Voluntary IMO Audit Schedule

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Several international treaties are in place with a vision to achieve safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans.  These treaties are developed after deliberations at the highest forum of representatives of nations, considering the experience gained in maritime affairs, over centuries.  It endeavors to create a uniform operational environment for an industry that is truly global.  But collisions, accidents, groundings, loss of life, loss of ship, environmental damage, financial loss etc are happening every day.  Shipping Administration of nations (flag state / port state) institutes an enquiry into accidents that occur under their jurisdiction and brings out the circumstances and causes that lead to the accident.  Corrective and suggestive actions recommended to avoid recurrence of similar incidence are seldom implemented.  Therefore, the entire investigation procedure becomes a burial ground for the incidence and serves as an insult to the life of seafarers lost at sea.

Shipping industry can emerge from this morass if the regulatory and enforcement mechanism sincerely shoulders the role, responsibility and accountability for putting into operation the various safety, security and anti-pollution measures.  That calls for the implementation of several treaties that are in force through IMO, UNCLOS, ILO MLC 2006, SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW 95, ISM Code, MEPC, MSC, TCC (to name a few) and corresponding statutes introduced by the maritime nations.  The Regulatory, Enforcement and Monitoring responsibility of international treaties rests on the shoulders of the following establishments.

  • National Shipping Administration – that has the power to regulate and enforce the treaties within their territorial waters and beyond that on ships flying its flag.  Similarly, the Coast Guard also shares a regulatory responsibility in the shipping administration.
  • Shipping Companies – including Ship Owners, Chartering Companies and Manning Companies – who are responsible to ensure that all the provisions of the treaties have been adhered to in each ship from their company, before deploying her for operations.
  • Recognized Organizations – like P & I Clubs, Underwriters, Marine Insurance Companies, Classification Societies, BIMCO, INTERTANKO, Ship Owners’ Associations, Ship Registries etc. to whom certain authority has been delegated by the Shipping Administration for inspection/audit/certification with regard to compliance of the statutes in the course of their activity.  They can exert authority or influence shipping companies regarding compliance of international treaties.
  • Global Organisations –  The IMO, UNCLOS and ILO (all UN bodies) serves as  pillars in formulating treaties for an efficient shipping administration, considering the universality of the industry with the participation of member nations.

    With the Global Organisations assigned the role of a guide and mentor at the centre, the other three shapes up as a ‘Triangular Team’ around it.  To mobilize the regulatory, enforcement and monitoring functions, the national shipping administration has the primary responsibility and major authority over other two sides of the triangle. A highly diplomatic approach is taken by global organisations in the enforcement of international treaties as sovereignty of nations is involved.  Therefore, the treaties provide liberty to implement it to the satisfaction of national administration.  Though the intention is to enhance standards, the level is often diluted for commercial gains –  one reason for the flourishing ‘flag of convenience’ scenario.   This has also resulted in varying standards in the implementation and enforcement of treaties that are intended to formulate a uniform rule for the shipping industry.  The IMO Member State Audit Scheme is providing a platform for improving accountability of Member States in their treaty obligations.

  A pool of trained Auditors is being established to conduct the audit in accordance with the modalities and provisions of the scheme, under the auspices of IMO.  Qualified Auditors nominated by Member States will be provided training with the support of Technical Co-Operation Global Programme of the Scheme.  Upon receiving a request for audit from a Member State, the IMO Secretary General will appoint an Audit Team Leader who will discuss and agree the scope of the audit with the Member State.  The audit will commence after the signing of a Memorandum of Co-operation by the Secretary General and the Member State.  The objective of the IMO Member State Audit Scheme, in the words of IMO Secretary General could be summarized that “rather than causing embarrassment to those to be audited by exposing their weaknesses, would instead bring both sides closer together – the one helping the other in pursuit of the common goals of enhanced safety and environmental protection”.

     The principles framed for the audit scheme unequivocally recognizes the ‘exclusive flag state jurisdiction on ships entitled to its flag’.  One of the principles reads as:-  “Audits should be constructive in approach and carried out on a voluntary basis, at the request of the Member State to be audited, and in accordance with established procedures.  Nevertheless, the benefits of the scheme would be greater if all Member States of the Organisation volunteered themselves to be audited.  Audits should therefore be organized and conducted in such a way as to encourage Member States to submit to audit.  All Member States will benefit from positive and constructively conducted audits.”  Therefore, the success of the Audit scheme depends on the continued commitment and willingness of Member States to fulfill their treaty obligation.

     Seafarers are mere employees of Shipping Companies, working according to their directives. Whenever a maritime mishap or accident occurs, they suffer the physical and psychological impacts, instantly.  The fault finding entities often swirls round seafarers, conveniently concealing administrative obligation of putting into operation the safety, security and anti-pollution measures.  Maritime mishaps could be drastically minimized and the vision of safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans could be achieved if the ‘Triangular Team’ takes decisive action in dealing with deficiencies and complies with the internationally agreed standards.  As a major boost to this movement of IMO, Chile and Denmark have singed the Memoranda of Co-operation to participate in the Audit Scheme in June 2006.  The rest of the civilized world is expected to follow!!

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