Combatting “Dark Shipping”: Navigating the Complexities
The Dangers of “Dark Shipping”
The practice of “dark shipping” has been a growing concern for the international maritime community. Referring to the practice of turning off tracking systems to avoid detection, this covert operation is a cause for alarm because of its potential to facilitate sanction evasion, incur high insurance costs, and create environmental hazards.
The issue of “dark shipping” has been brought to the attention of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) following the Legal Committee’s 110th session (LEG 110) in March and the Marine Environment Protection Committee’s (MEPC 80) 80th session in July. During these sessions, members highlighted the existence of a “dark fleet” or “shadow fleet” consisting of 300 to 600 tankers. These predominantly aging vessels have poor maintenance records, ambiguous ownership, and insufficient insurance, and they operate to sidestep sanctions and evade insurance premiums.
The Need for Action
The seriousness of the problem has led concerned parties to call for a draft Assembly resolution that would compel member states and stakeholders to enforce actions that mitigate the illicit operations of “dark shipping” in the maritime domain. The draft resolution aims to galvanize the international community to combat these clandestine activities that could potentially lead to unregulated pollution and facilitate evasion from established liability and compensation frameworks.
Complexities in Addressing “Dark Shipping”
While the draft resolution aims to establish clear guidelines to curtail “dark shipping,” the matter is not without its complexities. Some shipping organizations argue that not all STS operations are illicit and that there are legitimate reasons for ships to “go dark,” such as evading piracy. This has led to the adoption of adjustments to the original draft to incorporate safety concerns and legitimate instances where AIS may be disabled.
The Upcoming IMO Assembly
The upcoming IMO Assembly, which convenes biennially for regular sessions, is expected to be a critical meeting where the “dark shipping” resolution will be a centerpiece of the discussion. The Assembly, which is the highest governing body of the IMO, will be gathering from November 27 to December 6 to address the issue comprehensively.
Iran’s Critique and Amendments
Iran, which is a member nation of the IMO, has presented its critique and amendments to the proposed resolution. The Middle Eastern nation argues that the resolution deviates from the core functions and competencies of the IMO and that the use of phrases such as “dark ship” or “illicit” lacks universally accepted definitions within member states or international law. In response, the proposed amendments by Iran suggest a shift in focus towards enhancing the technical standards that govern STS operations, rather than labeling them as inherently dangerous or pollutive.
The Role of Member States
The IMO Assembly will require a nuanced understanding of maritime operations, security concerns, and the legal implications of tracking systems like AIS. The deliberations will require member states to engage in rigorous debates to resolve the contentious issues surrounding “dark shipping.” Therefore, it is crucial for member states to come to a robust decision that not only addresses the immediate concerns associated with these covert operations but also ensures that legitimate maritime activities are not unjustly hampered.
The Importance of Regulations
Regulations play a crucial role in ensuring accountability in maritime practices. Covert operations that encourage sanction evasion or pollution can have detrimental effects on both the maritime industry and the environment. Therefore, it is critical for member states and the international community to establish clear guidelines that help curb covert operations like “dark shipping” to ensure that there is accountability in the industry.
The resolution on “dark shipping” is a critical step towards ensuring maritime operations are done transparently and don’t cause injury to humans and the environment. As member states convene for the upcoming IMO Assembly, it is essential to have robust debates to ensure that regulations are put in place to curtail the illicit acts involved in “dark shipping” while still allowing legitimate maritime activities to proceed without any hindrances.
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Dark Shipping | Maritime Domain Awareness