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New shipping rules on e-data come online

The International Maritime Organization's new rules on how nations exchange electronic data between ships and ports took effect this week.

LONDON (AN) — The International Maritime Organization's new rules on how nations exchange electronic data between ships and ports took effect this week, affecting more than 10 billion tons of goods per year traded by sea worldwide.

They are part of a 2016 revision to IMO’s Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, which is known as the FAL Convention and took effect just over a half-century ago. Malaysia's ratification of the treaty on April 10 raises to 123 the number of participating nations.

The new rules will require countries' shipping regulators to oversee industry upgrades and the streamlining of electronic information exchanges so that there is a "single window" of data that all public authorities can use.

"The new FAL Convention requirement for all public authorities to establish systems for the electronic exchange of information related to maritime transport marks a significant move in the maritime industry and ports towards a digital maritime world, reducing the administrative burden and increasing the efficiency of maritime trade and transport," said IMO's Secretary-General Kitack Lim.

Among the IMO-standardized forms that public authorities can demand of ships are crew and passenger lists, notice of dangerous goods, general and cargo declarations, and an inventory of a ship's stores and crew items. At least five other documents are required that deal with security, customs, postal items, health and wastes.

IMO’s Facilitation Committee meets in London to discuss how to make shipping more efficient (ARÊTE/IMO)

A 'single window project'

The IMO, as a United Nations agency, oversees the safety and security of shipping and prevention of marine and atmospheric ship pollution. Its work also supports the U.N.'s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Since 1967, the IMO's FAL Convention has been a tool to improve the efficiency of maritime transport in ports for ships, cargo and passengers. Its aim is to simplify formalities, and to spell out what documents are needed and what ships must do while they use the ports.

But in 1993, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, which deals with trade, investment, and development issues, reported that the electronic data interchanges for ports needed some improvement.

UNCTAD's report, prepared in collaboration with the Tokyo-based International Association of Ports and Harbors, found that a port's productivity and quality of services were "directly connected" to the speed of its physical and administrative functions, which determined how long ships had to stay put and how long goods remained on quays.

"Ports are not merely transport terminals where handling operations take place; they are one link in the transport chain, closely connected with shipping agents, shipping companies and land transport operators," the report said. "Port computer systems cannot be planned as local systems cut off from communication with clients and partners outside the port."

Such concerns were the themes of a meeting this week for IMO's Facilitation Committee at the organization's London headquarters along the River Thames, where they planned to discuss what the organization described as the "harmonization and standardization of electronic messages."

The committee also was due to get more information on what was described as "a successful IMO maritime single window project, implemented in Antigua and Barbuda, with Norway’s support."