We all come across so many IMO resolution, conventions and circulars while being in shipping industry.
So many that we may get confused sometimes as to what purpose each of these serve. we now take a look at each one of these, starting with IMO resolutions.
At IMO, Maritime resolutions are issued by the Assembly, The council and by each of the committee.
Each committee brings resolutions to amend part of International convention that they are associated with.
Like Maritime safety committee handles conventions related to safety. The most popular being “International convention for safety of life at Sea (SOLAS)” and STCW convention.
So MSC brings resolutions to amend any part of these conventions. Similarly MEPC’s resolutions amends MARPOL convention and Facilitation Committee’s resolutions amends FAL convention.
Each resolution of IMO looks something like this
Where the initial letter(s) shows who has passed this resolution.
The letter can be A (for Assembly), C (for Council), MSC (For Maritime safety committee), MEPC (for Maritime environment pollution committee), FAL (Facilitation committee) or LEG (legal Committee).
The next number shows the resolution number and it is in chronological order.
The number in the bracket shows the sessions in which this resolution was adopted. So the resolution MSC.374(93) refers to the MSC resolution number 374 which was adopted in the 93rd session of the MSC.
Why to amend a convention
The only permanent thing in this world is Change. And the way we move our cargoes through sea and the way ships are operating at sea is changing every single day.
A convention passed 30 years back may have many elements which are not applicable today. Same way, We might discover new strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, which were not the part of original convention.
Take an example of Security. Post year 2001, suddenly the world realised a new threat to the shipping which was security. And to address that, we could either bring a security convention or amend an existing convention to include security.
Drafting, ratification, approving, acceptance and implementing a new convention is a tedious and time consuming process.
So unless the new identified threats are too unique to be included in the existing conventions, it is always better to amemd the existing convention.
Take another example of Convention of pollution prevention at sea (MARPOL). Pollution was totally different from safety and so instead of including MARPOL in SOLAS convention, we got new convention called MARPOL.
Also take an example of Ballast water convention. The topic of ballast water was much debatable. The debate was on its inclusion in the MARPOL as another annex or as a stand alone convention.
Even though ballast water was considered to be a kind of pollution but at the end it was agreed that the ballast water is a unique area from other pollutions and hence instead of including it in MARPOL, a new convention was adopted.
See the results, ballast water convention was adopted in 2004 and as of 1st Jan 2016, ballast water convention is still not ratified.
How resolutions are proposed, adopted and passed
For a resolution to come into effect, there are 5 main steps
- A contracting government need to propose a resolution.
- IMO or its respective committee need to review the resolution proposal
- Resolution need to be adopted in the IMO and finally
- Resolution need to be accepted by the contracting governments
- After a fixed time from acceptance, a resolution enters into force.
Proposal of the resolution
There are two ways an amendment to a maritime convention can be proposed to the IMO.
1. By any contracting government
2. By a group of contracting governments.
Clearly in the first option any contracting government can propose an amendment to the secretary general.
SG would pass the proposal to the MSC or MEPC for review. MSC or MEPC in consultation with appropriate sub-committee would draft and submit the resolution for adoption.
In the second option, A contracting government proposes the amendment for which they have concurrence of atleast one-third of the contracting governments.
The concurrence by the other governments can be given to the appropriate committee. In this case, the committee arranges for a conference of the contracting governments to consider the amendments.
The advantage of the second option is that it is the faster way of proposing and adopting an amendment to the convention.
Adoption of a resolution
Resolutions are adopted by voting in Maritime safety committee or Maritime Environment Protection Committee. There are 2 conditions for a resolution to be adopted
- Atleast one-third of the contracting governments should be present for voting. On this date, there are 174 countries that are members to the IMO. So for a resolution to be adopted, at least 58 countries should be present.
- At least two-third of the contracting governments present, should vote in favor of resolution. So if 60 countries were present, at least 40 countries should vote in favor of the resolution.
If the proposal to the amendment was made through the conference,
1) the first condition would be met considering there would be high chances of the one-third of the governments present for voting.
2) The second condition should also be met as all of the one-third governments had given the concurrence to the amendment.
This is the reason, the proposal by the conference would be adopted faster.
Acceptance of the resolution
A resolution once adopted, it is passed to all contracting governments for acceptance. The Secretary general communicates the adopted resolution to all contracting governments.
The process of acceptance of a resolution was a tedious one but IMO did a great job in amending the process itself.
Earlier the acceptance of a resolution was linked with the number of governments that has accepted it. IMO would wait for years to have the numbers on their side to implement a resolution.
This was due to many governments not responding because of “neither agree nor disagree” situation.
And the governments had their reasons to be in that situations. Most of the times the governments were not sure if
- the amendment brought by the resolution are in best interest of their country.
- If they can effectively implement the resolution
- if they have resources to implement the amendments and so on
Whatever the reasons, but the acceptance of resolutions used to take a lot of time.
IMO then introduced the tacit way of acceptance of a resolution. Even though not all the resolutions are accepted with tacit acceptance procedures but most of them are.
For example Marpol convention as per article 16 f(ii) gives authority to MEPC to decide if the amendment will be accepted by tacit acceptance or explicit acceptance.
The acceptance of a resolution to amend SOLAS convention is only done by tacit acceptance.
Tacit Acceptance of a resolution
In simple terms “tacit acceptance” means “accepted unless objected”. It is opposite of earlier process of “rejected unless accepted”.
Under tacit acceptance, a resolution is accepted on an agreed time interval from adoption unless it is objected by a number of contracting governments.
The committee decides the agreed interval during adoption of resolution. However there is minimum interval that is set in respective conventions.
For example as per Marpol convention, the minimum interval between adoption and acceptance has to be 10 months. Same way, as per SOLAS the minimum interval should not be less than one year.
SOLAS convention has also specified maximum interval between adoption and acceptance as 2 years.
How many number of government need to object for a resolution not to be accepted is also mentioned in respective conventions. These are usually
- one-third of the contracting governments or
- contracting governments that constitutes not less than 50% of the world gross tonnage
At the end of the deadline, if a contracting government has not taken any action (accepting or rejecting the proposed resolution), it is implied (tacit) that government has accepted the resolution.
Entry in force of a resolution
Once a resolution is accepted by tacit means or otherwise, it then enter into force. But there is a time specified in respective conventions on when the accepted resolution would enter into force.
For example as per SOLAS and MARPOL convention, a resolution would enter into force 6 months after it has been accepted.
Now that we know how a resolution amends a maritime convention, Its time to take a dive into the what conventions actually are.
What is a convention
There are many different ways to define a convention. A convention is a formal agreement between states.
Or a convention is an instrument which is negotiated under an international organisation such as United Nations.
There are number of conventions that IMO has given to maritime industry. To Name a few, these are
- International convention on safety of life at sea.
- International convention on prevention of marine pollution
- FAL convention
- Loadline convention
- Salvage convention
Convention is not a law
It is important to highlight that convention is not a law in itself. A convention becomes a law when it is implemented in a country’s own legal system.
SOLAS convention is not a law itself. But when a country adopts and includes it as legislation in their country, it becomes law for them. UK, Singapore and India have included it as legislation called Merchant Shipping act. USA call it CFR.
How a convention come in force
For a convention to come in force, it need to be adopted at IMO, ratified by the contracting governments and brought into force.
Proposal & Adoption of a convention
Typically an event, incident or a research study can trigger a need for a new convention. Incident of ‘Titanic’ triggered a need of SOLAS convention.
Incident of ‘Torrey Canyon’ triggered a need of MARPOL convention. And lately various research studies triggered the need of ballast convention.
Discussions on these incidents and research studies in shipping and other related industries is part of sessions of IMO committees and sub-committees.
Once IMO identifies a need for a new convention, the respective committee assisted by various sub-committees work on adopting the convention.
Ratification of the convention
Signature, ratification, acceptance, approval and accession are different ways in which a state (read country) can give their consent to be bound by the convention.
All these ways concerns the legality of procedure so we will not dig deep into it.
But the idea is that the states need to be ready for the new convention and they should give their consent for that by one of these ways. When a convention is adopted, it is usually agreed on how many states need to ratify the convention for it to come in force.
For example, the Ballast water convention requires at least 30 states to ratify which should represent at least 35% of the world gross tonnage.
Ballast water convention is just close to retification. On this date even though forty-seven countries have ratified the convention, their combined gross tonnage only represent the 34.56% of the world tonnage.
There number of circulars issued at IMO by different committees and sub-committes. And these circulars divided into more than 50 subjects.
Circulars related to Salvage, SUA, Ballast water management, GMDSS and STCW all are part of the circulars issued at IMO. But the most important or rather the one that seafarers are more associated with are MSC and MEPC circulars.
These are the circulars issued by MSC and MEPC respectevely. The former being circulars related to safety matter and latter related to pollution.
What does Circulars are for
We all know what company circulars that we get onboard are for. It gives information / clarification on various subjects related to company’s SMS manual.
It may also give latest incident summary. In short it is running log of important communication from ship to shore.
IMO circulars serves similar purpose. Among other thing, the circular are used for clarification, interpretation or guidance on its various codes and conventions.
We can now looks into how MSC and MEPC circulars look like.
As obvious, MSC circulars are related to the maritime safety. The MSC has divided its circulars in six sub-categories and are numbered from one to six. Any MSC circular number would look like this
In this MSC ofcourse denotes that it is circular issued by Maritime safety committe of IMO.
The number 1 denotes the sub-category of the circular. ‘Circ.’ tells us that it is a circular and the number in the last is the circular number which is numbered in chronological order.
The six sub categories that MSC circulars are divided into are
- MSC.1 : Circulars related to general information disseminated by MSC on safety matters
- MSC.2 : Circulars related to MSC- Implementation of codes and recommendations adopted by the assembly
- MSC.3 : Circulars on Illegal immigrants
- MSC.4 : Circulars on piracy matters
- MSC.5 : Circulars related to resolution 950(23) which is “Maritime assisstance services
- MSC.6 : Other circulars related to safety
Again as obvious, MEPC circulars are related to information on matters concerning maritime pollution. MEPC circulars are divided into seven sub-categories. These categories are numbered from one to seven. Any circular issued by MEPC would look like this
In this MEPC denotes that the circular is issued by Maritime environmenta protection committee.
The number next is the number of sub-category that the circular belongs to. The letters ‘Circ’ detones that it is a circular and finally the number is the circular number which is in chronological order.
The seven Sub-categories that MEPC circulars are divided into are
- MEPC.1 : Circular relating to general information disseminated by the MEPC on pollution matters
- MEPC.2 : Circular relating to Provisional categorization of liquid substances
- MEPC.3 : Circular relating to Facilities in ports for the reception of oily wastes from ships
- MEPC.4 : Circular relating to Facilities in ports for the reception of noxious liquid substances (NLS) residues from ships carrying chemicals in bulk
- MEPC.5 : Circular relating to Pollution prevention equipment required by MARPOL
- MEPC.6 : Circular relating to List of national operational contact point or points responsible for the receipt, transmission and processing of urgent reports on incidents involving harmful substances including oil from ships to coastal states
- MEPC.7 : Circular relating to Maritime Environment Protection Committee on pollution matters
We have only discussed the MSC and MEPC circulars. But there are more than 50 categories in which IMO circular are divided.
Each category has again different sub-categories like we have for MSC and MEPC circulars.
Finally to conclude in short, IMO conventions are set of rules which when adopted by a country’s legal system, becomes law for that country.
There is a growing need to amend these conventions to keep pace with the fast moving world and technology. The conventions are amended by the IMO resolutions which are passed by the committees.
The committees also communicates the interpretation, guidance and clarifications for the conventions by the various time to time circulars.
About Capt Rajeev Jassal
Capt. Rajeev Jassal has sailed for over 19 years mainly on crude oil, product and chemical tankers. He holds MBA in shipping & Logistics degree from London. He has done extensive research on quantitatively measuring Safety culture onboard and safety climate ashore which he believes is the most important element for safer shipping.
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