government of the Hong Kong SAR and at present, he is the Secretary of the Ship Insurance and Liability Committee (SILC) of the Asian Shipowners’ Association.
Capt Ramaswamy is a self-confessed ’worshiper of technology’ and a ’digital thinker’. Being vocal with his views on how technology must urgently intervene in the evolution of the maritime industry, by making drastic changes to its very foundations, makes him no stranger to controversy.
A major focus of his for over a year now has been on the industry’s response to the pandemic and the consequent and ongoing crew-change crisis, with special reference to the role of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association as a thought leader. This entails engaging with various government and non-government stakeholders in finding a balance between the continuation of operations along with combating the spread of the pandemic.
He recalled a recent and unfortunate case where there was a seafarer who passed away on one of the member’s ships (the cause of the death was not related to Covid-19). However, the otherwise unpleasant task of repatriating the deceased’s body in this case became a major diplomatic quagmire as the flag of the vessel was not the same as the nationality of the seafarer, which was different from the nationalities of the manager and the owner and the vessel was in a port that was foreign to all these. As a result of the tireless efforts of the Association in engaging with the various parties involved, the seafarer’s remains were repatriated back to his home town.
Pandemic or not, there is never a dull day in shipping.
In August last year, the US State Department announced the termination of the bilateral US-Hong Kong International Shipping Agreement. This has been a matter of concern for Hong Kong-based companies and US entities alike. The Association has been following the matter keenly, keeping its members appraised and advised.
As part of the expert committees of the ICS and the ASA, he has been involved with the following issues:
While navigating the regulatory landscape and keeping shipowners advised on the changes to it, Capt Ramaswamy, also finds time to ensure that the industry’s next generation is ready to succeed his. He actively participates in lectures and talks at the local maritime training centres, where he engages with aspirants and young officers. He finds this the most satisfying out of everything he does.