IMO’s Facilitation Committee has taken steps to further advance the digitalization of the shipping sector, while addressing cyber-security threats and the regulation of new technology such as autonomous ships. 

The Facilitation Committee (FAL) meets annually to deal with matters related to the facilitation of international maritime trade. The Committee held its forty-eighth session (FAL 48) from 8 to 12 April 2024, in person at IMO Headquarters in London, chaired by Mr. Watchara Chiemanukulkit of Thailand. 

High on the agenda were discussions around the application of “maritime single windows”, which became mandatory for all IMO Member States on 1 January 2024. Maritime administrations are now required to use a single, centralized digital platform – a maritime single window – to collect and exchange information with ships when they call at ports, in order to streamline procedures and enhance efficiency. 

Representatives from Antigua and Barbuda, Brazil, Indonesia and Togo shared their experiences in implementing MSWs in their respective countries. Singapore spoke about implementing a MSW system in the Port of Lobito in Angola, under the SWiFT Project financed by Singapore. 

While these successes were welcomed, the Committee noted the findings of an industry survey which showed that 40% of respondents were unaware of the IMO regulations mandating MSW systems worldwide. In 64% of the port calls made by respondents, port authorities were still requiring either paper submissions or a mix of paper and digital submissions. On average, respondents spent more than three hours (191 minutes) preparing and submitting the necessary documents required at every single port call. 

The Committee agreed to continue discussions on the development of an overarching IMO strategy on digitalization at the next session (FAL 49), under a new output (subject to Council’s endorsement). The recommendations from the industry survey will be discussed under this new output on IMO digitalization strategy. 

In addition, during the session, the Committee approved a new version of the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business, approved new guidelines on Port Community Systems, and discussed the issue of cyber-security, calling on Member States to develop and operate their MSWs in a cybersecure and resilient way. 

Autonomous shipping 

The Committee approved a revised road map for addressing Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) issues, related to the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention).  Under the roadmap, the Committee is expected to finalize the development of a mandatory MASS Code to regulate autonomous ships, and adopt relevant amendments to the FAL Convention by 2027.  

Work on this issue will continue with the Joint Working Group on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS-JWG), which will hold its third meeting from 8 to 10 May 2024, bringing together the Legal, Facilitation and Maritime Security Committees to discuss common MASS-related issues. 

Read the full FAL 48 meeting summary here