IMO and WMO – Providing meteorological information to support safe navigation

OWhat are the maximum winds expected in the storm area? This is one of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) standard maritime communication phrases that navigating officers on board ships, regardless of their nationality, should be able to use and understand. English.

The world’s 60,000 ocean freighters are operated by some 1.6 million seafarers, crossing the globe and carrying 11 billion tonnes of cargo a year, representing 80% of global trade.1 High winds, waves , fog and storms may be encountered on every trip. – weather conditions having an impact on navigation safety. This was recognized in the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), adopted following the infamous Titanic disaster in 1912. The 1914 SOLAS Treaty established the International Ice Patrol, active to date, for monitoring icebergs in the North Atlantic and has included a “code for the transmission by radiotelegraphy of information relating to ice, wrecks and weather conditions. »2

The IMO – established in 1948 as the specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for developing standards for safe, environmentally friendly, secure and efficient shipping – has adopted and updated the SOLAS Convention, which includes now 166 Contracting Governments, representing 98.98% of the world’s maritime transport by tonnage.3 Chapter 4 of the SOLAS Convention on Safety of Navigation sets out the obligations of Contracting Governments with regard to the emission and dissemination of information, forecasts and weather warnings and encourages ships to collect and exchange weather data. The SOLAS Chapter on Radiocommunications contains the provisions of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and requires ships to have equipment on board to receive and transmit distress alerts, maritime safety information, communications related to search and rescue and other general radiocommunications.

Today, the close cooperation between IMO, WMO and the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) guarantees ships automatic access to maritime safety information. This includes navigational warnings, weather warnings and forecasts through the IMO/WMO World Weather-Ocean Information and Warning Service (WWMIWS)5 and World Shipping Warning Service (WWNWS )6. The three organizations coordinate to provide maritime safety information7, undoubtedly contributing to safer voyage planning.

WMO is working closely with IMO to support greater use of digitization to integrate weather forecast data and related information into maritime services in the context of “electronic navigation”. Their aim is to harmonize the collection and integration of marine information to support safety and security at sea and the protection of the marine environment. The main focus is on harmonizing the format and structure of maritime services, taking into account user needs, ultimately leading to the implementation of improved and more efficient technical services.

Seafarers on ships (Photo: Simon LeBrun)

IMO is aware that the scarcity of data from large areas of the ocean (known as rare data areas) to support basic weather forecasting, the provision of marine meteorological and oceanographic services and climate analysis and research is a problem for meteorology and oceanography. . It encourages mariners to participate in WMO’s Voluntary Observing Ships (VOS) program which invites ocean-going vessels to join in the collection of marine meteorological and oceanographic observations to support forecasting, climate change and research applications.8 Today, more than 4,000 vessels are registered in VOS; with 2,740 identified operationally in 2020, who submitted over 2.5 million observations (Source: OceanOps, 2021). Reports from these ships are sometimes the only data available for remote regions, such as the polar regions.

Weather contributes to the loss of ships
In recent decades, the number of large ships lost at sea has increased from 130 in 2010 to 41 in 2019 – with a rolling average of 959. This progress is largely attributed to improvements in shipping safety over the years. years due to, among other things, wider implementation of IMO treaties, increased emphasis on safety management (the IMO International Safety Management Code was adopted in 1994) and stricter global training standards (under IMO’s STCW10 training treaty). The IMO has also led capacity building work to support increased coordination of port state controls – the process by which states inspect ships arriving at their ports to ensure standards are being met. A mandatory Member State audit program is being rolled out to assess States’ ability to fulfill their responsibilities as flag, port and coastal States and to offer technical assistance to fill any gaps in capacity.

Nevertheless, accident statistics reveal that ‘bad weather’ is reported as a contributing factor in the loss of one in five vessels. IMO, WMO and IHO should continue to work together to explore ways to further improve the accuracy and timeliness of weather forecasts and their transmission.

The challenges ahead
Climate change has led to more frequent extreme weather events, threatening livelihoods, especially in vulnerable communities. The maritime sector must be aware of the increased risks to shipping and ports due to more intense storms.

IMO and WMO organized the first joint symposium on Severe Weather at Sea: Towards Safety of Life at Sea and a Sustainable Blue Economy in 2019. Key areas needing urgent attention were identified, including the need for marine users to better understand weather and ocean data. 12 There are particular challenges for vessels trading in polar regions and for vessels not subject to mandatory IMO standards, such as small coastal cargo ships, large pleasure yachts and fishing vessels. There may be an abundance of commercial weather data available through mobile devices, but users need to know which data is authoritative.

These issues need to be resolved. The world focused on more immediate challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but is now eyeing a sustainable recovery. Throughout 2020 and into 2021, sailors and ships have continued to deliver vital goods, including food and medical supplies, in the face of enormous logistical challenges, particularly with respect to changing circumstances. crew globally. Keeping these seafarers safe from a variety of hazards, including weather-related hazards, must be a priority, as these seafarers are essential to global supply chains and economies around the world.

Weather data and forecasts will always be essential for shipping. IMO looks forward to continued cooperation with WMO in the years to come, to build on the systems established to date and ensure the resilience and responsiveness of meteo-ocean data for navigation. .
Source: By Heike Deggim, Director, Maritime Safety Division, IMO Secretariat

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