IMO panel approves use of e-certificates

The following is the text of a news release from the International Maritime Organization:

(LONDON) (Sept. 26) — The Facilitation Committee (FAL), meeting for its 39th session, approved a revised annex to the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL), 1965, as amended, following a comprehensive five-year review aimed at modernizing the convention. To be circulated with a view to adoption at the committee’s next session (FAL 40, scheduled for March/April 2016, the revised annex would introduce the mandatory electronic exchange of information on cargo, crew and passengers. 

The FAL convention includes, in its annex, “Standards" and "Recommended Practices" on formalities, documentary requirements and procedures which should be applied on arrival, stay and departure to the ship itself, and to its crew, passengers, baggage and cargo.

Important proposed changes in the revised annex include the introduction of a new standard relating to the obligation of public authorities to establish systems for the electronic exchange of information, within a period of three years after the adoption of the amendments. There would be a transitional period of not less than 12 months from the date of the introduction of such systems to make the use of electronic transmissions mandatory, during which period paper and electronic documents would be allowed.  

A further recommended practice encourages the use of the “single window” concept 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 without duplication.  

Other revised standards cover shore leave and access to shore-side facilities for crew, including the addition of a paragraph in the standard to say that there should be no discrimination, in respect of shore leave, on grounds of nationality, race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, or social origin, and irrespective of the flag State of the ship on which seafarers are employed, engaged or work.

Standards and recommended practices relating to stowaways are also updated, to include references to relevant sections of the International Ship and Port Facilities’ Security (ISPS) Code. A new standard requires governments, where appropriate, to incorporate into their national legislation legal grounds to allow prosecution of stowaways, attempted stowaways and any individual or company aiding a stowaway or an attempted stowaway with the intention to facilitate access to the port area, any ship, cargo or freight containers. 
The IMO Standardized Forms (FAL forms), which cover IMO General Declaration; Cargo Declaration; Ship's Stores Declaration; Crew's Effects Declaration; Crew List; Passenger List and Dangerous Goods will be updated. Definitions will also be revised where needed and references to persons will be made gender neutral (“his/her” instead of “his”).   
The new revised annex could enter into force 15 months after adoption, under the tacit acceptance procedure.  

Revised guidelines for using electronic versions of certificates approved

The committee approved the revised version of FAL.5/Circ.39 on guidelines for the use of electronic certificates and invited the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) and Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) to note them.  

The committee agreed that electronic certificates should be treated as equivalent to traditional paper certificates, provided that the certificates and the website used to access them conform to the guidelines and that specific verification instructions are available on board the ship.

It was also agreed to modify IMO’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS), to include a module on administrations issuing electronic certificates, including the list of certificates issued electronically by each administration. Administrations implementing electronic certificates were urged to communicate the information to the organization when the new module of GISIS was available. 

It was also agreed that electronic certificates viewed on a computer should be considered as meeting the requirements for certificates to be "on board" a ship. The committee invited the MSC and MEPC to consider amending the list of certificates and documents required to be carried on board ships (FAL.2/Circ.127-MEPC.1/Circ.817-MSC.1/Circ.1462), to reflect this.  

The committee re-established the Correspondence Group on Electronic Access to Certificates and Documents, to continue to gather experience with the implementation and use of electronic certificates and to propose revisions to the guidelines, as needed; to develop a model framework for implementing electronic certificates; to consider alternatives to the need for using traditional signatures, stamps and seals to issue and approve electronic certificates; to advise the committee on possibilities for industry standards to support use of electronic certificates; and to submit a report to FAL 40.

Guidelines on maritime cyber security put on agenda

The committee agreed to include the issue of cyber security on the cCommittee’s agenda, recognizing it as a relevant and urgent issue for the organization, in order to guarantee the protection of the maritime transport network from cyber threats.  

Prototype of maritime single window project to be developed

The committee noted that the secretariat planned to design a prototype of a maritime single window, having found during technical cooperation activities on facilitation that the majority of member states have some kind of single window in place related to cargo, but only a few have any single window for maritime transport. 

This prototype of maritime single window would support the implementation of the mandatory systems for the electronic exchange of information in the revised FAL Convention Annex.

It was noted that the project had three phases: gathering information on the current situation of the clearance of ships, cargo and passengers at ports of six developing countries; taking into account the information collected in phase I, a second questionnaire would be sent to the authorities involved in the clearance of ships, such as port, maritime, customs, health, agricultural, police and immigration authorities; and, in the third phase: on the basis of the information obtained in phases I and II, the prototype of a maritime single window would be designed and implemented in one of the selected countries. This prototype would be developed by experts in IT and port clearance, and the final product would be IMO's property.

Stowaways – underreporting still a concern 

The committee noted the reports on stowaways received by the organization, amounting to 70 cases reported during 2013, relating to 203 stowaways, but reiterated its concern that there was underreporting of the issue, and that the use of GISIS to upload stowaways information had been very low (only 21 cases had been uploaded into GISIS). The committee urged member states to provide timely and accurate information on stowaway cases to the IMO making use of the GISIS module.

Meanwhile, the committee noted that, following a regional seminar on "Stowaways in West and Central Africa: Analysis of the Current Situation and Measures to Reduce Their Number" in Côte d'Ivoire, in March 2014, a similar seminar for East and South Africa was planned for Oct. 21-23 in Durban, South Africa, for participants from ports with reportedly the highest number of embarkations of stowaways in these regions. The Côte d'Ivoire seminar resulted in a detailed list of agreed proposals to be taken by port and maritime authorities to promote port security effectiveness.

By Professional Mariner Staff