IMO’s Facilitation Committee has adopted amendments to the Facilitation (FAL) Convention which will make a ‘Single Window’ system for data exchange mandatory in ports around the world, a significant step in improving digitalisation in shipping.
The FAL Convention was adopted in 1965 and contains standards, recommended practices and rules for documentation and procedures during ships’ arrival, stay and departure. The amendments adopted at the most recent Facilitation Committee session (FAL 46), which met 9-13 May, are expected to enter into force on 1 January 2024.
The amendments update the provisions of the FAL Convention on electronic data exchange in ports for ship clearance, making it mandatory for public authorities to establish, maintain and use Single Window systems for the electronic exchange of information required during the arrival, stay and departure of ships in ports.
In addition, public authorities will have to combine or coordinate the electronic transmission of the data to ensure that information is submitted only once and reused to the maximum extent possible.
The Committee also approved related guidelines on the authentication, integrity and confidentiality of information exchanged via Maritime Single Windows and revised its guidelines for setting up a such systems.
Member States have now been invited to participate in the testing of a new module within IMO’s online GISIS (Global Integrated Shipping Information System) service, created to share information on Maritime Single Windows implemented by Member States.
The module is designed to facilitate the sharing of best practices and support the IMO Secretariat in monitoring the progress of Single Window implementation globally, to better target areas requiring technical assistance.
In addition to tackling Single Window implementation, FAL 46 also approved the outcome of IMO’s regulatory scoping exercise (RSE) to analyse relevant ship safety treaties to assess how maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) could be regulated.
With regard to the FAL Convention, one of the issues identified was the obligation to search for, identify and manage stowaways, refugees and persons rescued at sea and how this relates to ships with no crew onboard. Any decision to place such persons onboard unmanned MASS for transport to a subsequent port would be impacted by the absence of seafarers or basic accommodation facilities.
Furthermore, in instances where a stowaway declares themselves as a refugee, consideration must be given to the process for ensuring the confidentiality of information shared.
The Committee has backed the suggested establishment of an MSC-LEG-FAL Joint Working Group on MASS to consider ways to address these and other common issues, with the group expected to meet in September, subject to endorsement by the IMO Council.