Legal Committee, 85th session: 21-25 October 2002

SUA review
IMO's Legal Committee continued its review of possible amendments to the international convention concerning the prosecution and extradition of those who commit unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation, in the light of global security concerns.

During its 85th session (22 - 24 October), the Committee held a preliminary exchange of views regarding the text of draft proposed amendments to the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention) and its related Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, 1988.

The proposed amendments, developed by a Correspondence Group, would expand the list of offences in article 3 of the SUA Convention to ensure that it sufficiently covers a wide range of criminal and terrorist acts and would introduce a variety of measures aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the Convention.

The Committee discussed the seven proposed new offences which could be added to article 3 of the SUA Convention. Four of these new offences concerned activities taking place on the ship or directed toward the ship that involve a terrorist purpose. One of the new offences concerned the presence of tools or substances not usually used on a ship but useful in a weapon of mass destruction. Two of the new offences concerned use of the ship for transport of substances to be used for mass destruction. Delegations expressed the need to consider carefully the proposals and to consider whether there was overlap with existing terrorism conventions. It was recognized that even with an expanded focus, SUA would remain a maritime convention under the competency of IMO and it was important to ensure that the shipping industry does not become a soft target for terrorist activities.

The Committee agreed that work on the proposed amendments should continue in the Correspondence Group ahead of the next session, scheduled for spring 2003. It was emphasized that the objective must be to develop a draft instrument which would attract wide ratification.

The review of the SUA Convention and its related Protocol followed the unanimous adoption in November 2001 by the IMO Assembly of resolution A.924(22) calling for a review of measures and procedures to prevent acts of terrorism which threaten the security of passengers and crews and the safety of ships.

The main purpose of the SUA convention and its related protocol is to ensure that appropriate action is taken against persons committing unlawful acts against ships. In the present Convention, these acts include the seizure of ships by force; acts of violence against persons on board ships; and the placing of devices on board a ship which are likely to destroy or damage it. The proposed amendments would significantly broaden the range of offences and make it more relevant to modern conditions.

The Convention obliges Contracting Governments either to extradite or prosecute alleged offenders thereby ensuring that those responsible for perpetrating acts of violence against or on board ships, will be brought to justice, wherever in the world they seek to hide.

The SUA Convention has been ratified by 73 States, representing 75.4 per cent of world merchant shipping tonnage and the SUA Protocol has been ratified by 66 States, representing 75.1 per cent of world merchant shipping tonnage

Wreck removal
The Committee agreed to continue discussion of the text of the draft wreck removal convention (WRC) at its next session, following consideration of a number of articles in plenary and by a Working Group.

The WRC is intended to provide international rules on the rights and obligations of States and shipowners in dealing with wrecks and drifting or sunken cargo which may pose a hazard to navigation and/or pose a threat to the marine environment. The draft Convention currently being considered by the Legal Committee is intended to clarify rights and obligations regarding the identification, reporting, locating and removal of hazardous wrecks, in particular those found beyond territorial waters, and the possible need for financial security arrangements to cover liability for costs of removal of such wrecks.

Implementation of the HNS Convention
The Committee was updated on the work of the Correspondence Group on Implementation of the HNS Convention (International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) by Sea, 1996) and a number of delegations stated that their Governments were preparing for implementation of the Convention, which has been ratified by two States.

An overview of the HNS Convention, including a link to the Correspondence Group's website, is included on the IMO website at

The HNS convention is intended to add a vital link in the international compensatory regime for pollution damage at sea.

Seafarer claims
The Committee was updated on the work of the Joint IMO/ILO Ad Hoc Expert Working Group on Liability and Compensation regarding Claims for Death, Personal Injury and Abandonment of Seafarers, which held its fourth session from 30 September to 4 October 2002.

The Committee requested the IMO Secretariat to circulate two questionnaires developed by the Group and encouraged Governments and relevant organizations to submit the required information ahead of the Group's next session scheduled for October/November 2003.

The questionnaires are designed to monitor implementation of the resolutions and guidelines, adopted by IMO in November 2001 at its 22nd Assembly in Assembly resolutions A.930(22) Guidelines on Provision of Financial Security in Cases of Abandonment of Seafarers and A.931(22) Guidelines on Shipowners' Responsibilities in respect of Contractual Claims for Personal Injury to or Death of Seafarers. (These resolutions were adopted by the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) at its 282nd session (6 November 2001) (GB.282/10 and GB.282/STM/5).) Both the Resolutions and Guidelines took effect on 1 January 2002.

Places of refuge
The Committee reviewed the results of a survey conducted by the Comité Maritime International (CMI), which was intended to ascertain the extent to which domestic law dealt with the problem of vessels in distress seeking refuge. The responses of the CMI members did not indicate that States had imposed legal liabilities on the owners of such vessels. The CMI representative stated that the CMI was in the process of analysing the liability issues, which were focused on two issues: first, what are the liabilities of a State that allows a ship into a place of refuge under its jurisdiction; and secondly, what are the liabilities of a State that refuses entry?

The Committee expressed its willingness to review liability aspects of proposed draft Assembly resolutions on places of refuge, should it be asked to do so by the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC). The MSC, Sub-committee on Radiocommunications Search and Rescue (COMSAR) and the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation (NAV) have been reviewing the issue of places of refuge.

NAV has agreed a draft Assembly resolution on guidelines on places of refuge for ships in need of assistance and a second draft resolution on the establishment of Maritime Assistance Services (MAS). According to the draft Assembly resolution, the services of a MAS might be required in situations where the safety of life is not directly threatened, for example if a ship is involved in an incident (e.g. loss of cargo, accidental discharge of oil) that does not impair its seakeeping ability but nevertheless has to be reported; or, according to its master's assessment, is in need of assistance but not in a distress situation that requires the rescue of those on board; or is found to be in a distress situation and those on board have already been rescued, with the possible exception of those, who have remained aboard or have been placed on board to attempt to deal with the ship's situation.

The Committee also requested the Secretariat to review, in co?operation with the CMI, the provisions of existing international and national instruments dealing with the liability and compensation and their application to places of refuge. This would assist the Committee in identifying gaps in the existing system.