The International Maritime Ogranization (IMO) has published a new circular providing guidance for flag States regarding surveys and renewals of certificates during the COVID-19 pandemic. The circular notes that principles represent a step-based approach to an informed decision-making process which respects the existing regulatory regime, and which can result in an evidence based assessment for the justification of the extension of a certificate.
Considering that the supporting “safety net” of Port State Control has been temporarily suspended to some degree by some and flexibility regarding extensions has been given by some Flag States for ships facing difficulties in maintaining the validity of certificates, the safety and environmental protection of shipping and compliance need to be assured to the maximum extent possible.
For the purpose of the approach outlined in these guiding principles, the legal aspects permitting departure from statutory requirements to remove the legal exposure of all involved parties are considered to have been resolved by the individual Flag State applying these provisions.
The role of the Flag State is paramount in this statutory process as it will be the Flag State’s responsibility to issue clear statutory instructions and decisions to owners and recognized organizations (ROs), even where this decision-making utilizes the technical appraisal/recommendation by RO.
IMO has provided the six steps below:
1. Have all options for completing the survey and renewing the certificates (using all available means permitted by the Administration) been exhausted?
2. For each case of demonstrated exceptional circumstances and/or force majeure, examine the available information on the ship and its history as a means to considering alternative evidence on the condition of the ship in lieu of completing the survey and offering a recommendation to its Flag State.
3. Consider how the requirements of the convention and classification rules can be shown to be met in the interim without changing the requirements themselves.
4. Use verification requirements which are based on accepted survey procedures (these are bespoke to each classification society/RO).
5. Consider alternative evidence for assessing compliance to account for confidence and durability.
6. Concluding with an overall documented evidence on which the extension period and any service restrictions are based.
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