The IMO's Sub-Committee on Maritime Safety (MSC) held its 90th session from Wednesday 16 through Friday 25 May 2012 under the Chairmanship of Mr Christian Breinholt (DENMARK). A Drafting Group of Amendments to Mandatory Instruments and three Working Groups were convened on:
(1) Passenger Ship Safety
(2) Goal-based Standards and Formal Safety Assessment, and
(3) Measure to enhance Maritime Security and Piracy
Prior to sending out the Working Groups, the Committee (in Plenary) engaged in a long debate which was reinforced by high-level (Ministerial/Ambassadorial) participation from governments on the issue of privately contracted armed security personnel (PCASP) on board ships. Three main issues were addressed in the high level debate:
1. Guidance and standards for private maritime security companies (PMSC) providing PCASP
2. Issues related to PCASP of concern to littoral states, and
3. Guidelines on the use of firearms.
It was agreed that:
- the carriage of firearms by seafarers should continue to be strongly discouraged;
- the use of PCASP is an exceptional measure to be used only in exceptional circumstances in a high-risk area and that use of armed personnel on board ships should not become institutionalised;
- following a thorough risk assessment exercise and consultations with the shipowner concerned, the carriage of armed personnel on board ship nevertheless remains the final prerogative of the flag state;
- governments should decide, as a matter of national policy and taking into account the guidance developed by the Organization, whether ships entitled to fly their flag should be authorised to carry privately contracted armed security personnel;
- guidance to PMSC's complementing that to existing related guidance to flag, port and coastal States, also to shipowners, ship operators and ship masters, should be developed by IMO;
- further guidance is needed to assist policy development and facilitate greater harmonisation of policies at the international level in relation to the issue of arms on board. The development of such guidance does not constitute a recommendation or an endorsement of the general use of PCASP;
- the guiding principles for PMSC and PCASP standards should be developed by IMO; and
- IMO should work closely with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in the development of international standards for PMSCs and PCASP in order to ensure that such guidance is consistent.
In considering the content and nature of the guidance, the Committee took the following principles into account, that:
- flag States acknowledge the possible escalation of violence which could result from the use of firearms and carriage of armed personnel on board;
- flag States should provide clarity to Masters, seafarers, shipowners, operators and companies with respect to their policy on the carriage of armed security personnel;
- the master should be involved in the decision-making process and the documented command and control structure should make clear that he remains in command and retains overriding authority on board at all times;
- the use of PCASP should not be considered as an alternative to Best Management Practices (BMP) and other protective measures. Use of armed guards is one of a graduated range of options;
- the flag State has jurisdiction over ships entitled to fly its flag operating on the high seas, thus any laws and regulations imposed by the flag State concerning the use of PMSC and PCASP apply;
- Governments should do everything in their power to ensure that ships entitled to fly their flag that are carrying PCASP promptly advise the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) when registering their intention to transit the waters off the coast of Somalia, including the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean area;
- it is essential that all PCASP have a complete understanding of the rules for the use of minimum force as agreed between the shipowner, PMSC and master and that they fully comply with them. The PMSC should provide a detailed graduated response plan to a pirate attack as part of its teams' operational procedures; and
- PMSC should require their personnel to take all reasonable steps to avoid the use of force, but if any situation demands force, it should in all cases be proportionate to the threat and appropriate to the situation. PMSC should require that their personnel do not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or in defence of others facing the imminent threat of death or serious injury, or to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life.
Having considered issues related to PCASP of concern to coastal and port States, it was agreed that:
- masters, shipowners and companies should be aware that ships entering the territorial sea and/or ports of a State are subject to that State's legislation including the importation of firearms which are subject to port and coastal State regulations;
- Governments should decide in their capacity as a port or coastal State where applicable, their national policy on the embarkation, disembarkation and carriage of privately contracted armed security personnel and of the firearms, ammunition and security-related equipment to be used by such security personnel on board ships. Such policies should be made known, enabling flag States to act accordingly;
- the differing customs or security requirements for the carriage and importation of firearms should be considered, since taking any type of firearm into the territory of some countries may be considered an offence; and
- firing weapons at suspected pirates may impose a legal risk for the master, shipowner or company.
Following the two-day high level debate on PCASP, the Working Group on Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships met from 18 to 23 May under the able chairmanship of Mr Arsenio Dominguez (PANAMA). Most notable amongst their recommendations to the Committee were:
- finalisation of draft Interim guidance to PMSC's providing contracted armed security personnel on board ships in the High Risk Area (HRA) and which was subsequently approved by the Committee;
- agreement that the International Standards Organisation (ISO) would be best placed to develop a standard for certification of PMSC's by MSC 91 with appropriate guidance from IMO;
- approval of draft interim guidance for flag States on measures to prevent and mitigate Somalia-based piracy; and
- agreement from the World Customs Organisation (WCO) to seek further responses from countries in the HRA on issues related especially to embarkation/disembarkation of PCASP, their firearms and equipment.
STATISTICAL INFORMATION ON PIRACY
The number of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships in 2011 was 544 against 489 during the previous year, representing an increase of 55 (11.3%) over the figure for 2010. The areas most affected in 2011, as in 2010, were East Africa and the Far East, in particular the South China Sea, followed by the Indian Ocean, West Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
The majority of incidents occurred off East Africa and have increased from 172 in 2010 to 223 in 2011, thus returning to the same level as in 2009 (222 incidents). As a consequence of the deployment of motherships by Somali pirates and the increased range of their operation, the number of incidents occurring in the Arabian Sea increased from 16 in 2010 to 28 in 2011.
However, the number of incidents in the Indian Ocean decreased from 77 to 63 in 2012. Despite the high number of Somalia-based piracy attacks, the pirates' success rate has been significantly reduced. Somali pirates attacked 172 ships in 2010 and hijacked 50 of them (29%) while in 2011, out of 286 attacks, 33 resulted in the ship being hijacked (11.5%).
PASSENGER SHIP SAFETY
Five operational measures to be addressed were proposed for immediate implementation:
- lifejackets on board passenger ships, except for ro-ro ships;
- emergency instructions for passengers;
- passenger muster policy;
- access of personnel to the navigating bridge; and
- voyage planning.
The immediate operational measures were promulgated by means of an MSC Circular inviting member States to use the annexed recommendations on a voluntary basis, pending finalisation of the marine casualty investigation into the COSTA CONCORDIA loss. Meanwhile, taking into account the urgency for the Committee to make a clear statement of how it intends to deal with the safety implications following the COSTA CONCORDIA incident, it was agreed that a draft MSC resolution should be prepared encouraging Member States and the passenger ship industry to take appropriate action to ensure that their current safety standards and procedures are fully and effectively implemented. Subsequently, the group adopted a draft MSC resolution on Measures aimed at enhancing the safety of passenger ships, and a draft action plan for long-term work on passenger ship safety was approved.
0PERATING ANOMALIES IDENTIFIED WITHIN ECDIS
The majority of delegations expressed the view that this issue could continue to be addressed by the NAV Sub-Committee taking the lead. The need to raise mariners' awareness of ECDIS operating anomalies was acknowledged, including advice from the Industry that ships carrying older ECDIS equipment should also carry paper charts. The Committee:
- invited the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO) to re-promulgate their test data set to ensure that every appropriate ECDIS equipment is tested including all known manufacturers' ECDIS models;
- encouraged all appropriate agencies and organisations to help identify the extent and severity of ECDIS anomalies as a matter of urgency so that the impact of the outstanding anomalies on the safety of navigation can be established;
- invited ECDIS manufacturers to make information regarding anomalies widely available to reduce the risk; and
- agreed that, for the present, there is no immediate need to establish a standing mechanism, recognising that IHO in cooperation with all interested entities and IMO are already actively involved in this activity. Also, expressed the view that it might be counterproductive at this stage to follow this course of action in the context of re-considering the first phase implementation date of the mandatory carriage requirements for ECDIS (from 1 July 2012) including endorsing the use of RASTER charts on ECDIS.
LRIT - RELATED MATTERS
The Committee noted the views expressed by COMSAR 16 and concerns expressed by delegations relating to the cost of the audit and the financial burden of operating data centres (DCs) in compliance with SOLAS, recommending that:
- IMSO, as the LRIT Coordinator, review its charges and consider more cost-effective measures with a view to significantly reducing the cost of the audit fee (which might even include a possible restructuring of the IMSO organisation) and to submit proposals for consideration at MSC 91; and
- holding a meeting of the Ad hoc LRIT Group, between MSC 90 and MSC 91 this year, to examine alternate options for the audit and review of the LRIT system, without prejudicing any decision that IMSO might take during its next Assembly, and report back to MSC 91 for consideration, together with any other proposal(s) for reduction of the LRIT audit fees to be provided by IMSO.
In this regard, the IMSO observer informed the Committee that the IMSO Advisory Committee, at its thirty-first session, had given preliminary consideration to the concerns expressed at COMSAR 16 relating to the audit fee and that:
- subject to the final consideration at the forthcoming IMSO Assembly, there was a strong probability of reducing the cost of the audit fee by 15 per cent, to approximately £8,500 in 2013; and
- the forthcoming IMSO Assembly would also consider additional measures, including a future restructuring of the IMSO Directorate, that could lead to a potential reduction in the audit fees in the order of 40 per cent from 1015/16 and beyond.
The Committee noted the information provided by IMSO, without prejudice to the future establishment of a possible Ad Hoc LRIT Group or correspondence group, and agreed that it was premature to start considering alternative ways of conducting the audits of DCs and of the International Data Exchange (IDE). Thus the issue will be considered by MSC 91, together with any further information to be provided by IMSO related to the outcome of the next IMSO Assembly and any other submissions. The Committee noted with appreciation that Liberia has decided to provide, from 1 July 2012 until 31 December 2012, LRIT information, free of charge, to Governments requesting the information as port or coastal States which are not participating in the LRIT system.
FORMAL SAFETY ASSESSMENT
The Committee re-established the Expert Group on Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) and instructed it to review the FSA study on crude oil tankers and the FSA study on sea transport of dangerous goods, submitting its report to MSC 91.
OUTCOME OF THE 5th JOINT WORKING GROUP ON THE MEMBER STATE AUDIT SCHEME (JMGMSA5)
On the issue of confidentiality, a general overview of the need for transparency and the implications of the release of audit reports was provided by NORWAY. The Committee agreed by a slight majority that the release of the executive summary report (with the related Member States' comments thereon) would have no negative impact on its role or that of any Member State as a Party to the Instruments concerned. Indeed, a slight majority of delegations were of the view that the release of the report (with its comments) could positively impact the work of the Committee.
However, CHINA, supported by PANAMA, IRAN, GERMANY and SOUTH AFRICA, whilst acknowledging the 'slight' majority opinion within the Committee, emphasised that the sovereignty of Member States (and indeed differences in national practices), should be respected.