GDPR in shipping: Roadmap to compliance in 10 essential steps

October 13, 2020 GDPR

Why is GDPR particularly relevant to shipping?
Although GDPR will probably affect every organisation that
processes personal data, the shipping industry will be particularly
affected due to the following reasons:
• Even small shipping companies process personal data of their
crew on a daily basis. Most shipping companies keep records of
their crew members between embarkations and for some time
after the last debarkation.
• Personal data processed by shipping companies includes
personal identification documents, bank details, travel
documents, training records but also data considered to be
‘sensitive’ such as medical records.
• Shipping companies receive personal data from many sources such
as the individuals themselves, manning agents, port agents and
other third parties, in the normal course of business.
• They send personal data to many recipients such as port agents,
travel agents and P&I clubs.
• They regularly make data transfers to a large number of
jurisdictions, with particular interest in those made to countries
outside the EU, and in specific, those where certain conditions
must be met in order for the transfer to be allowable.
What should shipping companies do?
It is crucial that shipping companies kick-start their GDPR project
with raising awareness among top management on what GDPR
requires and what the key risks for their particular organisation
are. Engaging the right people at top management level is
necessary to ensure that the organisation commits the necessary
time and resources and develops a culture that respects privacy.
With the full support of management, organisations need to
assemble a multi-discipline team to run the project ensuring
risk, legal and IT are included. The appointment of a Data
Protection Officer may be required, under certain
circumstances, in which case the organisations need to
consider who that person might be. Trusted external advisors
can bring technical expertise, perspective and help save time.
It is then time to identify and record the data processing activities,
ensuring that for each activity, the entire data lifecycle is captured
(from collection all the way to destruction). Data processors and
joint-controllers should also be identified at this stage.
Whilst capturing the flows, organisations should look for the
weaknesses in the data flows, evaluate the resulting risk and
respond to that risk with a specific practical plan of action, so that
the risk can be mitigated to an acceptable low level. To identify
weaknesses they will also need to consider their policies and
procedures, their current compliance framework (for example ISM,
MLC etc) as well as tools and enablers, including legal documents
(forms, terms and conditions, etc) and of course the IT environment.
Once the specific action plan is complete, organisations can then
proceed to the implementation phase. This would normally include
making changes in privacy policies, contracts with manning agents,
P&I clubs, information notices to port agents, staff and crew as
well as drafting appropriate consent forms. Implementation could
also include changes in manual procedures, IT security (firewalls,
encryption etc) and business continuity & disaster recovery plan.
External advisors can again help carry out various aspects of the
implementation but also assist in managing the effort.
The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into full effect on 25 May 2018.
Designed to increase protection of individuals’ rights and freedoms, GDPR has strengthened
privacy rules, thus increasing the companies’ privacy obligations. Stakes are high as administrative
fines can reach Euro 20 million or 4% of an organisation’s global turnover (whichever is greater),
but the true cost in the case of a severe data breach is obviously the loss of reputation and
potential claims.
It is crucial that organisations design an Incident Report Plan to
include detailed actions that will need to take place so that, if
required, notifications can be made timely to the Supervisory
Authority (within 72 hours from detection of the data breach)
and to the data subject. The Plan should include a clear
pre-determined set of consecutive actions and a clear allocation
of responsibility for those actions as well as notification
templates, investigation requirements, reporting, media and
communications management etc. Shipping companies should
also maintain an incidents log, containing details of privacy
incidents identified and how they were followed up,
irrespective of whether they were reportable to the Authority
and/or the data subjects or not.
GDPR requires that companies consider the impact to data
privacy, when making important business decisions so that the
notions of privacy ‘by design’ and ‘by default’ are embedded in
new projects at the design phase. Decisions such as the
selection of a new manning agent based outside the EU, would
require a detailed assessment of the data privacy conditions
relevant to data transfers from and to the agent, in order for
the relevant considerations and potential risks to be surfaced
and mitigated appropriately at inception of the agreement. A
well thought-through privacy impact assessment can help
determine those terms and conditions that will eventually allow
the parties to transfer data securely and reliably, having
resolved accountability issues right from the start of their
contract. A well thought-through privacy impact assessment
can also expose a potentially high risk business partner.
Once the GDPR compliance plan has been fully implemented, it
is highly advisable to roll out GDPR training to all staff and
crew, highlighting any changes that were implemented
because of GDPR and the reasons thereto. Personal data such
as original travel documents as well as other records are being
held aboard the vessels so it is important that training, to the
appropriate extent is also provided to the officers on board.
Like all companies subject to GDPR, shipping companies need to
demonstrate that they monitor their compliance on a continuous
basis, by updating their policies and procedures when needed,
training their staff and crew as well as updating their formal
documents and agreements, when these are relevant to personal
data. In addition, shipping companies should design (and
incorporate in their ongoing compliance monitoring framework)
tests of operational effectiveness for controls mitigating significant
risks associated with GDPR and data privacy in general and follow
up on the weaknesses identified.
No matter how many safeguards are put in place in an
organisation’s internal control environment, effective risk
mitigation will always eventually come down to how well people
understand, appreciate and implement those safeguards.
Establishing and maintaining a governance-driven culture that will
empower people to actively protect their organization creates a
much more effective shield against privacy threats, compared to a
compliance-driven approach that can prove bureaucratic.
How can shipping companies better manage GDPR
compliance cost?
Compliance costs in shipping have increased exponentially in the
past few years. GDPR does not need to be another heavy
compliance burden: By embedding the principles of privacy to the
current structures, policies and procedures that were created to
respond to various other requirements coming from regulations,
authorities or other counterparties, shipping companies can
implement GDPR – as well as other privacy projects – in a truly
risk-focused, effective and efficient way.



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