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IMO chief pledges to improve casualty reporting record

Last year, Lloyd’s List revealed that investigation reports about more than half of the very serious casualty incidents that had occurred since January 2014 had not been produced by flag states. IMO secretary general Kitack Lim admits the IMO has to do more on this front and has vowed to personally undertake this effort

Kitack Lim tells Lloyd’s List he will put in more effort so the body can point to a stronger track record on casualty monitoring

THE International Maritime Organization will commit to tackling the widespread delays of casualty investigation reports following revelations of severe underreporting last year, its secretary general Kitack Lim has told Lloyd’s List.

Last year, we revealed how flag states, including the largest ones, had failed to produce investigation reports on more than half of the very serious casualties of the past four years.

Filing investigation reports to the IMO on very serious casualties, defined as cases in which there is loss of life, complete loss of the vessel or major damage to the environment, is mandatory but there are no time constraints.

Among the most notorious cases of pending reports is the Marshall Islands-flagged Stellar Daisy, the iron ore carrier that capsized on March 31, 2017, leaving 22 seafarers missing. A report has yet to be produced on that incident.

Pressed on whether the IMO could do more to improve on this record, Mr Lim said casualty investigation underreporting is a problem that requires serious policy and is an area in which the IMO could do more.

“This item should be taken care of properly and in my position, having known the concern from the public, I will put in more effort to this aspect. I am going to have some more conversations with member states to improve this situation,” he said.

Reality gap

Mr Lim admitted that while the IMO has influence mechanisms, such as audit schemes and guidelines, to encourage member states to report accidents, there is a reality gap between what is encouraged and what is really reported.

In January, two liquefied petroleum gas carriers exploded in the Kerch Strait, leaving at least 14 seafarers dead. 

Safety at sea remains the IMO’s central area of focus, but its work on safety issues has arguably been overshadowed by years of escalating environmental regulation.  

Mr Lim, who was named shipping’s most influential person for 2018, argued that at the moment the organisation is having the biggest influence it has ever had in its history. 

But that, he said, is not intentional.

To some extent, global circumstances, primarily the forces pushing the climate change agenda and the adoption of the Paris Agreement, have propelled the IMO into that position.

“Those developments, especially environmental issues, is not something we try to avoid. It is something difficult, but it is something we have to adopt for the future sustainability of shipping and the health of human beings and the environment,” he said.

Mr Lim, who will take on a second year term at the helm of the IMO beginning in 2020, has to oversee the implementation of several consequential regulations, none bigger than the decarbonisation strategy adopted in April last year.

The strategy, which the secretary general labelled as a “very ambitious target” and a “really big challenge”, demands a 50% reduction in total annual greenhouse gas emissions and vies for a 70% reduction in “carbon intensity” by 2050 compared with 2008.

Mr Lim acknowledged member states, the industry and their non-governmental organisation support toward the IMO in adopting the strategy, overcoming what he called a “difficult moment.

Since April member states have moved cautiously, agreeing in October to design but not necessarily implement new emissions measures by 2023, when the whole strategy is up for revision.

Nonetheless, Mr Lim is confident in the progress being made, arguing that the process is already taking into consideration potential challenges like the concerns of developing states over the impact of future measures on them.

“We will continue the effective dialogue on all regulatory aspects of IMO. If you look back at significant decisions, it has been shown time and time again that apparently disparate positions have been demonstrated not to be as far apart as some may have thought,” he said.

During his next term, Mr Lim will also have to tackle internal reform in the IMO, in both its structure, decision-making processes and accessibility.

Efforts had been made last year to, among other things, open up IMO committee meetings to the public. But deliberations around these sensitive issues were effectively deferred to this upcoming summer.

Mr Lim claims the deliberations sent a clear instruction to the IMO assembly, composed by all member states, to engage in a review and reform process of the organisation.

“The coming years will see ideas gel and decisions made to ensure that IMO remains efficient, effective, inclusive and transparent,” he said.

He argued the organisation has already worked on improving transparency, with greater accessibility to documents and updates on the “proposals, studies and exchange of views related to our inclusive regulatory process”.

Media attending IMO meetings are not allowed to quote delegates speaking during the plenary without their explicit permission.

Although official proposals to IMO meetings are made weeks before they convene, they are only made officially public once the meeting starts, unless individual member states and organisations decide to publicly share their own proposals.

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