In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Dr. Heike Deggim, Director, Maritime Safety Division, IMO, says that smart ships will change fundamentally ship operations and highlights that human element remains on top of IMO’s agenda. In that regard, STCW Convention and Code is under review to keep training requirements up-to-date while MLC will take into account lessons learned during the pandemic to ensure seafarers welfare under critical conditions.
As we are witnessing increased digitalization, which will be the basis for significant cost savings and increased efficiency, collaboration and cooperation, as we have seen during the pandemic, needs to continue. ‘’Engaging all stakeholders together and listening to seafarers is vital’’, stresses Dr. Deggim.
SAFETY4SEA: From your perspective, what are the key challenges that the maritime industry is currently facing?
Heike Deggim: Digitalization, decarbonization and automation.
S4S: What are the top priorities in your agenda with regards to safety for the next five years?
H.D.: IMO’s measures cover all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, operation and disposal – to ensure that this vital sector becomes progressively more efficient, environmentally sound, energy efficient, secure – and safe. The agenda develops in response to changes in technology, response to accidents and developments in shipping but also public expectations for low or even zero emissions. In the next five years, we will see the development of a Code for Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships.
Smart ships will change fundamentally change the way ships are operating. We will continue to look at fuel oil safety and the safety of alternative low and zero-carbon fuels. A major piece of work is the forthcoming comprehensive review of the STCW Convention and Code, to keep the training requirements up-to-date with evolving technology and environmental needs. The human element in general needs to be taken into account when changing the way shipping works. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular showed us just how essential seafarers are – they are key workers. We are working closely with our colleagues in the International Labour Organization (ILO) in a joint working group to address seafarer issues – including a specific remit to address bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, on board ships.
S4S: How will the current critical issues evolve in the coming years from your perspective? Where should maritime stakeholders focus on to face all challenges?
H.D.: The pace of development will be different for different issues. Digitalization and automation are the pre-cursors for smarter and at the same time greener shipping. Increased digitalization will be the basis for significant cost savings and at the same time increase ships’ efficiency. Other developments, like fully autonomous shipping, will move at a slower pace. Again, the pandemic helped us on the way, showcasing the importance of digitalization to enable remote operations in many areas, including audits, surveys, certification and training. Collaboration is key. We need to ensure all stakeholders’ voices are heard. IMO has a system for international organizations to participate as observers in all our meetings, as NGOs with consultative status, directly influencing the decisions taken at IMO.
S4S: What are the key actions that will make a step change in industry’s performance across a zero-accident maritime industry?
H.D.: Casualty reporting and casualty investigation are crucial. We need to know why an accident occurs and what its root causes are. This will then help us to decide whether any changes need to be made to the regulatory regime or whether it is more about the proper implementation of existing measures – and what do we need to focus on to ensure measures are properly enforced. Having said that, it is a fact that the human factor plays an important role in almost all accidents, leading to the conclusion that while a zero-accident maritime industry is a noble objective, and one we can certainly work towards, we need to be realistic: in the real world it will not be achievable and the same applies to any other industry.
S4S: From your perspective, how should industry stakeholders work to improve crew welfare and foster seafarers’ resilience?
H.D.: The collaboration and cooperation between international organizations like IMO, NGOs, the shipping industry and social partners we have seen during the pandemic needs to continue. Engaging all stakeholders together and listening to seafarers. The MLC needs to be reviewed, taking into account the lessons learned in recent years, especially during the pandemic, to ensure seafarers welfare, including under critical conditions. This is currently under way and IMO is working closely with ILO to address issues that emerged during the pandemic, like crew change problems, access to medical care and vaccinations, increased cases of abandonment, etc. Key worker status for seafarers and other marine personnel needs to be internationally recognized by all governments and the necessary actions need to be taken to enable them to carry out their work, thereby ensuring the continuous functioning of global supply chains.
S4S: What lessons has the industry learned with the pandemic? Where should we improve for a future crisis situation?
H.D.: At IMO we have already reflected on lessons learned and adopted amendments to the Facilitation Convention. The updated annex to the FAL Convention adopted in May – it will enter into force on 1 January 2024 – includes provisions derived from lessons learned during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Contracting Governments and their relevant public authorities are required to allow ships and ports to remain fully operational during a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), in order to maintain complete functionality of global supply chains to the greatest extent possible. Public authorities are also required to designate port workers and ships’ crew as key workers (or equivalent), regardless of their nationality or the flag of their ship, when in their territory. Best practice recommendations aim to prevent obstacles to crew movement for repatriation, crew change and travel, and encourage dissemination of information about public health matters and expected protection measures by ship operators. The amendments concerning arrival and departure of persons require public authorities to inform passengers about vaccination requirements sufficiently in advance of departure and vaccinators to use the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis in order to assure uniform acceptance. Ensuring seafarers and other marine personnel are truly recognized as key workers, essential to trade, will help ensure we respond better to future pandemics. Involved UN agencies like IMO, ILO and WHO are currently working together, also including the maritime industry and social partners to discuss the problems experienced and develop measures to prevent them from happening again, including amending the MLC. The objective is to facilitate the safe movement and protect the rights of cross-border transport workers like seafarers and for that better coordination and trust and good relationships between public health and transport authorities, as well as public and private sectors is imperative.
S4S: What are the three top priorities to achieve the UN SDG #5 and empower women in the maritime community?
H.D.: Data is critical. Data collected in the first IMO- WISTA (Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association) Women in Maritime Survey Report demonstrates that women account for only 29% of the overall workforce in the general industry and 20% of the workforce of national maritime authorities in Member States. Benchmarking the current state of the sector is vital to measure where we are, and where we need to go. The Women in Maritime Survey 2021 shines a spotlight on areas in which IMO Member States and the wider maritime industry are performing well – and, more importantly, those where additional attention, resources and encouragement are needed. By actively empowering women with the requisite skills, maintaining a barrier free working environment, we create truly sustainable systems of gender equality. We need to break down barriers and we need a cultural shift. Our efforts to support the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality must continue to be embedded across all of IMO’s work. Visibility of women in maritime is crucial. Diversity in maritime needs to be seen, on conference panels, on board ships, in training colleges. The first International Day for Women in Maritime on 18 May this year marked the beginning of an annual celebration of diversity in maritime – but it should not stop at just one day.
S4S: What actions should we take to collectively create an inclusive and attractive industry for the future generation?
H.D.: The most recent industry statistics show that there is a substantial shortfall of seafarers and this represents a serious challenge for shipping. Clearly, the industry must make further efforts to bring new generations into the profession of seafaring which must appeal to them as a rewarding and fulfilling career. Today, more than ever, seafaring is a job that demands highly trained and qualified personnel. The modern ship’s officer needs to be far more than a navigator or an engineer, and the modern ship’s crew needs to be far more than mere workers. In the maritime world, the need for high-quality, well-educated and competent people at all levels and in all sectors is as great as it has ever been. But there is no getting away from the fact that the skills required of seafarers are changing, and they are changing significantly and quite fast. And this is a good thing for the industry since it opens up possibilities for rewarding maritime careers in the wake of digitalization and automation.
S4S: If you could change one thing in the shipping industry from your perspective, what would it be and why?
H.D.: The shipping sector needs to tell its stories better. Shipping’s public profile is low and as a result the public perception of shipping is abysmal: most people never ask themselves where the goods they are buying in the shops are coming from and have not the faintest idea that about 90% of all traded goods globally are transported by ship. We need a global publicity campaign to increase the profile of the shipping industry. Compare that to the profile of aviation which is infinitely better embedded in the mind of the public and as a result also in the minds of politicians, a fact that played a huge role in the very different treatment of aviation personnel compared to seafarers and marine personnel during the pandemic. Make opportunities to engage with local communities; invite the younger generation on board to understand the vast array of careers in shipping. There is a lot being done – but there is always room for more.
S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders with regards to a more sustainable future for the maritime industry?
H.D.: Let’s make sure that the transition which shipping is undergoing – digitalization, automation, decarbonization, increasing diversity – is just and equitable and leaves no one behind. Let’s show the opportunities these developments are offering to the young generation, highlighting the interesting and viable careers that are possible in shipping and related industries. IMO is working to ensure shipping can embrace the digital revolution – while ensuring safety, security and environmental protection.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
Leave a Reply