The Convention's main objectives are to prevent unnecessary delays in maritime traffic, to aid co-operation between Governments, and to secure the highest practicable degree of uniformity in formalities and other procedures. In particular, the Convention reduces the number of declarations which can be required by public authorities.
Most human activities are regulated, either by precedent, convention or regulation. Most regulations are essential - but sometimes they come to be regarded not only as unnecessary but also as a significant burden on the activities they are supposed to control. Few activities have been more subject to over-regulation than international maritime transport.
This is partly because of the international nature of shipping: countries developed customs, immigration and other standards independently of each other and a ship visiting several countries during the course of a voyage could expect to be presented with numerous forms to fill in, often asking for exactly the same information but in a slightly different way.
As shipping and trade developed and grew in the early part of the twentieth century, so did the paperwork involved. By the 1950s it was being regarded not simply as an inconvenience but as a threat. The actual number of separate documents required varied from port to port; yet the information on cargoes and persons carried that was sought was often identical. The number of copies required of some of these documents could often become excessive. To the variety of forms and the number of copies required could be added other burdens such as local language translations, consular visa requirements, variations in document size and paper stock used and the necessity for authentication by the shipmaster of the information submitted.
By the early 1960s the maritime nations had decided that the situation could not be allowed to deteriorate further. International action was called for and to achieve it Governments turned to IMO, which had held its first meeting in 1959.
In 1961 the 2nd IMO Assembly adopted resolution A.29 (II) which recommended that IMO take up the matter. An Expert Group was convened which recommended that an international convention be adopted to assist the facilitation of international maritime traffic.
In October 1963 the 3rd IMO Assembly adopted resolution A.63 (III) which approved the report of Expert Group and in particular recommended that a convention be drafted which would be considered for adoption at a conference to be held under IMO auspices in the spring of 1965. The conference duly took place and the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL), 1965 was adopted on 9 April.
Standards and recommended practices
In its Annex, the 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.
The Convention defines standards as internationally-agreed measures which are "necessary and practicable in order to facilitate international maritime traffic" and recommended practices as measures the application of which is "desirable".
The Convention provides that any Contracting Government which finds it impracticable to comply with any international standard, or deems it necessary to adopt differing regulations, must inform the Secretary-General of IMO of the "differences" between its own practices and the standards in question. The same procedure applies to new or amended standards.
In the case of recommended practices, Contracting Governments are urged to adjust their laws accordingly but are only required to notify the Secretary-General when they have brought their own formalities, documentary requirements and procedures into full accord.
This flexible concept of standards and recommended practices, coupled with the other provisions, allows continuing progress to be made towards the formulation and adoption of uniform measures in the facilitation of international maritime traffic.
The IMO Standardized Forms (FAL 1-7)
Standard 2.1 lists the documents which public authorities can demand of a ship and recommends the maximum information and number of copies which should be required. IMO has developed Standardized Forms for seven of these documents. They are the:
- IMO General Declaration
- Cargo Declaration
- Ship's Stores Declaration
- Crew's Effects Declaration
- Crew List· Passenger List
- Dangerous Goods
Two other documents are required under the Universal Postal Convention and the International Health Regulations.
The general declaration, cargo declaration, crew list and passenger list constitute the maximum information necessary. The ship's stores declaration and crew's effects declaration incorporate the agreed essential minimum information requirements.
Important amendments include:
The 2002 amendments
Adoption: 10 January 2002
Entry into force: 1 May 2003
The amendments add new standards and recommended practices for dealing with stowaways. Another amendment relates to the Dangerous Goods Manifest (FAL Form 7), which becomes the basic document providing public authorities with the information regarding dangerous goods on board ships.
The 2005 amendments
Adoption: 7 July 2005
Entry into force: 1 November 2006
The amendments are intended to modernize the Convention in order to enhance the facilitation of international maritime traffic, including a Recommended Practice for public authorities to develop the necessary procedures in order to use pre-arrival and pre-departure information to facilitate the processing of information, and thus expedite release and clearance of cargo and persons; a Recommended Practice that all information should be submitted to a single point to avoid duplication; encouragement of electronic transmission of information; and the addition of references to the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code and SOLAS chapter XI-2 in the Standards and Recommended Practices which mention security measures; and amendments to the IMO Standardized FAL Forms (1 to 7).
A further amendment relates to persons rescued at sea. A standard in Section 2 - Arrival, stay and departure of the ship, in section H Special measures of facilitation for ships calling at ports in order to put ashore sick or injured crew members, passengers, persons rescued at sea or other persons for emergency medical treatment. The amendment requires public authorities to facilitate the arrival and departure of ships engaged in the rescue of persons in distress at sea in order to provide a place of safety for such persons.
The 2009 amendments
Adoption: 16 January 2009
Entry into force: 15 May 2010
The amendments are related to sections concerning contents and purpose of documents; arrival and departure requirements and procedures; measures to facilitate clearance of passengers, crew and baggage; and facilitation for ships engaged on cruises and for cruises passengers. The amendments introduced the text of “voyage number”, and new IMO FAL Forms were approved.
The 2016 amendments
Adoption: 8 April 2016
Entry into force: 01 January 2018
These amendments introduce new definitions for Cargo Transport Unit (CTU), clearance, freight container, the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, master, ship agent, shipper and single window. Electronic exchange of information will be mandatory from 9 April 2019 with a transition period of no less than 12 months. The text now refers to the use of “Single Window” systems and has been revised in a gender-neutral format. Three additional documents have been introduced for ship’s clearance that may be required by the shore authorities, i.e. security-related information as required under SOLAS regulation XI-2/9.2.2, Advance electronic cargo information for customs risk assessment purposes, and Advanced Notification Form for Waste
Delivery to Port Reception Facilities. Additional guarantees have been included relating to the shore leave of crew members. All IMO FAL forms, with the exception of Ship’s Stores Declaration (IMO FAL Form 3), have been revised.