Seafarers and Climate Change: Key Issues Highlighted During IMO Virtual Meeting

The challenges faced by seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to keep on track with IMO’s work to combat climate change were two key issues highlighted during a virtual meeting organized by IMO (23 April), to brief permanent representatives and liaison officers from 78 IMO Member States and one Associate Member.

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim thanked Member States for detailing their arrangements to address the fallout of the pandemic, in particular concerning extending seafarers’ certificates, in notices that are made available on the IMO website. He highlighted the need for seafarers to be designated as keyworkers and appealed to all permanent representatives and liaison officers to convey this message to their governments. Seafarers, he said, are beneficial to the smooth operation of shipping and enable the industry to support the global supply chain.

The meeting was updated on the discussions by the IMO Council, in an extraordinary session held by correspondence, (C ES 31) and a recent meeting of the chairs of Committees, about the development of a proposal on rescheduling IMO meetings that have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A priority list has been drawn up and will be considered by the thirty-second extraordinary session of the Council. The proposal give priority to a regular session of the IMO Council, followed by meetings of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) – which will be preceded by the 7th meeting of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships – and to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC). Resuming physical meetings will depend on guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UK Government guidance as well as the national situation of IMO Member States.

This priority on the MEPC and GHG working group highlighted IMO’s continued commitment to moving forward with combatting climate change, without undue delay, Mr. Lim said. The meeting was also told that the 4th IMO GHG study, which will provide data on GHG emission from ships up to 2018 and future projections, is on schedule to be completed by late 2020.

The participants were briefed on work being done by the Secretariat, in liaison with other UN agencies and bodies, to explore the practicalities of holding virtual meetings, including multilingual meetings with interpretation into the six official languages of the Organization. The IMO Secretariat is also making preparations for re-opening the IMO Headquarters building, when that is permitted, including how to provide for applicable measures such as social distancing.

The participants were also briefed on COVID-19 related technical guidance IMO has issued (Circular Letter no. 4204 and addenda) to address the fall-out from the pandemic, following requests from Member States for uniform recommendations on how to address certain issues.  These include joint statements with other UN agencies as well as guidance issued by the shipping industry, to ensure global distribution of such information.  They were also informed that the Secretary-General has established a Seafarer Crisis Team, continuously providing world-wide assistance to seafarers in individual cases.

The next extraordinary session of the Council (C ES 32) will start on 4 May. It will be held by correspondence over two months, to allow time for Member States (Council Members and observers) to communicate on various agenda items, including holding meetings in future.

On other activities, the meeting was informed that in-country audits under the IMO Member State Audit Scheme had been paused and that the remaining audit schedule from 2020 onwards would be moved one year forward from 2021 whilst follow-up audit work will continue as usual.

Scheduled missions for technical cooperation activities had also been paused, but the IMO Secretariat was working with the IMO global institutions, the World Maritime University and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute, to develop online learning to students all over the world. Meanwhile, the process for selecting countries to participate in global projects, including GreenVoyage and GloLitter, is continuing, despite the pandemic.

Briefings for permanent representatives and liaison officers are usually regularly held at IMO Headquarters, on the invitation of the Secretary-General, but the travel and lockdown restrictions imposed because of the pandemic necessitated a virtual edition. A total of 155 participants from 78 Member States and one associate Member State attended the meeting. This was the largest virtual meeting organized by IMO to date.

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