The 2012 Cape Town Agreement (CTA), adopted by the IMO, presents fishing vessel standards and includes regulations to protect the safety of crews. The Agreement will enter into force when 22 States with a combined 3,600 eligible fishing vessels ratify or accede it. The CTA applies to commercial fishing vessels of 24 meters in length and above or equivalent in gross tons.

States that have ratified the Agreement have up to 10 years to install radiocommunication, and up to five years to establish lifesaving appliances, emergency procedures, and navigational equipment. In addition, a party can be excluded a vessel if it considers the requirement unreasonable, or if the vessel is only operating within its exclusive economic zone.

To make sure that vessels are safe, they must be inspected. This may be conducted by a flag State agency, or a delegated authority. The Agreement states that a ship's lifesaving appliances, radio installations, structure, machinery, and equipment must be inspected before it starts operations and at intervals not over five years. In case a vessel has been exempted, its operator must complete an exemption certificate and make it available on board for examination at all times.

CTA applies to fishing vessels 24 meters and longer. However, millions of fishing vessels are smaller than 24 meters. These mainly operate within countries’ exclusive economic zones and are subject to national safety regulations. The IMO has created a number of non-mandatory instruments, regarding the safety of these smaller vessels.

What is more, CTA has a 'no more favourable treatment', meaning that all vessels entering a port of a State that is a party to the Agreement would be subject to the same inspection standards.

In order for a country to ratify the Agreement, delegates will need to provide the number of fishing vessels flagged to their State. If this figure is unknown, the FAO can provide it, if the State is a party to the FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas. If neither of these options apply, this figure will be obtained from databases of regional fisheries bodies or other international maritime databases.

But what are CTA's benefits? These are categorised into four parts:

Coastal State

For coastal States, ratification and implementation of the CTA would minimize the risk to their nationals who work as crew and observers on board foreign-flagged vessels. It would also allow inspection of foreign-flagged vessels, increasing the transparency of the fishing operations.

Flag State

For flag States, ratification of the CTA would create minimum safety standards for a huge proportion of the global fishing fleet, potentially saving the lives of thousands of fishers operating on the high seas.

Port State

States with international port facilities and biodiverse waters will be able to better protect productive fish stocks in their waters. Ratifying and implementing the CTA would also provide a port State with another route for vessel inspections, improving the safety of vessels operating within its territorial waters and increasing the possibility that it can identify IUU fishing practices.

Market State

Market States can reassure their consumers that the people catching their seafood have safe and decent work conditions. CTA's entry into force would allow market states to apply these requirements to foreign-flagged vessels that import seafood to meet the demands of their consumers.