Act on seafarer crew changes to avert humanitarian crisis, IMO Secretary-General urges
Governments need to urgently act to ensure ships’ crew changeovers can take place to keep world trade flowing and avert a humanitarian and ship safety crisis, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim has told Member State representatives. “We are on the verge of a humanitarian crisis and a real safety issue – we cannot expect seafarers currently on ships to stay at sea forever. It is the responsibility of Governments to allow shipping to continue moving, and for seafarers to return to their homes, or get to their ships to begin work,” Mr. Lim said during a virtual meeting organized by IMO (9 June) to brief permanent representatives and liaison officers from IMO Member States. It is estimated that some 150,000 seafarers are urgently waiting to leave their ships since their contracts as well as any extensions have expired and they need to be replaced by a similar number, since travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have severely hampered crew changeovers.
Mr. Lim thanked countries which have made progress by designating seafarers as key workers, by facilitating crew changes through implementing crew change protocols which have been endorsed by IMO, by easing travel restrictions including facilitating the issuance of passports and visas, and by giving seafarers access to medical care. “But I remain very concerned about countries where restrictions are still in place for seafarers,” Mr. Lim said.
The meeting was updated on the ongoing work by the IMO Secretariat, in liaison with UN entities and international maritime industry bodies, to monitor how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting shipping, and to develop and issue guidance and recommendations on a wide variety of issues, disseminated by Circular Letter (No.4204 series) and published through the IMO COVID-19 web page.
The IMO Council 32nd Extraordinary Session is currently being held by correspondence (until 17 July). A series of virtual, informal discussion sessions are being held, with the objective of facilitating consensus on the agenda items under consideration. The first session was held on 26 May, with further sessions scheduled on 15 June, 25 June, 3 July and 13 July. The 3 July session will be utilized to trial remote simultaneous interpretation into the six official languages of the Organization, using a specialized platform (KUDO). The Council agenda includes prioritization and reconstruction of the IMO meetings schedule; and proposals for the facilitation of shipping during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as budgetary and other issues.
Greenhouse gas emissions
The IMO fourth study on emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from shipping was near completion, the meeting was told. The study will be submitted to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), 75th session.
An informal virtual meeting to exchange views on GHG reduction from shipping will be held from 6 to 10 July. The meeting is open to participants from IMO Member States, international non-governmental organizations in consultative status and UN bodies. The aim is to allow for preliminary exchange views on proposed short-term measures that have already been submitted to the next session of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships (ISWG-GHG 7). Due to its informal nature, there will be no decisions made, but the intention is to facilitate discussion at ISWG-GHG 7 (The last intersessional working group session was held in November 2019 - ISWG GHG 6).
The meeting heard that reporting of data for the mandatory data collection system on fuel oil consumption (DCS), which applies to ships of 5,000 gross tonnage and above, was progressing. The Secretariat has received nearly 22,000 reports, of some 30,000 ships to which the DCS applies. The reporting deadline is end of June.
IMO 2020 (0.50% sulphur limit)
The meeting was informed that the implementation of the IMO 2020 0.50% sulphur limit seemed to have gone relatively smoothly thanks to preparation by all stakeholders. To date, just 48 Fuel Oil Non-Availability reports (FONARS) had been submitted globally in relation to availability of 0.50% fuel oil.
With all face-to-face capacity building workshops and seminars suspended due to travel restrictions, the meeting was informed that the focus for IMO’s technical cooperation division is on helping Member States to prepare for post COVID-recovery activities, with ongoing synergies with the UN 2030 Agenda. The focus in on national organization.
At the same time, the Secretariat is working with IMO’s affiliated training institutes, the World Maritime University (WMU) and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI) to look into developing their significant materials into online training packages to support capacity building in developing countries.
Department of Partnerships and Projects (DPP)
The Department of Partnerships and Projects, which was established on 1 March 2020, updated the meeting on its activities related to new partnerships development, resource mobilization, implementation of major projects and promotion of innovation, working closely with the Technical Cooperation Division. The DPP is currently implementing seven major projects with a US$32 million portfolio (GMN, GloFouling, GreenVoyage, GloLitter, GlA, MEPSEAS and SENSREC). The GloLitter project, dealing with marine plastic litter, is still open to receiving expressions of interest from Member States to join the project (Circular Letter No.4214/Add.2). Further projects are being pursued, to the value of US$25 million for hard pipeline projects for 2020-2021 and another US$10 million soft pipeline projects to augment technical cooperation support to Member States. An IMO-UNEP Maritime Innovation Forum (funded by Norway) is planned for 2021. This will focus on low-carbon shipping and will aim to share latest information on R&D and technology development among all Member States.
IMO Member State Audit Scheme
With only one Member State audit completed in 2020, the Council is being invited to approve a revised audit schedule, moving the entire audit schedule one year forward. In the meantime, follow-up work on audits conducted during 2016 and 2017, including on implementation of corrective action plans, has been progressing well.
Despite the hiatus in audits during 2020, it was noted that, including audits completed under the voluntary scheme (before the audits were made mandatory from 2016), a total 145 (voluntary and mandatory) audits have been conducted, representing a majority of IMO’s 174 Member States.
Piracy and armed robbery
The latest statistics on reports of piracy and armed robbery against ships were presented. In 2020, 102 incidents have occurred worldwide (as of 1 June 2020). Of these, incidents in West Africa accounted for 33 incidents and the Straits of Malacca and Singapore for 20 incidents. For the full year 2019, 193 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships were reported worldwide, down from 223 incidents in 2018. The areas most affected in 2019 were West Africa (67 incidents), the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (45 incidents) and the South China Sea (34 incidents), with 14 incidents reported in the South America Pacific region, and 12 in the South America Caribbean region. These numbers include both attempted and committed attacks.
In the Gulf of Guinea, incidents decreased in 2019 by 14 incidents compared to 2018. However, the number of incidents involving kidnap and missing crew increased from 11 in 2018 to 20 in 2019, with a total of 151 crew members reported as kidnapped/missing. This is the highest number so far on record. The meeting noted in particular that the Secretary-General had virtually met, on 21 May 2020, with the new Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, who provided an update on Nigeria’s efforts to address piracy and armed robbery in the region. New Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy and Enhance Maritime Security off the Coast of West Africa including the Gulf of Guinea (BMP WA) have also been issued.
With regards to the IMO Headquarters building, the meeting was updated on the phased and cautious plan for a future reopening, which will take into account guidance from the UK Government as the host and WHO guidelines and experience from other UN agencies, including on social distancing throughout the building. During June, up to 10% of IMO Secretariat staff will voluntarily be in the headquarters building to trial arrangements put in place. Dates for subsequent phases will be progressively decided as lessons are learned from each testing phase.
Briefings to permanent representatives and liaison officers
Briefings for permanent representatives and liaison officers are usually regularly held at IMO Headquarters, on the invitation of the Secretary-General. This was the second virtual edition, since the first one in April.