October 19, 2002

IMO Legal Committee moves on terrorism
One of IMO's first reactions after 9/11 was unanimous adoption of a resolution calling for a review of measures and procedures to prevent acts of terrorism that threaten the security of passengers and crews and the safety of ships. Since then a group of experts has been drafting proposed amendments to expand the scope and effectiveness of the regulations on prosecution and extradition of those perpetrating unlawful acts at sea.

Next week, the 85th session of IMO's Legal Committee will review the proposed amendments to the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention) and its related Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, 1988.

The proposed amendments expand the list of offenses in article 3 of the SUA Convention to ensure that it covers a wide range of terrorist acts. They also introduce a variety of measures aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of the convention.

Acts currently covered by the convention include the seizure of ships by force; acts of violence against persons on board ships and the placing of devices on board a ship which are likely to destroy or damage it. The proposed amendments would significantly broaden the range of offenses and make the convention more relevant to modern conditions.

The convention obliges governments that have signed on to it either to extradite or prosecute alleged offenders, ensuring that those responsible for perpetrating acts of violence against or on board ships, will be brought to justice, wherever in the world they seek to hide.

The SUA Convention has been ratified by 73 States, representing 75.4 percent of world merchant shipping tonnage and the SUA Protocol has been ratified by 66 States, representing 75.1 percent of world merchant shipping tonnage

Wreck removal

Terrorism is not the only item on the Legal Committee's agenda. Among other matters, next week's meeting will look at a draft wreck removal convention (WRC). The next step after that will be a recommendation to the IMO Assembly on whether to hold a diplomatic conference to adopt it.

The draft convention currently being considered by the Legal Committee is intended to clarify rights and obligations regarding the identification, reporting, locating and removal of hazardous wrecks, in particular those found beyond territorial waters.

The current session is expected to address some fundamental issues such as the definitions of "wreck" and "hazard", the "convention area", the "State whose interests are most directly threatened by the wreck" and issues concerning liability, compensation and financial security.

Other matters

Other items on the Legal Committee's agenda include issues relating to monitoring the implementation of the HNS convention, which forms a vital link in the compensatory regime for pollution damage at sea.

The Committee will also receive an oral report of the fourth session of the Joint IMO/ILO Ad Hoc Expert Working Group on Liability and Compensation regarding Claims for Death, Personal Injury and Abandonment of Seafarers, which developed proposed questionnaires to be distributed in order to monitor implementation of previous Assembly resolutions and guidelines on these issues.

Athens Convention

The Legal Committee will meet for three days (Tuesday, October 22 to Thursday, October 24), alongside the International Conference on the Revision of the Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, 1974) which opens on Monday, October 21 and continues on Friday, November 1.

The conference is expected to adopt a protocol to revise the Athens Convention.

Under the proposed protocol, compulsory insurance for passengers on ships will become international law.

The draft protocol introduces, among other things, the requirement of compulsory insurance for passenger claims, and proposes changes to the fault-based liability system, introducing the concepts of strict liability and reverse burden of proof in certain circumstances, and makes a distinction between shipping-related and non-shipping incidents.

The limits of liability are expected to be raised significantly and the mechanism for raising limits in the future will be made easier.

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