The last physical meeting prior to international travel restrictions and lockdowns coming into effect was the Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) Sub-Committee, in early March 2020. Currently all meetings through to mid-2021 are scheduled to take place online.
Among the key challenges related to remote IMO sessions is the necessity to accommodate delegates from all time zones around the globe, while also offering simultaneous interpretation into the six official UN languages, IUMI noted.
To date several meetings have been held online, including the ALCOM (All Committees) Meeting in September 2020 which was scheduled to debate and approve guidelines for the conduct of remote sessions. The first virtual committee meeting was the Facilitation Committee, in October 2020. This was followed by the Maritime Safety Committee’s 102nd session in November 2020. The agenda was significantly reduced to ensure that all items could be addressed.
Time keeping is extremely challenging as the working hours for all committee meetings have been scheduled for only three hours per day, including a 15-minute break,
…stressed Mr. Kühl.
For MSC 102, six such online meetings were scheduled from November 4-11. This meant that a significantly shorter period was available than the eight working days allocated for the original (physical) meeting in May 2020.
The proposal to address containership fire safety on which IUMI co-sponsored a joint paper looks set to be discussed at MSC 103 in May 2021, which represents a considerable delay, according to IUMI.
Meanwhile, MEPC 75 also took place virtually for the first time, where the debate about “Reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships” took up much of the allotted five virtual meetings. For such sensitive issues, it became clear that the online format exacerbates the possibility to find consensus. Nevertheless, the meeting was successfully concluded following much debate among the delegates.
It remains to be seen how the forthcoming IMO meetings will cope with the heavy workload in combination with the reduced timeframe scheduled for the virtual meetings.
During MEPC 75, several delegates called for an improved way to conduct online meetings to allow sufficient time to address the various issues. The IMO Council and Secretariat were requested to consider new options to ensure that the numerous work streams ongoing across various committees can continue effectively despite the impact of the pandemic.
While digital solutions have averted a complete shutdown of the IMO operations, there is a long way to go to enable Member States and observer organizations to progress the important work on maritime safety and the marine environment in the virtual space.