Q&A with Heike Deggim, Director of Maritime Safety Division, International Maritime Organization

By Heike Deggim, IMO

In a nutshell, how would you describe the main role of the MSC?

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) is the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) highest technical body and is open to all Member States. Its functions are to consider any matter within the scope of the Organization concerned with aids to navigation, construction and equipment of vessels, manning from a safety standpoint, rules for the prevention of collisions, handling of dangerous cargoes, maritime safety procedures and requirements, hydrographic information, log-books and navigational records, marine casualty investigations, salvage and rescue and any other matters directly affecting maritime safety. This includes responsibility for many of IMO’s internationally binding instruments, the most important of which is the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

In addition, due to security challenges imposed by some devastating terrorist acts around the world, IMO had to respond swiftly and appropriately to maritime security threats which have become an integral part of its mandate. In essence, IMO has a duty to make travel and transport by sea as safe and secure as possible and it is the responsibility of the MSC to develop suitable regulations and guidance.

The MSC always has a wide range of issues on its agenda. Of particular importance currently are goal-based standards ship construction standards, autonomous ships, piracy and armed robbery against ships, cyber security, e-navigation and the modernization of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

What is the biggest challenge facing the MSC today?

The biggest challenge today for IMO, and by extension for the MSC, is to ensure that all the existing instruments, guidance and recommendations are implemented globally in a proper and uniform manner by all Member States. Appropriate implementing legislation must be drafted at a national level, because international treaties can only become law when integrated into national legislation. IMO treaties are not self-executing and require domestic legislation to give effect to their provisions.  

The IMO Member State Audit Scheme (IMSAS), providing for a mandatory audit of all Member States, commenced from 1 January 2016 with the aim of determining the extent to which the States give full and complete effect to their obligations and responsibilities contained in many IMO treaty instruments.

Do you believe the industry is overburdened with regulation? 

Regulation is necessary. Without global, universal standards for shipping the industry would end up regulated in a chaotic way. By having a global body setting international regulations, we are helping to reduce regulation to what is necessary. 

We do have to ensure regulations are kept up to date and we do need to take into account the constantly evolving technology. Out-of-date regulation has the potential to be as burdensome as “too much” regulation – we need to get the balance right, always bearing in mind the administrative challenges and potential burdens of regulation. 

That is why IMO undertook its first-ever public consultation in 2013 on administrative burdens associated with mandatory IMO instruments, i.e. conventions, codes and other instruments. The result was a series of recommendations which have now been considered, including such things as promoting and allowing for electronic data and records, and developing a strategy on principles to be considered when drafting IMO instruments.

Any proposals for new, or amendments to existing, mandatory instruments must show there is a compelling need for such amendments. This includes taking into account the legislative and administrative burdens involved as well as the benefits for safety, security, efficiency of shipping or for the environment. 

How do the MSC and IUMI work together?

IUMI is one of some 70 international non-governmental organizations which have consultative status at IMO. IUMI has been active at IMO since 1961 – so really since the beginning of IMO operations. The NGOs provide specialist input to the decision-making process. 

Statistics kept by IMO for presentation to the Council regarding the activities of NGOs show that IUMI regularly attends IMO meetings and submits and sponsors documents. The IMO Secretariat has also attended IUMI conferences with presentations on specialist subjects.

Is there anything you would like to see underwriters do differently or better?

This is a commercial aspect of shipping so I cannot comment.  However, I am aware that marine underwriting can be a tricky business and that underwriters need to be aware not just of the rules and regulations of the flag state but also of any other countries where potential incidents could occur. 

If you could wave a magic wand and change just one thing in the shipping industry, what would it be?

The profession of the seafarer is not an easy one and I am not surprised that the numbers of people willing to do these jobs are dwindling. Communication is vital – I would like to see that every seafarer has reliable access to mobile communication so they can contact family and friends as needed – just as everyone can do on land.  

Also, the issue of abandonment of seafarers reflects badly on the shipping industry and needs to be resolved with the highest priority.

If you were not in your current role what would be your ideal job?

I have a great love for animals, having been a dog and cat owner at different times in my life, including various other varieties of animals owned by my kids. I am a supporter of the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the largest animal welfare charity in the United Kingdom. If I could start again I would most likely become a veterinary surgeon.

What do you like doing when not working?

Apart from the usual things like yoga, walking, reading and gardening, I have (so far) two grandchildren whom I watch growing up with great pleasure and who keep me busy.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I come from a long family line of fishermen and naturally I am not happy that we have so far not managed to bring an internationally binding instrument into force that would regulate the safety of fishing vessels. A comparison of fatality statistics in the fishing industry with those for other occupational categories clearly shows that fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations globally. 

The original Torremolinos Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels was adopted in 1977 and despite several attempts to bring it into force by means of protocols and agreements, the latest being the 2012 Cape Town Agreement, the ratifications received have not been sufficient to bring the provisions into force. This is a real shame and I will do all I can to help address this huge regulatory gap and fix it before I retire.