Determined to make shipping more integrated and efficient part of global supply chain


International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is an avant grade forum of United Nations which has been in the vanguard of setting global standards for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping for more than seventy years. Kitack Lim, Secretary General, IMO in an exclusive interview with Saurabh Sharma elucidates their security policies, sulphur fuel mandate, India’s accession to the ship recycling treaty, and the organisation’s efforts towards UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Brief us about the structure of International Maritime Organisation (IMO) along with its role and responsibilities to regulate global shipping operations.

Since its inception more than 70 years ago, IMO member states have adopted over 50 international instruments covering all aspects of international shipping– including ship design, construction, equipment, crewing, navigation, operation and disposal. IMO has adopted a suite of environmental regulations to prevent pollution from ships, as well as technical cooperation programme other regulations which address maritime security and work for more efficiency in shipping.

Adopted in 1965, IMO’s Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention) is a key treaty which helps to make cross-border trade simpler and the logistics chain more efficient, by standardising and simplifying formalities, documentary requirements and procedures on ships’ arrival, stay and departure. In April 2019, an important new requirement entered into force under the Facilitations Convention, making it mandatory for national governments to introduce electronic information exchange between ships and ports. The Facilitation Convention encourages use of a ‘single window’ for data, to enable all the information required by public authorities in connection with the arrival, stay and departure of ships, persons and cargo to be submitted via a single portal, without duplication.

I am keen to strengthen our work to make shipping a more integrated and more efficient part of the global supply chain.

In what manner IMO is working towards 2030 agenda for sustainable development in association with UN’s SDGs?

 IMO is working towards UN’s 2030 agenda and its 17 sustainable development goals through continuing its long-standing work in developing regulation for safe, secure and sustainable shipping – and through technical cooperation and capacity building programmes to ensure all member states have the ability to implement those regulations effectively. IMO is executing a number of global programmes which will support capacity building in the states to combat climate change, prevent invasive aquatic species and address marine plastic litter.

The adoption of the Polar Code is yet another move in IMO’s involvement with the Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) and the development of IMO’s own action plan on marine plastic litter. Special protection is given to [particularly sensitive sea areas and the financial compensation regimes established for pollution victims.

Recently, India acceded to the ship recycling treaty, bringing the IMO Hong Kong Convention a step closer to enter into force. Kindly elaborate us on the terms of the treaty.

 I am very pleased that India has acceded to the IMO ship recycling treaty, and I would like to express my thanks to the Indian government. This is a major step in the process to ensure the entering into force of the Hong Kong Convention. I am sure this will inspire other countries becoming party in the near future.

Under the Hong Kong Convention, ships sent for recycling are required to carry an inventory of all hazardous materials on board. Ship recycling facilities are required to provide a ‘Ship Recycling Plan’, specifying how each ship will be recycled, based on its particular characteristics and its inventory of hazardous materials.

Currently, 15 parties are agreeing to the treaty namely Belgium, Congo, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Japan, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Serbia and Turkey. The top five ship recycling countries in the world are Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and Turkey, and they account for more than 98 per cent of all ship recycling by gross tonnage.

What are the speculations regarding the use of low sulphur fuel mandate promulgated by IMO 2020? Are they justified at any degree in terms of unavailability of fuel?

Since January 1, 2020, the global limit on the sulphur content of ships’ fuel oil has been reduced to 0.5 per cent from 3.5 per cent (under the so-called ‘IMO 2020’ regulation). This is significantly reducing the amount of sulphur oxide emanating from ships and will have major health and environmental benefits, particularly for people living close to ports and coasts.

Information from various sources has indicated a relatively smooth transition to the 0.50 per cent sulphur limit. Prices for compliant fuels– Very-Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (VLSFO) and Marine Gas Oil (MGO) rose quickly initially but now appear to be stabilising. The next important target is fast approaching, when carrying non-compliant fuel oil on board ships becomes prohibited on March 1, 2020. I urge all shipowners, operators and masters to comply with the carriage ban, where applicable, when it comes into effect. IMO will remain vigilant and ready to respond and provide any support.

How do you leverage technology in order to digitise the information exchange, tracking and navigation among the ships?

Fully autonomous ports and semi-autonomous ships are already close to becoming a reality in some countries. As such, IMO is currently working on a comprehensive scoping exercise into Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS), looking into how safe, secure and environmentally sound their operations may be covered in IMO instruments.

As mentioned earlier, in April 2019, an important new requirement entered into force under the Facilitation Convention, making it mandatory for national governments to introduce electronic information exchange between ships and ports, preferably using a single window.

Enlighten us about the recent policies implemented for the security of cargo ships.

International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS) has been instrumental in addressing vulnerabilities in the global maritime industry, helping to secure ships on international voyages, and the port facilities which serve them, from acts of terrorism. The ISPS Code also helps to mitigate maritime crime and piracy. The code is based on proven principles of risk management and its measures can be adapted to counter new and emerging threats such as cyber risks.

One of these programmes is our internationally recognised programme of maritime security training. This includes both practical and ‘desktop’ training to enhance countries’ capacity to implement maritime security provisions. The focus is on preventative security measures, which can detect vulnerabilities and deter incidents from happening. We target training at both the national government and port facility levels.

We also assist countries in developing national maritime security legislation and policies to raise the importance of maritime security in the national context, and to ensure clarity of roles and responsibilities among agencies and the best use of a country’s enforcement resources. Besides, IMO also works with member states to develop their capacity to prevent and counter threats to port and maritime security through improved implementation of the international maritime security instruments and guidance.

Although we can never lessen our vigilance, and as hostile threats develop, we will also continue to develop our security programmes to meet the evolving threats. When it comes to piracy and armed robbery against ships, the overall number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery worldwide reported to IMO continues to decrease, with only 189 incidents reported in 2019. At the same time, while piracy and armed robbery off the coast of East Africa has reduced substantially, primarily due to the presence of naval forces in the region, armed security personnel where appropriate, co-operation by Djibouti Code of Conduct States and best management practice by the shipping industry, it has been repressedrather than eliminated. Piracy also remains a problem in the South China Sea, Straits of Malacca and the Sulu and Celebes Sea areas.


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