May 3, 2005

Tougher maritime terror treaties on the way

When IMO's Legal Committee met in London last week, a high priority was tightening up the two conventions that provide for an appropriate legal response to acts of maritime terrorism.

Following last week's meeting two draft protocols are now ready for consideration by a diplomatic conference set for October.

The draft protocols will strengthen the SUA treaties--the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf.

The 1988 SUA Convention provides the legal basis for actions against those committing unlawful acts against ships. Such acts include the seizure of ships by force, acts of violence against those on board ships and the placing of devices on board that are likely to destroy or damage the ship.

Under the Convention, contracting governments are required to either extradite or prosecute alleged offenders. Similar provisions are contained in the SUA Protocol, which covers unlawful acts against fixed platforms.

The aim of the two new draft Protocols is to strengthen the SUA treaties to provide an appropriate response to the increasing risks posed to maritime navigation by international terrorism.

They include a substantial broadening of the range of offenses covered by the convention and introduce provisions to allow for the boarding of vessels suspected of being involved in terrorist activities.

The SUA amendments will complement the provisions of SOLAS chapter XI-2 (Special measures to enhance maritime security) and the ISPS Code by providing a legal basis for the arrest, detention and extradition of terrorists should an attack against shipping occur.

The Legal Committee also continued work on a number of other agenda items.

Wreck removal: The 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 that may pose a hazard to navigation and/or pose a threat to the marine environment.

The aim of is 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.

Fair treatment of seafarers: The Committee reviewed the report of the first session of the Joint IMO/ILO Ad Hoc Expert Working Group on the Fair Treatment of Seafarers in the Event of a Maritime Accident, which met in January 2005. It approved a draft resolution for adoption by the twenty-fourth IMO Assembly (which meets in November-December 2005) and by the ILO Governing Body. The resolution calls for the adoption of guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident as a matter of priority.

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. In particular, the Committee noted that ILO has created a database to record information on incidents of abandonment of seafarers.The database is intended to facilitate monitoring of the size and scope of the issues involved.

Implementation of the HNS Convention: The Committee was updated on the status of 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 to the international regime for compensation for pollution damage at sea. At the end of April 2005, it had been ratified by eight States, representing 5.38 per cent of world merchant shipping tonnage. For entry into force, the HNS Convention 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. It was noted that the contracting States, as well as the States which in future will accede to the HNS Convention, are legally obliged to submit information on contributing cargo received when depositing their instruments with the Secretary-General of IMO and annually thereafter.

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