IMO Red Sea

IMO Legal Committee convened to address maritime legal challenges

Published: 02 May 2024

The Legal Committee (LEG) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) convened for its 111th session from 22 to 26 April 2024 at the IMO Headquarters in London. The session was aimed at critical legal issues affecting the maritime industry ranging from seafarer welfare to the regulation of autonomous shipping and to the attacks in the Red Sea. 

A large number of delegations expressed concerns over continuing threats to the safety and welfare of seafarers, freedom of navigation, the marine environment, the safety of sea lines of communication and the stability of global supply chains resulting from Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.  Delegates called for the immediate release of two seized vessels, the car carrier Galaxy Leader and container ship MSC Aries, along with their crews. You can read the joint letter of the shipping industry on MSC Aries here

Advancing the entry into force of the 2010 HNS Protocol 

The Committee reviewed the status of the 2010 HNS Protocol, noting progress in ratifications and efforts by the IMO and IOPC Funds Secretariats to promote further ratifications. It was stated that the Protocol requires only four more ratifications to enter into force, prompting encouragement for Member States to expedite the ratification process. Additionally, plans for workshops to finalise improvements to reporting guidelines and the convening of the first Assembly of the HNS Fund upon entry into force were discussed. 

Seafarer abandonment task force established 

Drawing attention to the escalating issue of abandoned seafarers, the Committee established a working group tasked with reviewing and updating the joint ILO/IMO abandonment database, with an emphasis on the 2006 Maritime Labour Convention. This initiative aimed at ensuring timely repatriation, payment of wages, and the provision of essential needs for seafarers left stranded due to abandonment incidents. 

Guidelines for fair treatment of detained seafarers finalised 

Another significant development emerged in the form of finalised guidelines for ensuring fair treatment of seafarers detained on suspicion of committing crimes. These guidelines, carefully crafted by the Committee, are intended to ensure that seafarers are treated fairly during any investigation and detention by public authorities, and that detention is for no longer than necessary, in accordance with the laws of the port or coastal States. The guidelines contain guidance for port states, flag states, coastal states, states of which the seafarer is a national and for shipowners and seafarers. BIMCO took part in the working group tasked with drafting the guidelines, which will be submitted as a base text to the Joint IMO-ILO Tripartite Working Group for consideration and refinement and contributed to this important document.  

Combatting fraudulent ship registrations 

The Committee examined the final report of the Study Group on Fraudulent Registration and Fraudulent Registries of Ships, which proposed actionable measures to prevent and combat fraudulent activities in ship registration processes, aligning with the 2019 IMO Assembly Resolution A.1142(31). Recommendations included a number of actions. These include, amongst others, enhancing existing tools to counter fraudulent ship registration; development of harmonised procedures for registration; addressing current loopholes; conducting awareness campaigns; and making improvements to IMO’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS) – specifically the database on ship particulars, which contains information on individual ships (IMO number, flag etc.) and indicates when a ship is identified as  “false flag” or “under UN sanctions”.   

Transparent methodologies for assessing liability limits 

Deliberations centred on finalising and approving methodologies for the collection and reporting experiences of incidents and resulting damage and assessing changes in monetary value. These efforts were instrumental in laying the groundwork for future amendments to IMO regulations, ensuring adequate compensation for damages caused by ships, such as pollution. These methodologies were approved and will be issued as an annex to a LEG circular.  

Guidance on IMO conventions 

The Committee highlighted the importance of effective implementation of IMO liability and compensation conventions. To this end, guidance documents were revised and finalised to assist states, insurers, and financial security providers in navigating the complexities of these conventions, thereby safeguarding the interests of all stakeholders involved. 

The Committee finalised and approved the draft guidelines for accepting insurance certificates and insurance companies, financial security providers and the protection and indemnity clubs (P&I Clubs) as set out in the guidelines in the annex to Circular Letter No. 3464 and the text of information pamphlet on the Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, 2002. 

Regulating autonomous shipping 

With the increase of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS), the Committee deliberated on regulatory frameworks to address associated challenges. In the Joint MSC-LEG-FAL Working Group on MASS, consideration was given to liability issues, guidelines for LEG instruments, flag state jurisdiction, legal framework in relation to UNCLOS and other international regulations, and further work on MASS, including a proposal for a draft road map.  

Combatting piracy and armed robbery against ships 

Updates on legal issues pertaining to piracy and armed robbery were provided, with a particular focus on proposing measures to address Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden. 

The committee supported a proposal to undertake further work on contemporary maritime security concerns beyond piracy and armed robbery against ships, such as maritime terrorism, human or drug trafficking at sea, cybersecurity, IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing and other threats to the marine environment. While recognising that the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee is the principal organ for discussing maritime security, the Legal Committee has a role in the consideration of associated legal issues and delegations were therefore encouraged to submit concrete proposals at the next session of the Committee. 

See more information about the Legal Committee meeting.  


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Zehra Göknaz Engin


Zehra Göknaz Engin

Project Manager, Contracts & Clauses

Copenhagen, Denmark