24th Assembly - London

London hosted last 15-17 November the 24th ordinary session of IMSO, chaired by Dikko Tahir Bala of Nigeria, elected by acclamation.

IMSO Director General (DG) Capt. Moin Ahmed of Bangladesh, in office since 15 April 2015, presented to the Assembly a new proposal to reorganise the directorate which various parties, among them Portugal, consider a step backward with respect to the set of decisions made in recent years, with a view to streamlining costs and how IMSO functions. The DG accordingly commissioned to the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation a study for revision of the structure of the executive body he leads. A questionnaire was sent to a relatively unrepresentative sampling shortly before the date the Assembly was held, to which around ten countries responded.

In the wake of the previous decision (supported by a majority of parties, even though states traditionally active and influential in the organisation like Panama, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the Marshall Islands and the Philippines, as well as Portugal and Switzerland, among others, strongly contested it) the Assembly approved the budgets for years 2017 and 2018, respectively containing budget increases of 12 percent and 22 percent, as well as the financial forecast for 2019, envisaging an increase of 38 percent. Given the strong reluctance manifested, the DG argued that a “repositioning” was at hand and not a true budget increase, which would also enable IMSO to be repositioned “in the scope of the United Nations system” and his own salary at “Under Secretary General” level.

The Assembly debated opening provision of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) to Iridium, beyond the historic operator (Inmarsat). The candidacy of the US satellite operator Iridium to be the second GMDSS provider was submitted by the USA to the relevant bodies of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO); that party reported to the Assembly about progress meeting conditions to recognise the new operator and on proposed amendments of the public services agreement (PSA) which the new GMDSS operator should sign with IMSO, to be approved at the 25th Assembly within two years so that the PSA can be adjusted to current business practices.

The USA indicated that Iridium should begin the tests needed for implementation of its network between April and October 2017, as preparation to demonstrate total compliance with the required technical requisites before IMO’s Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue 5 Subcommittee; this will take place in March 2018. The DG reported to the Assembly about ongoing activity of the Group of Experts, whose actions are coordinated by the Directorate; it evaluates fulfilment of the technical and operational requisites for Iridium to become a GMDSS operator in the future.

Regarding the function taken on by IMSO since 2008 as coordinator of the Long Run Identification and Tracking (LRIT) system for ships, the parties were namely informed about integration of the currently existing 55 data-centres, corresponding to the membership of 119 SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) governments, and about LRIT implementation and the report to the IMO Maritime Safety Committee.

The DG also reported that the formula for calculating LRIT costs adopted at the 23rd Assembly based on a proposal from the United Kingdom, which defended the introduction of two weighing factors vis-à-vis the base rate (number of ships and number of flag states, with respective weighting of 25 percent and 40 percent), remains in force and has been undergoing review, though no proposals have been received to change it.

The DG defended the possibility that IMSO may eventually expand its monitoring mission beyond GMDSS to the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System and reported to the Assembly that informal talks in that regard had begun with the secretary general of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Fang Liu. Most states that commented on this point noted that expansion of this function would require an amendment to the IMSO Convention and advised the DG to maintain cooperation with the ICAO without additional initiatives and to keep the Advisory Committee (AC) informed.

The Assembly elected the new AC, which will have the same number as the previous one – a total of 39 members. Portugal will continue to take part in the AC’s activities as an observer. According to the Assembly’s rules of procedure, the AC should comprise between 15 and a maximum of a third of the membership. In the last two-year period, the AC has met three times, less than usual, chaired by Ghana’s Azara Prempeh, who reported to the Assembly about the organisation’s activities since the last Assembly. Note that the most recent AC meeting scheduled for September was cancelled by the DG; the committee thus did not have the opportunity to comment on the organisation’s restructuring study nor about the revised budget for the next two years.

The Assembly also elected as vice-chairs Russia (Nadjeda Nesterenko, representing the Europe region), Antigua and Barbados (Dwight C.R. Gardiner, Americas region) and China (Jingsheng Zhang, Asia).

Portugal took part in this Assembly as chair of the Credentials Committee along with Antigua and Barbados, the Philippines, Liberia and Mexico. The credentials of 64 parties were examined and accepted as valid. Angola and Bolivia participated as observers, along with representatives of the IMO, World Meteorological Organisation, International Hydrographical Organisation, International Chamber of Shipping, European Commission, International Telecommunication Union and Inmarsat.

It was noted that since the last ordinary Assembly the organisation’s membership had increased to 102 after Ecuador, Fiji and Georgia joined the IMSO convention.

The Assembly granted to the previous IMSO director general, Esteban Pacha-Vicente of Spain, the title of director general emeritus, as it had done in 2008 with the preceding DG, Jerzy Vinau of Poland.

The next ordinary Assembly will meet in the last quarter of 2016, possibly at IMO headquarters in London. The 26th Assembly may in turn be held in Georgia, at that country’s invitation, in 2020. Georgia has also shown interest in hosting one of the Advisory Committee’s sessions in 2018, if the committee so decides.