Like so many other physical meetings and events, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Committee Meetings have fallen victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last session which took place physically at the IMO’s headquarters in London was the 7th session of the Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) Sub-Committee in early March. All meetings since then, and through to the end of 2020, have been postponed. The IMO Council which convened in writing over the course of several weeks approved of the following order of priorities for a reconstructed meeting schedule which will take place virtually:
- Council 124
- Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) 75
- Intersessional Working Group (ISWG) on Greenhouse Gases
- Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) 102 (8-day meeting)
The 102nd session of the Maritime Safety Committee is of particular relevance to IUMI as the proposal for improved containership fire safety which was co-sponsored by IUMI along with Germany, Bahamas, BIMCO and CESA was set to be on the agenda. This meeting has recently been postponed to take place in a virtual format from 4-11 November 2020. It will be interesting to see how the digital meeting will cope with the various agenda items, not least because IMO remote meetings should run for a maximum of three hours.
The IMO has set up a dedicated section on the corona virus on their website which provides detailed information and guidance on various aspects of the COVID-19 crisis and the multitude of problems it causes to the maritime industry. This includes circulars about:
- Health protection measures on board ships
- Recommendations for port and coastal states on the prompt disembarkation of seafarers
- Guidance for flag states regarding surveys and renewals of certificates
- Recommendations on the facilitation of maritime trade
With potential reoccurrences of the pandemic in IMO member states, the resumption of physical meetings at the IMO building continues to look uncertain until well into 2021. This is particularly unfortunate given the host of urgent and important issues the organisation is asked to deal with. Not only various safety related issues must be addressed and resolved, equally pressing are environmental matters related to the maritime industry and its impact on climate change which are dealt with in the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). The move toward virtual meetings is the only avenue to keep progress underway on all these critical issues.