Nov 3, 2004

IMO Legal Committee moves on SUA treaties

IMO's Legal Committee has set the stage for a strengthing of the international covention covering unlawful acts against ships.

A diplomatic Conference to adopt amendments to the 1988 SUA (Suppression of Unlawfual Acts) Convention and Protocol is to be held in October 2005.

The 2005 Conference will consider the adoption of two protocols incorporating substantial amendments aimed at strengthening the SUA treaties in order to provide an appropriate response to the increasing risks posed to maritime navigation by international terrorism.

The SUA protocols will complement the International Ship and Port Facilities Security (ISPS) Code by providing a legal basis for the arrest, detention and extradition of terrorists in the event that a terrorist attack against shipping.

The proposed amendments include a substantial broadening of the range of offenses included in Article 3 of the SUA Convention and the introduction of provisions for boarding vessels suspected of being involved in terrorist activities in Article 8.

In preparation for the October 2005 diplomatic Conference, the Legal Committee will hold a second session of its working group on the revision of the SUA Convention and Protocol (from January 31 to February 4, 2005), followed by a two-week Legal Committee meeting from April 18-29, 2005 to continue its consideration of the draft Protocols (as well as to consider other Legal Committee issues).

Work on the revision of the SUA treaties followed the adoption in 2001 of Assembly resolution A.924(22) which called for a review of measures and procedures to prevent acts of terrorism which threaten the security of passengers and crews an the safety of ships.

Draft Convention on wreck removal In other work at its meeting in London last month, The Legal Committee continued its consideration of the draft Wreck Removal Convention (WRC). The WRC is intended to provide international rules on the rights and obligations of States and shipowners with respect to wrecks and drifting or sunken cargo which may pose a hazard to navigation and/or pose a threat to the marine environment.

The convention is intended to clarify the rights and obligations regarding the identification, reporting, locating and removal of hazardous wrecks, in particular those found beyond territorial waters. The proposed Convention will also cover the issue of compensation in the event that the coastal State itself needs to take relevant action.

Implementation of guidelines on claims for death, personal injury and abandonment of seafarers The Committee received a progress report on the work of the Joint IMO/ILO Ad Hoc Expert Working Group on Liability and Compensation regarding Claims for Death, Personal Injury and Abandonment of Seafarers.

The Committee urged member States and non governmental organizations to respond, without delay, to requests for information on the implementation of resolution A.930(22) Guidelines on Provision of Financial Security Cases of Abandonment of Seafarers and to report any cases of abandonment in order to assist the Committee in furthering its work on the subject.

Follow-up to resolutions adopted by the International Conference on the Revision of the Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, 1974 The Committee reviewed the interim results of a study into the current practice of bareboat charterer registration and the implications for certificate-issuing obligations under IMO liability conventions carried out by the Comité Maritime International (CMI) with support from the IMO Secretariat. The Committee encouraged the CMI to continue its work.

The Committee also invited member States to contribute to further work on two issues relating to the Athens Convention on passenger liability: firstly, the fact that the Convention requires a higher amount of compulsory insurance and of liability than existing IMO pollution prevention conventions; and secondly, the fact that article 3 of the Athens Convention is not strictly confined to non-war protection and indemnity insurance, but may also affect war risk insurance. It was generally agreed that these issues should be addressed by the Committee, but not through amendments to the Athens Convention.

Places of refuge: The Committee reviewed a report from the CMI on its thirty-eighth conference in Vancouver, Canada in June 2004, which had discussed topics relevant to places of refuge. The CMI informed the Committee that it had identified several concerns in the present arrangements (based on IMO's Guidelines on places of refuge for ships in need of assistance), one of which was that there was no single international convention establishing the rights and obligations of a coastal State when it was faced with a request to provide a place of refuge. The Committee agreed that the issues raised in the report needed further study.

Measures to protect crews and passengers against crimes committed on vessels: The Committee considered a resolution on Criminal offenses on board foreign-flagged ships adopted by the CMI at its Vancouver conference, which recommended that the CMI establish a Joint International Working Group to draft a model national law concerning such offences.

The Committee took note of the information and suggested that, rather than developing a model national law, the CMI might consider working with the Legal Committee with a view to developing an instrument that might be developed into customary international law.

Fair Treatment of Seafarers: The Committee agreed the terms of reference for the Joint IMO/ILO Ad Hoc Expert Working Group on the Fair Treatment of Seafarers in the Event of a Maritime Accident and nominated eight IMO Member Governments to represent the Organization at the Group's first meeting, scheduled for 17 to 19 January 2005 at IMO Headquarters.

IMO, in co-operation with ILO, will consider the development of appropriate guidelines based not only on the principles of UNCLOS but also on the fact that unwarranted detention is a violation of basic human rights. IMO member Governments and the Social Partners (employer and employee representatives) were encouraged to submit proposals for consideration by the Group.

Implementation of the HNS Convention: The Committee was updated on the status of the implementation of the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) by Sea, 1996.

The HNS Convention is intended to add a vital component in the international compensation regime for pollution damage at sea. At the end of September 2004, it had been ratified by six States, representing 1.73 per cent of world merchant shipping tonnage. The Committee noted that the ratification process had been held back by some States to ensure that as many States as possible ratify at or about the same time, thereby triggering the entry into force of the treaty.

For entry into force, the HNS Conference requires ratification by 12 States, four of which have not less than two million units of gross tonnage, provided that persons in these States who would be responsible for paying contributions to the general account have received a total quantity of at least 40 million tonnes of contributing cargo in the preceding calendar year.

The Committee was informed that the IOPC Fund had a database for identifying and recording contributing cargo. Governments were also reminded that article 43 of the HNS Convention imposes a requirement on contracting Governments to report information on contributing cargo at the time of ratification and annually basis, including nil reports.

Compulsory pilotage arrangement in a strait used for international navigation: Following a request from the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) and the Sub-committee on Safety of Navigation (NAV), the Legal Committee reviewed the legal aspects of compulsory pilotage in a strait used for international navigation. 

There was general agreement on some of the fundamental principles of international law as codified in UNCLOS, in particular the right of transit passage through a strait used for international navigation. There was also agreement that IMO is the competent international organization to adopt measures such as the one proposed by Australia and Papua New Guinea to extend the existing Great Barrier Reef compulsory pilotage scheme to the Torres Strait.

However, the Committee remained divided and was unable to resolve the issue of the legality of adopting requirements for compulsory pilotage in straits used for international navigation.

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