The Liberian Registry's chief executive and the UK's permanent representative to IMO have offered sharply differing viewpoints of challenges around environmental regulations in a panel discussion that began with a call for greater transparency from all elements of the shipping sector.
Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry (LISCR) chief executive Scott Bergeron fired the opening salvo in a panel discussion at the annual Tanker Shipping & Trade Conference & Awards in London focused on ship registries and the regulatory agenda.
"I feel we have to do a better job of enforcing regulations in all spectrums of the maritime chain," Mr Bergeron said.
"What does that mean? Coastal states taking more responsibilities and not looking to just the shipowners to implement the regulations."
Mr Bergeron cited a litany of environmental concerns that could be better prevented, treated, disposed of and regulated "shoreside", including oil waste, ballast water, sulphur, and the problem of ocean plastics.
He said IMO and shipowners took criticism, but coastal states needed to take action on their shores to address these issues.
"For me, a level playing field starts with the IMO member alliance states. IMO itself doesn’t have any enforcement teeth, so how do we ensure the flag states who are the regulators operate on this level playing field?" he asked.
Mr Bergeron referenced IMO's member state audit scheme which has gone from voluntary to mandatory over the course of the last decade -- pointing out that the results of the scheme and its particpants' performance remain hidden -- and called for transparency.
"What the flag states are not doing … the flag states are not voluntarily revealing the results of these audits and making them available for public scrutiny," he said, noting that LISCR had posted its own audit for public scrutiny.
"And I encourage our colleagues in regulation and business to be transparent – the same transparency we see from our shipowners," he said.
Offering perspective from the UK, a coastal state and IMO member state that also, for the time being, has ties to the EU, director of Maritime Safety and Standards and permanent representative of the UK to IMO Katy Ware said there was room to criticise the IMO.
"Do I think IMO could do things better? Yes. I believe there are lessons to learn," she said.
"We are super mindful of the fact that there is a large [amount] of environmental legislation that is often referred to as 'aspirational', and I think, in bringing forward the desires of society to address environmental issues, we have brought about a level of uncertainty for operators which we need to address going forward."
"But I will also say – and you will perhaps have no sympathy for me whatsoever as a regulator – that those uncertainties in terms of those late-night consensus-building pieces of legislation that come out of IMO – are equally difficult for us, as regulators, to transpose into international law because it’s open to interpretation. And it’s really important that we don’t interpret the legislation to the detriment of operators," she continued.
Ms Ware added that the IMO process brings a level of uncertainty around port state control application, which could also be detrimental to operators if not carefully considered and implemented.
Ms Ware said the UK is coming under increasing scrutiny – due to the member state audit scheme – with regards to its obligations to international conventions.
She said – given the amount of regulatory and legislative change being produced from IMO as well as the uncertainties of Brexit – her own role was "incredibly difficult".
"You wanted transparency, Scott. I have a backlog of two years’ worth of legislation coming out of IMO that I need to transpose into UK law, and we all know what’s happening in the UK at the moment," she said.
"So the legal time just to get these small, tiny technical amendments into UK law, so I can provide you guys with a level playing field gets more and more difficult every day."
Ms Ware said she is in the process of implementing more modern processes to transpose law from international level to national level.
"As a UK regulator, I’m trying to modernise the way that we transpose merchant shipping law into the UK," she said. "I think, moving forward, we need to be able to adapt to rapid, innovative changes that are coming around from technology."