At the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) 23rd session held in London at the start of December, member states adopted new guidelines on places of refuge, intended for use when a ship is in need of assistance but the safety of life is not immediately involved (in which case the provisions of the SAR Convention apply).
The guidelines recognise that when a ship has suffered an incident, the best way of preventing damage or pollution from its progressive deterioration is to transfer its cargo and bunkers and to repair the casualty, such an operation being best carried out in a ‘port of refuge’.
However, to bring such a ship to a place of refuge may endanger the particular coastal state, both economically and from the environmental point of view.
Furthermore, local authorities and populations might object strongly to the operation. The guidelines therefore recognise that granting access to a place of refuge could involve a political decision that can only be taken on a case-by-case basis. In doing so, consideration will need to be given to balancing the interests of the affected ship with those of the environment.
A second resolution recommended that all coastal states should establish a maritime assistance service (MAS).
The principal purposes would be to receive the various reports, consultations and notifications required in a number of IMO instruments; monitoring a ship’s situation if such a report indicates that an incident may give rise to a situation whereby the ship may be in need of assistance; serving as the point of contact if the ship’s situation is not a distress situation but nevertheless requires exchange of information between the ship and the coastal state, and for serving as the point of contact between those involved in a marine salvage operation undertaken by private facilities if the coastal state considers that it should monitor all phases of the operation.
The assembly also adopted guidelines on ship recycling, which have been developed to give advice to all stakeholders in the recycling process, including administrations of ship building and maritime equipment supplying countries, flag, port and recycling states, as well as intergovernmental organisations and commercial bodies such as ship-owners, ship builders, repairers and recycling yards.
Among the total of 30 resolutions passed on shipping matters, members also agreed on the need for an audit scheme to assess the effectiveness of the Organisation in implementing global shipping standards.