Ships have rarely been allowed to come and go as they please when trading between different nation states or even ports within the same state. There has always been some form of formalities to complete and dues or tariffs to be paid.
The formalities generally involve identifying the ship, its master and owners, cargo details and voyage history including previous and following ports.
In historic times, it would have been the ship’s master that completed the formalities, but regular traders may have appointed a local factor or agent to work for them arranging cargoes and dealing with authorities. With the coming of telegraphic, radio and telex communications the master’s role in completing formalities diminished further leaving most of the work apart from signing official documents to the agent.
Today, there seems to be a gradual return to ships masters having to make the reports and indeed recent IMO developments around the FAL Convention have been to accelerate this movement. It is claimed that direct reporting by the ship – not a huge problem with modern satellite telecommunications – is removing the bureaucratic burden on the ship although those with practical experience of port agency would dispute that argument.
Alongside the conventional formalities, modern ships are increasingly being called on to provide even more information for security and environmental purposes.
Security can cover perceived political or terrorist threats with the latter having been very much to the fore in recent years. A prime example of this is the US Coast Guard requirement for an advance notice of arrival/departure – which currently must be submitted electronically in the form of electronic notice of arrival and departure (eNOAD).
The notice of arrival origin dates back to 1972 and was originally a ship safety and environmental requirement that had to be submitted by the vessel’s agent 24 hours prior to a vessel’s arrival. Following the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001, the 24-hour requirement was stretched to four days (96) hours in order for the authorities to be better able to assess what if any threat a ship posed. Initially agents were allowed to submit the notice much as they had done previously but gradually the submission requirements and the scope of information have evolved. The submission requirements for eNOAD is are very strict with penalties for delays or errors.
Ensuring the eNOAD is submitted correctly and in its entirety, requires a vessel to have a reliable and robust communication connection or else to make use of a system such as GT Maritime’s GTMailPlus.eNOAD.
The eNOAD form comprises several pages to be completed and whilst many other commercially available offerings can only be edited online, GTMailPlus.eNOAD can be completed offline and only requires an email connection when ready to submit.
Electronic reporting and maritime single windows
The US was a little ahead of the rest of the world with the eNOAD but it is now almost three years since the mandatory requirement for national governments to introduce electronic information exchange between ships and ports came into effect from 8 April 2019, under the FAL Convention. Depending upon the country involved this would previously have been done either by using paper forms presented to a customs office or by emailing or faxing electronic documents to a designated office. Although the FAL convention talks of exchange between ships and ports, the information can be submitted by port agents.
The FAL convention encourages the use of the ‘single window’ concept, to enable all the information required by public authorities in connection with the arrival, stay and departure of ships, persons and cargo, to be submitted via a single portal without duplication. However, the obligation to create systems for the electronic interchange of information does not refer specifically to a ‘single window’, so governments can use systems other than it to comply. Conceivably that could include a requirement in a given country for several authorities such as customs, immigration, health and police or coast guards to demand specific information be given to them directly.
The EU and the UK are both proponents of the single window concept. In the EU, Regulation (EU) 2019/1239 establishes a European Maritime Single Window environment (EMSWe). This aims to improve maritime transport efficiency by reducing administrative burden, introducing a simplified digital information system to harmonise the existing national systems and reduce the need for paperwork. The EMSWe is a network of maritime national single windows with harmonised reporting interfaces and includes data exchanges using SafeSeaNet and other systems. A deadline of 2025 is incorporated into the directive.
Reporting anything related to the environmental aspect of ships directly by the vessel itself while at sea is not yet a legal requirement at an international level although some states will require notice of pollution incidents in their territorial waters. That said, treating of ballast water, operation of oily water separators and exhaust scrubbers is increasingly required to be logged onboard and the details can be requested by a PSC inspector at a following port call.
In order to demonstrate their green credentials, more and more shipping companies are turning to digital services to not only record operations but also to plan them so as to avoid unintentional breaches of requirements.
Many of these services are online systems and will therefore require some form of communication to shore. This will normally be to the service providers’ servers or to the ship’s owners but it is also possible to make the information available to other parties such as port and national authorities, agents and charterers.
As decarbonisation in the shipping industry takes off, information can also be used to meet report requirements for the EU’s MRV and the IMO DCS systems for monitoring fuel use and emissions. When the IMO’s CII comes into effect in 2023, constant monitoring of a ship’s fuel use will enable proactive measures to ensure it does not end the year falling into the D and E bands that would require rectification and a subsequent tarring of the ship’s reputation.
Monitoring is best done on a daily basis and that requires information to be communicated ashore.