Traditionally, large numbers of documents are required by customs, immigration, health and other public authorities pertaining to a ship, its crew and passengers, baggage, cargo and mail. Unnecessary paperwork is a problem in most industries, but the potential for red tape is probably greater in shipping than in other industries, because of its international nature and the traditional acceptance of formalities and procedures.
The main objective of the IMO's Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention), adopted in 1965, is to achieve the most efficient maritime transport as possible, looking for smooth transit in ports of ships, cargo and passengers. This efficiency has a clear impact in trade growth, and therefore, in the economy.
The FAL Convention contains "Standards" and "Recommended Practices" on formalities, documentary requirements and procedures which should be applied on arrival, stay and departure to the ship itself, and to its crew, passengers, baggage and cargo.
IMO's Facilitation Committee is working together with Member States to ensure that ships transit from port to port without unnecessary delays by simplifying and reducing paper work and formalities during their stay and departure on international voyages. IMO aims to involve all Member States and the shipping industry, as a whole, to improve and facilitate the smooth passage of ships.
Shipping transit can be easily disrupted by long delays due to security-related incidents (for example stowaways, illegal migrants on board the ship or drug trafficking). Other negative impacts that affect maritime transport include excessive documentation requested at ports of call, long customs procedures and lengthy inspections. Long delays mean extra work for the port and customs authorities, extra costs for the ship owners and ship operators, pressure for the Masters and crew members who have to deliver the goods on time; cargo loss and even loss of business for ship owners.
The Organization has developed seven standardized forms covering arrival and departure of persons and goods, and is promoting the global use of electronic data interchange (EDI) between ships and ports.