Single Window For Ship Data Exchange To Become Mandatory Under FAL Treaty Amendments

IMO’s Facilitation Committee has adopted amendments to the Facilitation (FAL) Convention which will make the single window for data exchange mandatory in ports around the world. Amongst other matters, the Committee approved guidelines for the prevention and suppression of the smuggling of wildlife on ships engaged in international maritime traffic

Single window for ship data exchange to become mandatory under FAL treaty amendments

IMO’s Facilitation Committee has adopted amendments to the Facilitation (FAL) Convention which will make the single window for data exchange mandatory in ports around the world, marking a significant step in the acceleration of digitalization in shipping.

Other amendments adopted include lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic and add new and amended Recommended Practices to prevent corruption and illicit activities in the maritime sector.

ship arriving at port
Image Credits: imo.org

The Facilitation Convention was adopted in 1965 and contains standards and recommended practices and rules for simplifying formalities, documentary requirements and procedures on ships’ arrival, stay and departure. The Convention has been updated continuously, embracing digitalization and automation for procedures. (Read more.)

The amendments adopted at this session are expected to enter into force on 1 January 2024.

Guidelines to tackle illicit international wildlife trade approved

The Committee approved guidelines for the prevention and suppression of the smuggling of wildlife on ships engaged in international maritime traffic. The guidelines are expected to serve as a tool to combat wildlife trafficking in the maritime sector and its implementation must be in accordance with international law, in particular, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The guidelines recommend that every Contracting Government establish a national maritime transport facilitation programme to facilitate trade while combating illicit activities. They aim to encourage collaboration and coordination at international, regional, national and port level, and between competent government agencies, maritime transport operators, shippers, seafarers and other stakeholders engaged in the prevention and suppression of wildlife trafficking.

Wildlife trafficking is estimated to generate more than US$200 billion per year, making it the fourth largest illegal trade, after trafficking in counterfeit products, drugs and humans. Shipping is a popular method of illegally transporting wildlife, since it provides cost-effective opportunities for perpetrators to smuggle large volumes of animals and plants undetected.

The Committee agreed at its 44th session in 2020 to develop the guidelines, following a proposal by Kenya, through an informal working group led by Kenya. The group included participation from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), TRAFFIC and United for Wildlife.

Amendments:

Mandatory Single Window

The amendments update the provisions of the FAL Convention on mandatory electronic data exchange in ports for ship clearance. The amendments to the annex of the Convention will make it mandatory for public authorities to establish, maintain and use single window (SW) systems for the electronic exchange of information required on arrival, stay and departure of ships in ports. In addition, public authorities will have to combine or coordinate the electronic transmission of the data to ensure that information is submitted or provided only once and re-used to the maximum extent possible.

The Committee also approved related guidelines on authentication, integrity and confidentiality of information exchanges via maritime single windows and related services, which are aligned with the IMO Compendium (see next section); and revised guidelines for setting up a maritime single window.

The Committee invited Member States to participate in the testing of a new GISIS module created to share information on maritime single windows implemented by Member States. The module is designed to facilitate the sharing of best practices and support the IMO Secretariat in monitoring the progress of SW implementation in the maritime environment globally to better target IMO technical assistance.

Lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

The updated annex to the FAL Convention includes provisions derived from lessons learned during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Contracting Governments and their relevant public authorities are required to allow ships and ports to remain fully operational during a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), in order to maintain complete functionality of global supply chains to the greatest extent possible. Public authorities are also required to designate port workers and ships’ crew as key workers (or equivalent), regardless of their nationality or the flag of their ship, when in their territory.

Best practice recommendations aim to prevent obstacles to crew movement for repatriation, crew change and travel, and encourage dissemination of information about public health matters and expected protection measures by ship operators.

The amendments concerning arrival and departure of persons require public authorities to inform passengers about vaccination requirements sufficiently in advance of departure and vaccinators to use the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis in order to assure uniform acceptance.

Tackling maritime corruption

Updates to the FAL Convention take a systemic approach to addressing the issue of corruption associated with the ship-shore interface in ports. Contracting Governments are now required to encourage public authorities to assess the risks of corruption and address them by developing and implementing preventive measures to strengthen integrity, transparency and accountability. Public authorities are required to coordinate efforts to detect, investigate and sanction corruption related to ships’ calls in the port, including through national and international cooperation.

The Committee approved related Guidance to implement and adopt procedures against maritime corruption. The guidance encourages the use of administrative or criminal penalties to prevent corruption, regular updates to existing anti-corruption measures or implementation of new measures, and anti-corruption training for relevant personnel who are actively engaged in ship/shore interface operations. It contains a list of some best practices and procedures against maritime corruption.

Updated definitions

The amendments bring in updated definitions and general provisions for various terms used in the Convention, establishing agreed terminology. This means that all stakeholders, whether at a port, onboard a ship or a third party (such as a public authority, etc.) will now have a clear consensus on the meaning of terms such as ‘actual time of arrival’, ‘estimated time of arrival’, ‘authenticate’, etc.

Amendment for future adoption

A further amendment to the FAL Convention, relating to the need to tackle illicit activities under the recommended practice on establishing a national maritime transport facilitation programme, was approved at this session, for adoption at FAL 47.

IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business

The Committee approved an updated version of the IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business (the IMO Compendium). The new version includes the following five new data sets: “Ship reporting systems”; “Ship and company certificates”; “Ship registry and company details”; “Inspections” and “Port State Control inspection history data”.

By harmonizing the definitions and formats of the data elements required during a port call and by standardizing electronic messages the IMO Compendium facilitates the exchange of information ship to shore and the interoperability of single windows, reducing the administrative burden for ships linked to formalities in ports. The new version of the Compendium is already available in Excel and HTML formats from the IMO website, replacing the current version, here: The IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business.

The Committee expressed appreciation to Germany and Finland for supporting the IMO Compendium project in 2022 and 2023, respectively. This is a project launched by the Secretariat to cover the maintenance and extension costs of the Compendium over 5 years (2022-2026) and reduce the workload from the partner organizations (UNECE, WCO and ISO). The Committee encouraged other Member States to also consider financially contributing to this important digitalization project of the Organization.

Progress on MASS regulations

The FAL Committee approved the outcome of the regulatory scoping exercise (RSE) which analyzed relevant ship safety treaties under the remit of the Committee to assess how maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) could be regulated.

This follows the completion of similar RSEs by the Maritime Safety and Legal Committees.

The RSE on the FAL Convention identified gaps in terminology, the role and responsibility of the master and crew, as well as remote operators – which are areas of concern to all three IMO committees (MSC, LEG and FAL) involved.

With regard to the FAL Convention, one of the issues identified was the obligation to search for, identify and manage stowaways, refugees and persons rescued at sea and how this relates to ships with no crew onboard. Any decision to place persons rescued at sea, stowaways and refugees onboard unmanned MASS for transport to a subsequent port would be impacted by the absence of seafarers or basic accommodation facilities. Furthermore, in instances where a stowaway declares themselves as a refugee, consideration must be given to the process for ensuring the confidentiality of information shared.

The Committee concurred with the establishment of an MSC-LEG-FAL Joint Working Group on MASS to provide advice on and consider ways to address common issues identified by the three committees. The group is expected to meet in September, subject to endorsement by the IMO Council.

MSC 105 in April 2022 already commenced work on the development of a goal-based instrument in the form of a non-mandatory Code to regulate the operation of MASS.

The Committee included an output on “Measures to address Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) in the instruments under the purview of the Facilitation Committee” in its 2022‑2023 biennial agenda and the provisional agenda for FAL 47.

National Facilitation Committees

The Committee approved revised Guidelines for national maritime transport facilitation committees and programmes. National maritime transport facilitation committees (NMTFC) are bodies that include representatives from all stakeholders and pursue the overall objective of facilitation. Authorized by government administrations, they establish their own terms of reference for effectively implementing facilitation requirements and suppressing obstacles in trade flows.

The revised guidelines revoke those issued via the 1989 FAL.5/Circ.2 and incorporate information about recent facilitation-related issues such as repatriation of seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic; efforts to combat illegal wildlife trade; and experience gained during technical cooperation activities related to maritime SW systems, national maritime transport policies and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The guidelines contain information on the scope of NMTFCs, recommended methods of work, policy review suggestions, best practices, etc.

Member States were invited to contribute to the new GISIS module on the facilitation of maritime transport, and to design and implement public policies in order to strengthen maritime transport. The module can be found here: Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic – Collect information for national maritime facilitation committees (imo.org)

Cyber security

The Committee approved the addition of new cyber risk guidance from IPAH to IMO’s Guidelines on maritime cyber risk management (MSC-FAL.1/Circ.3/Rev.1). The ‘IAPH Cybersecurity Guidelines for Ports and Port Facilities’ are intended for use by port management and urge operators to consider cyber risks in the context of their own operations and develop a cyber risk management strategy that includes technical training for staff.

Port Community Systems (PCSs)

The Committee included a new output on “Guidelines on Port Community Systems” with a target completion year of 2024 in its biennial agenda. The new output will highlight the benefits of PCSs within a trade facilitation framework; facilitate harmonization, standardization and interoperability of different private and public trade and maritime information exchange systems; help Member States to understand differences between PCSs and Maritime Single Windows; and provide baseline information on how to develop a PCS.

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