Automation of ship reporting functions has taken a big step forward with two important decisions by IMO. One concerns the introduction of the electronic exchange of information as a universal, binding requirement for the purpose of facilitating the business of international maritime traffic. The other concerns the standardisation and harmonisation of ship reporting in support of e-navigation developments aimed at simplifying the communication of navigational safety information between ship and shore and its harmonised display on ship bridge equipment.
While the two decisions address different needs, their overall objective is the same: to alleviate administrative burdens for shipping and maritime stakeholders in general, as well as within maritime administrations. Greater, and more streamlined, application of electronic solutions will avoid the duplication of work. The use of multiple formats for data record-keeping and reporting will also enable a more efficient allocation of resources.
IMO’s decision to require mandatory electronic information exchange is embedded in amendments to the annex to the 1965 Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention). Developed in an all-out effort to meet modern industry needs, they were adopted by its Facilitation Committee in April (FAL 40). The committee agreed unanimously that the amendments should enter into force on 1 January 2018 unless, prior to 1 October 2017, at least one third of contracting governments have notified their non-acceptance in writing to the IMO secretary-general.
A newly adopted Standard under the revised FAL Convention expressly requires public authorities to take all necessary measures to establish systems for the electronic exchange of information by 8 April 2019. The Standard further specifies that there should be an adequate period of transition to the mandatory use of these systems, of no less than 12 months from their date of introduction. The associated recommended practices state that public authorities should allow shipowners and other parties to submit the required information in paper forms in the interim period. Contracting governments should encourage public authorities to introduce so called single-window arrangements to avoid duplicated data submissions.
A further new Standard addresses issues of interoperability of systems and compatibility of electronic messaging and data formats. It states that contracting governments should encourage public authorities and other parties, such as shipowners, handling companies, ports, and cargo agents, to exchange data in conformity with the relevant United Nations standards, such as UN/EDIFACT (Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport) standards, or other internationally agreed standards, such as the XML standard.
FAL 40 recognised that harmonisation and standardisation of data reporting formats, used in existing maritime single window platforms, would require much more work and policies, as well as the need to address associated technical issues. Ports tended to have their own individual cultures but it was important that they were involved in this process, and maritime administrations had a role to play in promoting and encouraging harmonisation among their individual ports.
A FAL correspondence group, led by the United States, was established to undertake work on reviewing the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business. It will focus on reviewing definitions of data in FAL forms for possible mistakes and inconsistencies, or refining them to address possible misinterpretations. This group will also look into the feasibility of revising the layout of the technical data in the Compendium to accommodate the different tools for maintaining data models used by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
FAL 40 reaffirmed the critical importance of IMO’s ongoing project concerning the development of a prototype, global Maritime Single Window which would greatly support the implementation of the revised FAL Convention. Next year, FAL 41 will consider the procedure of the development work. It will take account of the specific needs of developing countries in particular.
IMO’s ongoing work on standardisation and harmonisation of ship reporting, which is within Solas Regulation V/11, involves the revision of the associated guidelines and criteria for ship reporting systems. It concerns one of the five selected priority tasks under IMO’s four-year work programme (2016-2019) on the implementation of e-navigation.
The IMO Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR) recently reviewed a number of proposals that will be further discussed at NCSR next year. This is when the results of a joint test-bed project of Brazil, Norway, Singapore and Intermanager will also be available. The test-bed, carried out during this year, involves a ship departing from Norway and heading for three destinations, one in Europe, one in Brazil and another in Singapore. It aims to demonstrate the transfer of data between the shore systems of national competent authorities and between a ship reporting system (SRS), such as IMO-mandated SRS in the Barents Sea, and the Vardø Vessel Traffic Service in Norway.
A submission by China on the result of a test-bed project completed in the Port of Shenzhen was discussed by NCSR in March this year. It made the distinction between dynamic information, which is essential for navigational safety, and business-related information. The latter type of information should not unduly burden ship bridge personnel, and it should preferably be transmitted using standard electronic tools such as internet, e-mail and electronic data interchange (EDI). China suggested that the test had shown that most of the dynamic information could be exchanged by Automatic Identification System (AIS) messaging. NCSR considered that an element of verbal communications may still need to be retained for both safety and security purposes.
China also introduced the concept of a shipborne dedicated communication gateway to assist in data transfer between navigation and communication equipment. South Korean delegates raised the possibility of the maritime cloud providing the communications framework to support the seamless exchange of electronic data for ship reporting systems. Supporters of the maritime cloud see it as the backbone of e-navigation, providing the logical infrastructure for co-ordinating data sharing.
Resolutions and FAL Convention explained
IMO has already adopted several resolutions addressing administrative requirements established in mandatory IMO instruments, and perceived to be onerous by maritime stakeholders. Its Assembly Resolution A.1043(27) on the periodic review of administrative requirements, which was adopted in 2011, resulted in IMO’s first-ever open consultation. The Assembly Resolution A.1103(29) on principles to be considered when drafting IMO instruments (adopted in 2015) set out five criteria that should be systematically applied to make regulation fit for purpose, that is to say, relevant, consistent, proportionate, clear, and resilient.
Meanwhile, the FAL Convention was originally introduced in 1965 to enforce a more uniform approach to the movement of ships, cargoes and personnel. It simplifies and minimises the formalities, documentary requirements and procedures associated with the arrival, stay and departure of ships engaged on international voyages. Its regulatory approach differs somewhat from that of other major IMO regulatory instruments, such as Solas and Marpol. The FAL Convention annex lists a number of Standards and associated recommended practices, leaving the responsibility for their application and interpretation to individual contracting governments.