October 11, 2022, marked the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the 2012 Cape Town Agreement, the key international treaty applicable to large industrial fishing vessels aiming at providing safety standards, just as the SOLAS Convention does for commercial ships.
Despite extensive efforts by IMO Member States, other UN agencies, observers and the IMO Secretariat, the Agreement is not yet in force. As a result, there are, as yet, no globally mandatory requirements for the design, construction and equipment of fishing vessels, including life-saving, fire protection and radio-communications equipment to be carried on board.
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim again urged States, which have not yet done so, to become a party to the treaty as soon as possible.
“We cannot afford to be complacent when it comes to addressing the safety of fishers and fishing vessels. To bring this voyage that started over 45 years ago to a successful conclusion, IMO Member States are strongly encouraged to consider ratifying the Agreement as soon as possible. Not only will this finally bring into force an internationally binding safety regime for fishing vessels, it will also contribute to a significant reduction of the exploitation of both the oceans and the people who depend on them,” Mr. Lim said.
Bringing into force a binding international safety regime is expected to play an important part in helping to improve safety standards, and reduce the loss of life of fishers and observers onboard.
The journey to bringing a mandatory regulatory framework for fishing vessels into force began some 45 years ago with the adoption of the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels in 1977. Due mainly to the complexity of its implementation, the Convention failed to attract the number of ratifications necessary for it to enter into force. In 1993, the Torremolinos Protocol relating to the Convention was adopted to improve its provisions, but faced the same challenges.
The 2012 Cape Town Agreement, prepared and adopted under the auspices of IMO, following intensive discussions over a five‑year period, replaces both the 1977 Torremolinos Convention and the 1993 Protocol with updated provisions that address previously encountered technical and legal difficulties, and paves the way for facilitating the entry into force.
For entry into force, the Agreement needs to be ratified by 22 States with an aggregate number of 3,600 fishing vessels operating on the high seas. The current number of ratifications stands at 17 States with a total of around 1,925 eligible fishing vessels. There has been an accelerated trend towards ratification in the past few years, escalating hopes for its entry into force in the not-too-distant future.
This change in trend was driven by the efforts of the IMO to actively promote the Agreement. As part of these efforts, the Torremolinos Ministerial Conference on Fishing Vessel Safety and IUU Fishing, the largest fishing vessel conference held in the history of IMO, took place in October 2019, attended by some 125 States, 70 ministerial-level representatives, 30 international organizations and over 500 delegates.
During the Conference, the Torremolinos Declaration was signed by 48 States (now risen to 51 States), publicly indicating their determination to ratify the Agreement by 11 October 2022 – the 10th anniversary of its adoption – to enable its entry into force one year later. Since the 2019 Conference, four more States have ratified the Agreement with several others currently in the process of completing the ratification process.
IMO, in cooperation with other UN organizations, notably FAO and ILO, and non-governmental organizations, such as The Pew Charitable Trusts, organized a series of national/regional seminars and webinars to further promote the ratification and implementation of the Agreement. Such activities bring together multiple stakeholders, with a view to establishing a better coordination among public/private organizations for ratifying the Agreement.
Additionally, IMO has launched an easy guide to the Cape Town Agreement on fishing vessel safety, which provides a plethora of valuable information resources, materials to download, including informative videos.
Among other benefits, the Agreement, when it enters into force, will allow for the establishment of a port State mechanism to monitor illegal fishing activities and modern slavery by targeting sub-standard vessels. This, in turn, will protect markets from being flooded with illegally caught fish, increase transparency of fishing activities, contribute to the conservation of marine environment and resources, avoid depletion of world fish stocks and protect fishers from human rights abuse.
The Agreement would also protect search and rescue services from being called to rescue fishers (since incidents should decrease), contribute to better employment and working conditions onboard fishing vessels for both men and women, enhance the competitiveness of a nation’s fishing fleet on markets by enhancing safety standards, contribute to ship construction and equipment industry in particular for new built vessels and provide the basis for tackling abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear.