New CMI President Wants Closer Ties with IMO

Kitack Lim and Christopher O. Davis at IMO headquarters in London, November 15, 2018.
Kitack Lim and Christopher O. Davis at IMO headquarters in London, November 15, 2018.

Published Dec 1, 2018 6:38 PM by Wendy Laursen

Christopher O. Davis of Baker Donelson was elected president of the Comité Maritime International (CMI) last month, and MarEx spoke to him about his ambitions.

The CMI, formally established in 1897, is comprised of national maritime law associations from the world's leading shipping nations.  

What are you aiming to achieve during your term?

I was both humbled and honored to be elected the first American president of the CMI at IMO's headquarters in London on November 9, 2018, and I look forward to working with our national maritime law associations and the governmental and international agencies and private organizations that comprise our membership in promoting uniformity of maritime law over the next three years.  

The CMI primary objective or "raison d'être" is to contribute by all appropriate means and activities to the unification or uniformity of maritime law. This remains a laudable goal today, and one that I intend to pursue while also recognizing that the drafting of maritime conventions (a traditional role of the CMI) has been largely assumed by United Nations agencies and other inter-governmental organizations such as IMO, UNCITRAL, UNCTAD, UNIDROIT, IOPC Fund, and ILO, among others.  

Thus, I intend to focus during my term on private law initiatives with practical applications that will contribute to the uniformity of maritime law in both civilian and common law jurisdictions.

I am also committed to raising the profile of the CMI in other parts of the world such as Africa, by encouraging the formation of national maritime associations in that continent and working with IMO's Technical Cooperation Committee to promote the ratification and implementation of maritime conventions, as well as Latin America, by encouraging Latin American national maritime law associations to host future CMI events, such as the September 30-October 2, 2019 Mexico City Colloquium. 

Do you have particular focus areas that have personal meaning for you? 

I am particularly interested in strengthening the CMI's ties with IMO, which has taken on many of the CMI's traditional roles. In fact, I recently met with Secretary General Kitack Lim and the Director for Legal Affairs and External Relations Division, Fred Kenney, to discuss possible cooperation on projects of mutual interest. Some of the areas we discussed included fraudulent ship registries and updating the 1982 Flag Registry Convention, as well as refugee migration at sea and addressing responder immunity and compensation for deviation to assist refugees.

What do you see as the most important issues that CMI will need to tackle over the next 10 years?

Safety of life at sea, protection of the marine environment, and piracy/terrorism will remain important issues going forward. In addition, technological advances and developments in unmanned vessels (maritime autonomous surface ships or "MASS" as defined by IMO), as well as cybercrime, will continue to pose challenges over the next 10 years.  

The CMI and its membership have a deep bench of expertise, with over 50 national maritime law associations from leading shipping nations, as well as governmental and international agencies and private organizations that represent various interests or stakeholders in the maritime sector and serve as consultative members. So we can play a pivotal role in addressing these issues and challenges.

What are some of the initiatives that are currently part of the CMI's focus?

The CMI conducts its work through International Working Groups and International Standing Committees which are listed on its website (comitemaritime.org), and include implementation and promotion of maritime conventions, marine insurance, carriage of goods by sea including the Rotterdam Rules, fair treatment of seafarers, unmanned craft, cybercrime, judicial sales of ships, polar shipping, and others.  

Some of the high-profile initiatives the CMI is currently focusing on include promoting a new draft instrument on the recognition of judicial sales, under the auspices of UNCITRAL; promoting the ratification of the Rotterdam Rules as a new legal regime governing carriage of goods by sea, since it provides for electronic bills of lading and anticipates the use of new technologies such as blockchain; identifying maritime conventions that will need to be updated with the advent of unmanned vessels with the encouragement of IMO's Legal Committee; and establishing a database of judicial decisions interpreting maritime conventions, in cooperation with the National University of Singapore.

Christopher O. Davis is a shareholder in the New Orleans and Washington, D.C., offices of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, and the contact for the Firm's International Arbitration Practice Group. He can be reached at (504) 566-5251 or [email protected].

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