Compulsory pilotage in international strait still concern at IMO’s NAV

This week’s Jubilee meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Safety of Navigation Sub-committee (NAV) was dominated by the discussion on the adoption of a compulsory pilotage provision for the Torres Strait. The debate continued into the final day of discussion and focused more on the legality of compulsory pilotage in an international strait rather than its operational significance.

The NAV Sub-committee had received a submission from Australia and Papua New Guinea which requested that the Torres Strait become a compulsory pilotage area. Regardless of the question over the increased safety to navigation that this may provide for the area, the key point of principle in this case was the precedent that this may establish for other international straits around the world.

A Working Group was established early in the week to debate the compulsory pilotage issue, with the general outcome being divided over the question of legality. Operationally, it was generally accepted, regardless of the continuing concerns over the quality and qualification of pilotage in the area raised by INTERTANKO and other industry bodies, that compulsory pilotage in the  Torres Strait was feasible and relevant in providing protection to the marine environment. So it was left to the Sub-committee to debate further the legal aspects.

This discussion has now opened a new issue within the work programme of the IMO, with a recommendation sent from the NAV Sub-committee to the Legal (LEG 89), the Marine Environmental Protection (MEPC 52) and Maritime Safety (MSC 79) Committees to consider this question further. Some agreement was, however, reached regarding the potential need for guidelines and criteria for compulsory pilotage in international straits.

In an unusual move, and regardless of the conflict over the concerns on the legality of compulsory pilotage in international straits, the IMO’s main Committees are now requested to consider the guidelines and criteria question rather than resolving the legality question first.

The IMO, state delegations and the industry will now have the summer to consider the consequences from this week’s debate with the issue likely to require further time and efforts during the autumn when it will appear on the agenda of three of IMO’s key Committees.

Due to a computer failure at the IMO late on in the week, the rest of the NAV meeting was delayed, with substantive issues still to be agreed when Weekly NEWS went to press. A full report on the other decisions of the NAV meeting will be given next week.

Contact: Tim Wilkins