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IMO: The Regulatory Framework for Maritime Data Sharing

wartsila voyage

Published Dec 15, 2022 1:41 PM by Wärtsilä Voyage

As digitalisation is gaining ground fast, the idea that cross-industry data sharing helps create a safer, cleaner and more efficient shipping is indisputable. In fact, less and less territory is being left uncharted when it comes to exploring the benefits of data exchange and holistic solutions that drive digital maturity and shape the connected environment. Engaging all stakeholders together is vital, as is keeping up with the regulatory framework that governs data sharing practices in the maritime industry.  

In an exclusive interview to Wärtsilä, Natasha Brown, Head, Public Information Services, International Maritime Organization (IMO), talks about the importance of data exchange for emissions reduction, next steps in the workflow on digital issues and IMO's strategic direction to integrate new and advancing technologies in the regulatory framework.

WV: Do you think the industry is reaping the benefits that digitalisation can offer it? 

NB: Certainly, we see the shipping sector using technology. From IMO’s perspective, our focus is on ensuring that the benefits of technology are fully balanced against safety and security concerns, the impact on the environment and on international trade facilitation, the potential costs to the industry, and finally their impact on personnel, both onboard and ashore. 

One particular focus is on data exchange, for the arrival, stay and departure of ships to and from ports. IMO’s Convention on Facilitation on International Maritime Trade, or Facilitation Convention, makes electronic data exchange mandatory since 2019.

Most recently, new amendments coming into effect from 1 January 2024 will make it mandatory for public authorities to establish, maintain and use single window systems for the electronic exchange of information required on arrival, stay and departure of ships in ports. 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 reused to the maximum extent possible. 

IMO, through the Facilitation Committee, has also approved related guidelines on authentication, integrity and confidentiality of information exchanges via maritime single windows and related services; and revised guidelines for setting up a maritime single window. 

WV: As shipping becomes more interconnected within the global supply chain, what’s IMO’s take on standardised and shared data: will it eventually become compulsory or remain as optional benefit? 

NB: Given the international nature of shipping, standardised data throughout the logistics chain including stay and departure of ports is the impetus to ensure smooth and efficient flow of sea traffic. 

To support mandatory electronic data exchange, IMO has developed the IMO Compendium on facilitation and electronic business, a technical reference manual for software developers within the relevant public authorities. The compendium harmonises the data elements requested by the various public authorities and standardises electronic messages. Standardisation is really important in order to support electronic data exchange across the globe. 

Since July 2019, the IMO Expert Group on Data Harmonization (EGDH) is responsible for the technical maintenance of the IMO Compendium and for further expanding its data set and data model to areas beyond the FAL Convention, including exchange of logistics and operational port and shipping data. At its most recent meeting, in October 2022, the EGDH discussed data sets related to safety information, marine harbour infrastructure, passenger information, and considerations on the extension of the IMO Compendium, and the terms of reference for the next meetings and the working group that might be established during next Facilitation Committee meeting in 2023.

WV: Can you elaborate on IMO 2021 and the next steps in IMO’s workflow on digital issues (e.g. cyber security and workflow concerning cyber threats and risk management)? 

NB: IMO has adopted Resolution MSC.428(98) on Maritime Cyber Risk Management in Safety Management Systems. This encourages administrations to ensure that cyber risks are appropriately addressed in existing safety management systems (as defined in the ISM Code). 

IMO has also issued MSC-FAL.1/Circ.3/Rev.2 Guidelines on Maritime Cyber Risk Management. This provides recommendations to safeguard shipping from current and emerging cyber threats and vulnerabilities and includes functional elements that support effective cyber risk management. The recommendations can be incorporated into existing risk management processes and are complementary to the safety and security management practices already established by IMO. 

The Guidelines on authentication, integrity and confidentiality of information exchanges via maritime single windows and related services (FAL.5/Circ.46) were also developed to support information exchange related to the ship, its passage through international and national waters and port calls. 

WV: How important is data sharing for shipping’s emissions reduction and decarbonisation strategy? 

NB: Studies by the IMO-Norway GreenVoyage2050’s Global Industry Alliance to Support Low Carbon Shipping (Low Carbon GIA) show just how valuable exchange of information can be to reduce emissions. Just-in-time (JIT) arrivals allow ships to optimise speed during their voyage to arrive in port when berthing, fairway and nautical services are available. The benefits of data sharing are showcased by multiple studies. For example, containerships can reduce fuel consumption and resulting carbon dioxide emissions by 14% on a per voyage basis using JIT arrival, according to a 2022-published study.  

WV: What is the role that technology suppliers can play in supporting the development of regulations governing new technologies? 

NB: Technology suppliers may collaborate with countries (Members of the IMO) and shipping industry to deliver systems that are fit for purpose. IMO treaties allow for flag states to permit trials of new and alternative technologies, as long as they achieve the same environmental and safety goals set out in the relevant treaties. IMO regulations set the standards and performance standards are proposed and adopted by IMO. Experience from trials can be fed back into this process.  

The Maritime Technologies Cooperation Centres (MTCCs) established by IMO have been trialling energy efficiency technologies and compiling data to feed back to IMO. These centres are gearing up to be able to continue their work across several technology areas. 

WV: What is IMO’s approach to regulating an area that is developing so rapidly? As technology advances, how do you ensure regulations are not outdated before they enter force? 

NB: One of IMO's strategic directions is to integrate new and advancing technologies in the regulatory framework. As technological development accelerates, new and advancing technologies will significantly affect shipping, creating a more interconnected and efficient industry more closely integrated with the global supply chain. New and advancing technologies have already brought about changes at all levels in the way ships are designed, constructed, equipped and operated, and have had equal impact on personnel, both on board and ashore. 

Since technological advances present challenges as well as opportunities, their introduction needs to be considered carefully in order for them to be accommodated appropriately into the regulatory framework. Of course, there are set processes to go through to put up proposal, discussion, circulation and adoption of mandatory amendments to IMO treaties. But the process can be quicker for using guidance and recommendations. And this can allow the IMO to facilitate trials and pilots, allowing Member States and the industry to feedback on their experiences and make recommendations on the way forward. 

The Organization's regulatory framework will be continually adapted to the challenges and global developments facing the shipping industry, with a view to ensuring safety, security and environmental protection.  

This interview appears courtesy of Wärtsilä Voyage and may be found in its original form here

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.