YEAR OF THE SEAFARER | IMO is still best defence

Originally published in Lloyd’s List, 2010/09/22

[TODAY], on World Maritime Day, the industry-wide End Piracy Now petition containing nearly 1m signatures is being presented to the International Maritime Organization, calling for action to end Somali piracy as hundreds of innocent seafarers still languish as hostages.

If only it was that simple.

The IMO in London will also host the launch of Seafarers’ Rights International, a new initiative intended to assist seafarers’ to uphold their legal rights against creeping criminalisation and other infringements. These two events reflect the challenge of recruiting talented young people to bring the industry the skills it needs.

World Maritime Day is a good opportunity to take stock of progress on these and other key issues affecting shipping.

Agreement in June in Manila on revisions to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping of seafarers, including a compromise on hours of rest, represented a positive achievement. Although not everyone was happy with it, the revised convention is an important step forward in recognising changes that have occurred since it was last updated.

The STCW revision is just one example of many new regulatory requiremeints agreed at the IMO that are coming into force in the next few years, including Safety of Life at Sea amendments, ballast water rules and new regulations to restrict sulphur emissions.

But there is no respite. The elephant in the room for shipping is the climate change agenda and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Everyone in the industry knows new rules are coming. Progress is already being made, but it is still unclear exactly what requirements shipping will have to meet as the world’s politicians debate the wider implications. So far the international community continues to recognise the IMO’s primary role in devising the regime that will apply to shipping and there is still a lot of work to do.

There will always be criticisms of the IMO about its speed of action and the compromises it reaches. But at a time when the industry faces widespread challenges ranging from piracy and protecting seafarers’ rights to climate change, World Maritime Day is an appropriate moment to recognise that, whatever its shortcomings, the IMO is the only game in town that can effectively recognise the interests of shipping in an often hostile political world.

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