“Lagging behind … big time!”
By Mike Jarrett *
Maritime transportation and specifically the movement of cargo across oceans developed over centuries. Each country, in its own language, for its own purpose, adopted processes and standards for receiving ships and cargo and managing the commercial transactions generated by international trade. As such, ships in international trade, calling at different ports in several countries, have had to deal with different bureaucratic requirements and a multiplicity of documents from one port to the next.
With the massive expansion of global trade over the last century, greater efficiencies in seaport operations have been stymied, bound by the red tape of government bureaucracy in one port and the next. The volume of documentation that had to be addressed from one port to the next was slowing down global shipping, creating backlogs and causing severe congestion in ports all over the world.
A global response was necessary. Urgent action had to be taken. There was already consensus among port operators and shipping lines. The administrative burdens on shipping had to be urgently addressed.
In some ports, arriving ship Captains had to fill out and submit up to 10 or more documents for various local authorities. And, on April 9, 1965, the International Maritime Organization adopted the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL) which became operative on March 5, 1967. This Convention was designed and structured to solve this global problem. It would prevent unnecessary delays in maritime traffic; foster co-operation between Governments; establish global uniformity in procedures (to the extent possible); and, reduce the number of declarations which can be required by public authorities.
The world of shipping – shipping lines and seaport authorities enthusiastically embraced the initiative and the proposed solutions. The ‘electronic exchange of information’ and thus elimination of ‘manual handling and processing of information’ was accepted as ‘the most efficient way to perform the necessary clearance of ships’. Not so enthusiastic, for a variety of reasons, were some statutory regulatory bodies in a number of countries.
Notwithstanding, in 2022, the Facilitation Committee of the IMO adopted amendments to the FAL Convention which made the establishment of Maritime Single Windows mandatory as of January 1, 2024. However, it now appears certain that several Caribbean countries will not meet that deadline. The writing on the wall was evident more than six months before the deadline.
In June 2023 an IMO team participated in a panel discussion on the topic “Maritime Single Window – Compliance with IMO January 2024 Deadline”. Over 100 participants attended that Port Management Association of the Caribbean’s meeting in Antigua. In the discussions, moderated by Pascal Olivier, Chair of the Data Collaboration Committee of the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH) it became clear that a number of Caribbean countries would not make the deadline. According to Olivier, a small number of Caribbean territories have moved to establish a Maritime Single Window and further to digital Port Community Systems. But progress towards this end has not been impressive.
“Lagging behind … big time!” was how he described the progress of digitalisation in the Caribbean. He mentioned the release of a ‘road map’ to digitalisation two years ago and repeated “… we are lagging far behind.”
The fact is, Pascal Olivier was quite right. With less than five weeks (at the time of writing) to deadline, it has become obvious that, despite the wealth of encouragement and multilateral support … technical and financial … several Caribbean countries will not be compliant with this global initiative to improve, upgrade and modernise the sector upon which their people and entire national economy depend. 
- First published: December 1, 2023