IMO’s 108th Maritime Safety Committee focuses on seafarers’ wellbeing

The world’s maritime leaders convened at the 108th Maritime Safety Committee session at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) headquarters in London from May 15 to 24. Right at the beginning, the somber tone was set by IMO Secretary General Arsenio Dominguez during the opening address.  “As you all know, this year’s World Maritime theme is ‘Navigating the future: safety first!’. The safety and well-being of seafarers remain (the) utmost (important), especially considering the ongoing challenges highlighted by recent distressing events in the Red Sea and off the coast of Somalia.” 

There is little question why safety was top priority. Not only are lives at skate, “it continues to impact the global economy and freedom of navigation; endangers the marine environment; and (will continue to) cost the lives of innocent seafarers,” he added. So much so that it was the first agenda at the session, which was chaired by Mayte Medina from the United States and vice-chair, Capt. Theofilos Mozas from Greece. Below are some of the highlights.

Resolution on maritime security in the Red Sea 

The attacks happening in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, which were caused by Houthi attacks on commercial ships and seafarers, have captured the rapt attention of the international maritime industry. During the session, the Committee adopted a Resolution where great emphasis is impressed onto all Member States to adhere to their obligations under the targeted UN arms embargo. They are expected to take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply of arms and related material of all types to the Houthis, as called for in the United Nations Security Council resolution 2216. 

The resolution “deplores and condemns in the strongest possible terms the illegal and unjustifiable attacks, which threaten the safety and welfare of seafarers and the marine environment.” It had demanded the Houthis to immediately halt its attacks on commercial ships and called for the immediate and unconditional release of the captured Galaxy Leader and its crew.

In addition, the Resolution urges Member States and observer organizations to step up and provide maximum assistance to seafarers affected by attacks. It had called for peaceful dialogue and diplomacy and impelled any party that may have influence with the Houthis to use it to end these attacks.  

The resolution also encouraged ship operators and vessels to carefully assess the nature and unpredictability of recent events. It stated that the possibility of continued attacks in the area must be considered when evaluating transit plans, based on vessel profile, business need and risk tolerance. 

Violence, harassment against seafarers

Addressing violence and harassment in the maritime sector, the amendments to the Seafarers’ Training, Certification and Watchkeeping Code (STCW) were adopted, to prevent and respond to violence and harassment in the maritime sector, including sexual harassment, bullying and sexual assault. The amendments stated new mandatory minimum requirements for basic training and instruction for all seafarers.   

The Committee also approved other recommendations from the joint International Labor Organization (ILO) – IMO Tripartite Working Group. This group, established in 2022, works to identify and address seafarers’ issues and the human element. The recommendations included awareness campaigns and other further measures to address violence and harassment, applicable to administrations, shipping companies, social partners and UN agencies.  

Piracy and armed robbery 

An update from the Secretariat on piracy reports for 2023 showed that 150 incidents of piracy and armed robbery, which either happened or were attempted against ships, were reported to IMO. In 2022, 131 incidents were reported. This was a 15 percent increase from 2022 to 2023. 

The areas most affected by acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships in 2023 were the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (85), West Africa (22), South China Sea (14) and South America (Pacific) (14), followed by Indian Ocean (five), South America (Caribbean) (four), Arabian Sea (two), East Africa (two), South America (Atlantic) (one) and Mediterranean Sea (one). 

The Committee also heard IMO’s efforts to address piracy and armed robbery at the regional level. The initiatives are: Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP-ISC); the Djibouti Code of Conduct (with Jeddah Amendment), covering the Western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden; and the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, covering the Gulf of Guinea.  

IMO urged Member States to continue their support for the Djibouti Code of Conduct Trust Fund, assist Yaoundé Code of Conduct implementation efforts in the Gulf of Guinea, and consider making financial contributions to the West and Central Africa Trust Fund.  

Seafarers working on fishing vessels

The Committee adopted a revised annex to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel, 1995 (STCW-F Convention), as well as a new mandatory Code on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel Code (STCW-F Code). 

The STCW-F Convention is a legally-obligated ratified agreement which details certification, watchkeeping and minimum training requirements for fishing vessel personnel. The revised provisions and the associated new STCW-F Code are to address present needs and demands of the fishing industry. 

They both support the integration of qualifications by mandating a minimum level of competence for personnel working on fishing vessels to which the Convention applies. This, in turn, allows free movement of fishing vessel personnel and recognition of certificates between countries that have officiated and implemented the STCW-F Convention. 

The amendments to the STCW-F Convention and the new STCW-F Code are set to be enacted on January 1, 2026. 

The Committee also approved new draft guidelines on the medical examination of fishing vessel personnel which were finalized by the Joint ILO/IMO Working Group. The agenda is to improve the process of undergoing medical examination for fishing vessel personnel worldwide, enhancing health and safety of fishing vessel personnel, while minimizing fishing sector accidents and fatalities.  

Photo credit: iStock/Igor-Kardasov

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