Seafarer crew changes still a key concern
The need to carry out crew changes, to relieve seafarers stranded at sea for many months, remains a key concern, IMO Member State representatives were told during the third virtual briefing for permanent representatives and liaison officers from IMO Member States (30 July 2020).
Member States were urged to ensure the implementation of crew change protocols endorsed by IMO (Circ. Letter No.4204/Add.14), by easing travel restrictions including facilitating the issuance of passports and visas, and by enabling seafarers to access medical care.
The meeting was told that the IMO Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT) has now dealt with more than 200 individual cases. Two issues are of particular concern with respect to the crew change crisis. Firstly, while many countries have made significant progress in designating seafarers as key workers and implementing the protocols to facilitate crew change, the rate of progress and throughput in allowing for crew changes is not keeping up with the backlog of seafarers whose contracts have expired and who are waiting for repatriation to their home countries. Consequently, concerns for the safety of navigation continue, taking into account fatigue and mental stress issues exacerbated by the long periods of service. In addition, there has been a recent sharp spike in the number of abandonment cases being reported, another area of growing concern.
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim welcomed efforts by many Member States and the ongoing and close collaboration between IMO, Member States, other UN agencies, the shipping industry and seafarers’ organizations, recognising that more still needed to be done. Bilateral talks with Member States are ongoing.
Meanwhile, preparations are under way for a series of regional meetings under the Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme (ITCP) to share best practices regarding COVID-19. The virtual meetings will be coordinated by SCAT and the Technical Cooperation Division. The first meetings are expected to be held in autumn 2020.
The meeting was updated on the ongoing work by the IMO Secretariat, in liaison with UN entities and international maritime industry bodies, to continue monitoring how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting shipping, through various joint UN Working Groups and Task Forces. The Secretariat continues to participate in the regular meetings of the Industry Corona Strategy Group and there is constant ongoing cooperation and consultation with IGOs and NGOs in consultative status.
IMO continues to disseminate guidance and recommendations on a wide variety of issues, as well as joint statements with other UN entities, via the Circular Letter No.4204 series, published on IMODOCS and also available on the IMO COVID-19 web page (http://www.imo.org/sites/imocloud-Dev/en/MediaCentre/HotTopics/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx).
The 32nd extraordinary session of the Council completed its session on 3 August 2020, with the issuing of the final summary of decisions, approved by the Council.. The extraordinary session had been extremely busy, but also very productive.
More than 180 documents and communications had been submitted and processed, more than for any Council meeting in history, and more than for any IMO meeting for at least five years. The Council has made significant progress in restoring the operations of the Organization by developing a priority list for meetings of committees, subcommittees, and some working and expert groups, guidance for the holding of remote meetings, efforts for the facilitation of shipping during the COVID-19 pandemic, revisions to the IMO Member State Audit Scheme schedule and the schedule for the observation of the World Maritime Day parallel event as a result of the pandemic.
The Meeting Schedule Reconstruction Team (MSRT) was set to develop and finalise a programme of meetings for autumn 2020 and early 2021. This programme will take into account the many variables, including whether some delegates will be able to attend meetings in person and the status of the Headquarters building, availability of interpreters, workload on delegates and the Secretariat, and others.
The meeting was informed that the Secretary-General has begun to receive requests for a simultaneous, extraordinary session of all the committees to address procedural matters, so that the committees can resume their work using consistent processes. The notional date for this extraordinary session is 16 to 17 September 2020.
The Conference Division informed the meeting that a first trial on 3 July 2020 of a virtual informal Council discussion session with remote simultaneous interpretation in the six official languages of the Organization, with all interpreters working from home, had proved successful. The interpreter booths at IMO Headquarters are currently being rearranged to allow interpreters to be able to resume work using the IMO building as a hub, with appropriate social distancing. In the longer term, the IMO building will be equipped to enable remote participation, fusing the IMO audio/visual equipment to allow for hybrid meetings, with some delegates physically in the building and others attending remotely.
A number of expert meetings, such as working groups, have been held or are being held, working by correspondence.
With regard to the IMO Headquarters building, the meeting was updated on the phased and cautious plans for reopening, taking into account guidance from the United Kingdom Government as the host, WHO guidelines and experience from other UN agencies, including on social distancing throughout the building.
Currently, the IMO building is open to staff who wish to work from the office, limited to 25% of staff, with social distancing measures in place. The office is also fumigated every Friday afternoon in addition to increased cleaning throughout the week. Working from home remains the primary working modality for IMO staff.
Dates for subsequent phases will be progressively decided as lessons are learned from each testing phase.
Greenhouse gas emissions
The meeting was updated on the fruitful informal virtual meeting to exchange views on GHG reduction from shipping, held in July. Delegations provided updates and exchanged views on various proposals, related to short-term measures to reduce GHG emissions from shipping.
At the same time, it was recognized that there were still gaps among delegates, and there was an ongoing need for further dialogue to reach a solution for goal-based technical and operational measures. The submission deadline for the next session of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships (ISWG-GHG 7), has been extended, with a view to the holding of the session in October.
The IMO fourth study on emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from shipping had been complete and was being finalized for submission to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), 75th session, the meeting was told. (The study is now available as document MEPC 75/7/15 via IMODOCS).
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 positive. More than 80% of ships data had been received so far from Administrations (some 27,570 ships, out of some 32,500 ships to which the data collection system applies).
While technical cooperation travel has been suspended for the time being, a longer term strategy will focus on helping Member States with their post COVID-recovery activities (including synergies with the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development), with a focus on national organization. The meeting was told that the IMO secretariat is working closely with the World Maritime University (WMU) and the IMO international Maritime Law institute (IMLI) to move more training online and develop comprehensive training packages, focusing on training trainers to deliver courses.
Department of Partnerships and Projects
The Department for Partnerships and Projects reported that work was continuing to mobilize resources, including US$ 1.5 Million (NOK 14 million) from Norway to support the Phase III of the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Project (SENSREC Phase III). The IMO Secretariat has also signed a UN to UN agreement with UNODC on a four-year EU-funded US$8 million project on “Port Security and Safety of Navigation in Eastern and Southern Africa and the Indian Ocean”; catalyzed US$75,000 from the EBRD to support a study on Green Maritime Investment Potential in Turkey; and agreed with EBRD and World Bank to establish a Financing Sustainable Maritime Transport (FIN-SMART) roundtable to identity green financing need and opportunities for maritime sector. In addition, US$ 440,000 from Republic of Korea has been mobilized in bilateral donor support to IMO’s Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme (ITCP).
Work to implement seven major projects with a total funding portfolio of US$32 million (Global MTCC Network, GloFouling, GreenVoyage2050, MEPSEAS, SENSREC, Global Industry Alliances (GIA), GI WACAF, and GloLitter) is progressing well, with a revised implementation strategy and risk-mitigation strategy to address current Covid-19 challenges.
Work on developing and submitting proposals for a number of new projects is under way.