LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 1093/96-97
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/BC/11/96

Bills Committee on
Freight Containers (Safety) Bill

Minutes of meeting
held on Thursday, 27 February 1997, at 8:30 p.m.
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Dr Hon Samuel WONG Ping-wai, OBE, FEng, JP (Chairman)
    Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, OBE, JP
    Hon CHAN Kam-lam
    Hon LEE Kai-ming

Members absent :

    Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
    Hon Lawrence YUM Sin-ling

Public officers attending :

Mr Richard YUEN
Deputy Secretary for Economic Services
Assistant Director of Marine/Multi-lateral Policy
Ms Sharon LEE
Assistant Secretary for Economic Services

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Estella CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (1) 4

Staff in attendance :

Ms Bernice WONG
Assistant Legal Adviser 1
Mr Daniel HUI
Senior Assistant Secretary (1) 7

I Confirmation of minutes of previous meeting

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 827/96-97)

The minutes of the meeting held on 29 January 1997 were confirmed.

II Discussion among members

2. The Chairman informed members that pursuant to the discussion at the last meeting, 30 letters had been sent to the organizations which had been consulted by the Administration to see if they had any further comments on the Bill. These organizations included major truck owners/drivers associations. In addition, Mr Roger LAU of the Special Committee on Cleaning-up of Black Spots in the New Territories was also invited to offer comments. (Note: A list of the organizations consulted was tabled at the meeting.) Among the responses received, there was only one reply with comments on the Bill forwarded jointly by four container terminal operators, which had been referred to the Administration for comments. The Administration had found the container terminal operators’ comments acceptable. Members agreed that there was no need to consult other organizations on the Bill.

III Meeting with the Administration

Background and objective of the Bill

3. The Deputy Secretary for Economic Services (DSES) said that the main purpose of the Bill was to implement the International Convention for Safe Containers 1972 (the Convention) and its amendments in 1981 and 1983. The Convention standardized the requirements for the testing, inspection and approval of containers, and prescribed procedures for their maintenance and examination in order to ensure safety in their handling and transportation. Both the Executive Council and the Chinese side of the Joint Liaison Group had agreed that the Convention should apply to Hong Kong. The Convention covered containers used for international transport by sea and on land. In addition, the Administration proposed that the legislation be extended to implement the Convention’s requirements on containers for domestic transport so as to ensure the safety of containers used in Hong Kong. The main provisions of the Bill were :-

  1. clause 3 stipulated that the Ordinance would apply to any container in use, or supplied for use in Hong Kong;
  2. clause 4 required the owner of a container to ensure that the container was approved, fixed with a Safety Approval Plate (SAP), properly maintained, examined, and that markings on it were consistent with information on the SAP. A lessee or bailee of a container would assume the owner’s responsibility mentioned above only if there was an agreement providing for exercise of owner’s responsibility by the lessee or bailee;
  3. clauses 5-9 authorized the Director of Marine (D of M) to appoint suitably qualified and experienced persons to approve containers;
  4. clause 10 specified the required format and data to be included in the SAP. As the format and data of the SAP would be the same as those currently in use, there would be no additional burden on the industry;
  5. clauses 12-13 provided for the prescribing of examination procedures in relation to the structural safety of containers by the D of M;
  6. clauses 23-24 provided that a person aggrieved by a decision made by a person appointed by the D of M should be given the opportunity to request a review of his case by the D of M. Further appeals could be lodged with the Administrative Appeal Board; and
  7. clause 27 empowered the Secretary for Economic Services to make regulations under the Ordinance.

4. As regards public consultation, DSES advised that the Administration had consulted container vehicle owners and drivers associations and the shipping industry, including the ship owners’ association, shipping lines, freight forwarders, leasing companies and terminal operators. They had expressed no objection to the Bill.

The Administration’s response to the joint submission from terminal operators

5. DSES advised that the submission sought to clarify some wording in the Bill and proposed that a warrant from the Magistrate should be required if D of M wished to examine the inside of a sealed container. The proposals were acceptable and the Administration would provide draft Committee stage amendments for members’ consideration before the next meeting.


Container vehicle drivers’ responsibility under the Bill

6. Mr LEE Kai-ming related the concern of some container vehicle driver associations about the driver’s responsibility if a container being driven on the road was found unsafe by the police or Marine Department officers. It would be difficult for a driver to refuse the use of a container assigned to him by the shipping company and a driver would have no expertise in determining the structural safety of a container by visual inspection.

7. In response, DSES said that clause 4 of the Bill specified that the owner of a container would have the responsibility for ensuring the container’s compliance with safety requirements specified in the Ordinance. A lessee or bailee would only bear that responsibility if there was an agreement providing for exercise of owner’s responsibility by the lessee or bailee. The drivers’ responsibility would be limited to co-operating with the authority in providing data regarding the identity of the owner of a container in case of contravention to the Ordinance.

8.DSES also advised that the requirement for a SAP to be affixed on an approved container had been enforced by container terminal operators for some time. Container vehicle drivers and terminal operators would not need to change their current practice after implementation of the Bill. After enactment of the Bill, container vehicle drivers could legitimately refuse to tow a container which did not have a SAP affixed on it. On this aspect, Mr LEE urged the Administration to launch a publicity programme to inform container vehicle drivers of their right to refuse towing a container without a SAP.

Enforcement action on container owners outside Hong Kong

9. Mrs Miriam LAU noted that the owner of a container had the responsibility of ensuring compliance with safety requirements under the Ordinance. She enquired about enforcement actions which could be taken if a container was found unsafe or had contravened the Ordinance and the owner of the container was not a Hong Kong citizen or a company registered in Hong Kong.

10. DSES explained that there were two possible scenarios in the situation described above. If the container was found to have failed to comply with the Ordinance, e.g. without a SAP or approval not being issued by the authority of a government which had acceded to the Convention, the owner of the container would be required to take action to ensure that the container would comply with the safety requirements before being put to use again. If the owner could not be identified, the container in question would be detained or ultimately forfeited. In the case of an accident involving a container which did not comply with safety requirements under the Ordinance and where personal injury and/or property damage was caused, the claim for damages would be a case of civil action against the owner of the container or whoever was responsible for the accident.

11. DSES further advised that clause 4(1)(a) of the Bill, which provided that the owner of a container should not use or permit the container to be used in Hong Kong unless the container complied with the safety requirements, would be able to address the situation where the owner of a container in use in Hong Kong was a foreigner or a foreign company.

12. As regards penalty, the Assistant Legal Adviser (ALA) advised that the maximum penalty under the Ordinance would be one year imprisonment and a fine of $25,000.

Other issues

13. Members pointed out that the subject of freight container safety should cover more than the structural safety of containers. For example, whether or not a container was overloaded and the manner of arrangement of goods inside a container were also relevant to the safety of containers. They queried the reasons for limiting the scope of the Bill to the structural safety of freight containers.

14. DSES responded that as the main purpose of the Bill was to implement the Convention’s requirements in Hong Kong, the provisions and title of the Bill had been drafted in accordance with the contents of the Convention. The issue of overloading of freight containers would be regulated under ordinances relating to road safety. Furthermore, it would be difficult to enforce regulations governing the arrangement of goods in a container because enforcement officers would need specific approval from the relevant authority for checking the contents of a container. Such control, if any, would be better implemented by guidelines issued by the trade itself. The Assistant Director of Marine added that the Bill would enhance the awareness of parties concerned of the structural safety of freight containers. The maximum load of a freight container would have to be specified on the SAP. Hence, with the enactment of the Bill, there would be clear criteria for the police to determine whether a freight container was overloaded. Moreover, terminal operators were particularly concerned about the maximum load limit and had adopted measures to guard against overloading in freight containers.

15. ALA noted that the Convention drew a distinction between the approval of new containers and existing containers and provided for different requirements for approval. She asked whether the Bill would follow the scheme adopted in the Convention. DSES advised that when the Convention came into force internationally in 1977, a distinction between new and existing containers was drawn to allow a grace period of five years for existing containers to comply with the requirements of the Convention. As the Convention had been in force for about 20 years, there was no need to provide for the approval of existing containers.

IV Any other business

16. Members agreed that the next meeting would be held on Thursday, 13 March 1997, at 8:30 a.m.

17. The meeting ended at 9:35 am

Legislative Council Secretariat
17 March 1997

Last Updated on 14 October 1997