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Ships, crewmembers and the goods and passengers that they carry across borders are subject to a range of government controls, both on arrival and departure.   These controls address a wide range of issues including ensuring public health, revenue protection, security, immigration, enforcing controls on importing and exporting prohibited and restricted items, and sanctions enforcement.

Some of these controls may be specific to the ship itself, some to crewmembers, some to passengers, some to the cargoes carried, and some to more than one of these categories. 

However, in addition to the regulatory controls traditionally associated with customs, immigration, law enforcement and security, there are also a range of practical procedures and processes that must be followed in relation to the enhancement of maritime safety as well as to the provision of general port services to ships. As with the regulatory controls, these may be due to national requirements or may be mandated by international conventions and agreements.

All of these controls and procedures, be they local, national or international, regulatory or commercial, have features in common – they all require provision of information to a range of different agencies and entities, they require action to be taken by ships, crews and ports, there are consequences if they are not followed, they take time and, if not coordinated, cost far more money than they need to.  


The FAL Convention  

The process by which these myriad regulations, requirements and procedures are harmonized is known as “facilitation”.   If every country and every port within each country have different requirements for ships, cargoes and people, chaos and inefficiency ensue.   The need for standardization and cutting of red tape was recognized by the Maritime Safety Committee very early on in the life of what was then called the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) – now IMO, through the development of the Convention on the Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, 1965, as amended (the FAL Convention). 

The FAL Convention was the first international convention developed by IMCO/IMO.  The Maritime Safety Committee started work on drafting it in 1961; it was adopted on 9 April 1965 and entered into force on 5 March 1967. It is currently binding on 118 Contracting Governments to the Convention and aims “to promote measures to bring about uniformity and simplicity in the documentary requirements and procedures associated with the arrival, stay and departure of ships engaged in international voyages”. 

The FAL Convention sets out internationally agreed Standards and Recommended Practices in respect of the arrival, stay and departure of ships, persons and cargoes and includes provisions in respect of stowaways, public health, and quarantine. In this context, “Standards” are internationally-agreed measures the uniform application of which is "necessary and practicable in order to facilitate international maritime traffic" and Recommended Practices are measures the application of which is "desirable".  Put more simply, Standards are what Contracting Governments must do, Recommended Practices are what Contracting Governments should do.  The FAL Convention also assists in the reduction of “red tape” through standardized documentation known as “FAL Forms”.  

As with all IMO Conventions, the FAL Convention evolves to take into account new developments and technologies worldwide. A series of amendments to the FAL Convention will enter into force on 1 January 2018. These include new systems for the electronic exchange of information for the clearance of ships, cargo, crew and passengers by 8 April 2019. IMO is also working on development of maritime single window systems including the need for harmonization and standardization of data reporting formats between existing Maritime Single Window platforms.

The vehicle for the evolution of the FAL Convention is the IMO Facilitation Committee, a body that meets annually. Membership of the FAL Committee includes all IMO Member States, Contracting Governments to the Convention and observers from Organizations in Consultative Status with the Organization.

As well as good facilitation being the key to connecting ships, ports and people, another core message of the 2017 World Maritime Day theme was that in order for the FAL Committee to function effectively, it is important that all stakeholders, both Government and industry, are represented in national and observer delegations and participate actively in its meetings, exchanging views and best practice on more efficient measures and promoting their harmonization and standardization. It is also important to increase the representation of the port sector, border control authorities and related organizations at other IMO meetings in order to foster better understanding of the implications and impact of IMO regulations on the port sector (and vice versa). Examples could include the need for ports to provide efficient and environmentally sound facilities and procedures for disposal of ships’ waste, and to develop procedures for complying with need to verify containers’ weight.

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