IMO Previews MSC Meeting
Dec 2, 2010
A press release from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN's specialized agency for maritime transportation security and safety, describes the agenda for the 88th session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), which starts tomorrow and will last through December 3rd. While the lead items are safety-related amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), two items are maritime security issues.
In the maritime transportation security arena, the MSC will deal with maritime piracy and the Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) System. First, the Committee will review the latest statistics on "piracy and armed robbery against ships" (which I tend to refer to as "maritime piracy"). It will also be updated on IMO efforts to assist countries in implementing the Djibouti Code of Conduct on repressing these criminal acts in the western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, where the piracy problem has been particularly prevalent the last few years despite massive efforts by numerous navies and self-protective measures employed by most ships. The Committee will be presented with draft guidelines for the care of crew and others subjected to acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships. The MSC will also consider a proposal to "reflect special measures to prevent and suppress piracy and armed robbery against ships in the ship security plans required under the International Ship an Port Facility ISPS) Code." Apparently, this last proposal is necessary because some national administrations believe that the ISPS Code was designed to deal with maritime terrorism exclusively and does not cover maritime piracy. This view has always struck me as odd. The ISPS Code nowhere refers to terrorism. The closest pseudo-reference is an acknowledgement in the Preamble that work on "new measures relating to the security of ships and port facilities" (which became the Code) began after the events of 9/11. In face, the first listed objective of the Code is "to establish an international framework" to deal with "security threats and . . . security incidents affecting ships or port facilities used in international trade." Why would it not be a security incident if the people firing upon a vessel with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were "pirates" instead of "terrorists?" How does the hijacking of numerous vessels and holding them and their crews for ransom for months not affect the security of the maritime transportation system? In any event, the proposal should be adopted so that everyone is on board with dealing with maritime piracy in ship security plans.
The MSC will also be updated on the status of the global LRIT System. This will include: (1) information from "the continuous review and audit" of the LRIT Coordinator of the performance of the recently established International LRIT Data Exchange by the European Maritime Safety Agency and of all LRIT Data Centers, (2) the report of the ninth meeting of the AD Hoc LRIT Group in September, and (3) information "concerning the modification testing phase and the continuity of services of the LRIT system.
There is one other issue that, while clearly a safety-related issue could also have maritime security implications. The Committee will be taking up revised Principles of Safe Manning and SOLAS amendments relating to mandatory requirements for determining safe manning, which, if approved, would be moved for IMO adoption in future years. The significant reduction in crew sizes of ships in recent years is one of the factors implicated in the rise of modern maritime piracy. Small crews do not have sufficient bodies to serve as lookouts or watches or to undertake other effective security measures. If the new regime requires that the security situation be factored into a vessel's minimum manning, this factor could be alleviated somewhat. Look for ship-owners to be concerned over the cost of additional crew in this time of depressed shipping rates, however.
Tip of the Hat: I learned of the IMO press release from my good friend Dennis Bryant's most excellent information resource, Bryant's Maritime Blog.
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