It was some time in 1948 that the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution to establish a specialised agency (now IMO) under the UN-umbrella to look after legal and technical aspects of international shipping and maritime affairs.
The purpose was to adopt common international practice and procedures so that shipping could operate freely without being subjected to differing national laws. This would ensure development of global trade without hindrance to the benefit of the world community.
IMO now looks after maritime safety, security and protection of marine environment. The slogan is "safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans". In respect of marine environment, it works in close cooperation with UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme).
Highest body of the IMO meets once every two years. The assembly gives the final seal of approval to all work done by the council and certain important works done by various committees. The assembly is also an opportunity for member states to gather and meet each other at the highest level to renew their relationship in the diplomatic front. It conducts election for 'Council' which is like the governing body or executive body of the organisation.
IMO council has seen a number of expansions since it was established with 16 member states in March 1958 following the entry into force of the 1948. The 1993 amendments that came into force in 2002 and increased the size of the council to 40, with groups (a) and (b) increased to 10 and group (c) to 20 member states.
The council is very much like the executive body. Council members are often the target for lobbying by other member states on various issues. Since the members are elected, it is a prestigious body and being a member of the council, a member state may exercise lot of influence.
Member states keep on submitting ideas, concepts and proposals. Secretariat analyses them and place them before respective sub-committees and committees for evaluation and consideration. Important decisions need further approval of the council before placing them in the assembly for adoption as notice, circular, resolutions or amendments to existing instruments.
For the sake of maintaining the continuity, it is required to do two urgent things. The first is to have an officer attached to the High Commission in London to attend all IMO meetings and advise the government about various activities with which Bangladesh should be involved. A number of countries therefore have their technically skilled representatives stationed in London, United Kingdom, accredited to the IMO as its permanent representative.
The other one is, marine professionals who are educated, trained, practically experienced and aware of IMO related matters and activities and backed up with logistics supports, should be considered for this post. This is essential for grooming, continuously showing flag in international forum. Otherwise maritime nations will fall into a vacuum of no return.
We firmly believe and cherish that Bangladesh, being the eighth largest country in the world, must be in the Council. This can only be ensured by those who have the responsibility to represent the country and who are the national focal points and this is how all other council members get their seats. We can confidently say there is no reason why Bangladesh should not be elected to IMO council. Of course, provided we demonstrate our professionalism and performance in a befitting manner.
Bangladesh had a seat in the IMO council in B category , with the largest interest in international seaborne trade, from 2001 to 2017 which had been very helpful for our national maritime profile and shipping interests e.g. ship operations, ship recycling, shipbuilding, promotion of our seafaring, maritime safety, security, and marine environmental protection, etc.
It must be clearly understood that IMO is not an international government. It is a body where member states discuss and develop international standards but their enforcement through national laws (with necessary penal provisions) remains the responsibility of the member states.
At this moment we have eminently suitable persons even for the highest international position (secretary general) in maritime sector. At least two Bangladeshis named--Capt Moin Uddin Ahmed and Capt Ghulam Hussain-- are known in the marine circle all over the world. They hold many important relevant posts.
We could and must take advantage of this present situation. We do not know if we will ever have another person in such situations. It will certainly be a good idea for Bangladesh to try for the post of secretary general of IMO in near future.
Council is the only elected body. Being a member of the council we can exert lot of influence – at least one vote for selecting next secretary general. We should have started all preparatory works for becoming a member of the council of IMO.
In doing so, the following actions should be considered:-
1. Director General (Shipping) may initiate a follow-up communication with his global counterparts for securing votes;
2. Reception should be hosted in Dhaka for foreign diplomatic missions of IMO member states in Bangladesh for securing votes;
3. Request should be made to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) for inviting Bangladeshi missions abroad to secure support from the respective countries;
4. MoFA help should also be requested to exchange support;
5. Sufficient funds should be provided to Bangladesh High Commission in London and Ministry of Shipping (MoS) for hosting receptions.
6. Campaign in London should be strengthened through HC in London and dedicated representatives from MoS.
The real scenario:-
Bangladesh lost Council seat in 2017 and refrained from participating in the election of 2019 for reasons not known to us. However Bangladesh declared candidacy in 2019 for IMO council election of 2021 and maintained silence. IMO has been trying since 20 April of 2021, to get an answer from High Commission but without any success and for sure, it is destructive to the image of our country.
Our High Commission in London is heavily engaged on VIP visits, staffs are struggling to attend the election matters and as such, the High Commissioner officiating as permanent representative of Bangladesh to IMO, finds no time to maintain communication with IMO. They even cannot give any alternative representative from the HC, who could find time to respond to IMO queries. After about a month (in June) or so, the shipping ministry finally responded.
A letter addressed to the State Minister of Shipping was sent on 3 June with copy to all concerned form Bangladesh Merchant Marine Officers Association (BMMOA) followed by a letter from Nautical Institute (NI) highlighting the importance of IMO council election.
It is very upsetting, rather alarming for a maritime nation of 185 million people, to remain out of IMO council for quite some years and not to participate in international maritime policy making or in a bargaining capacity which are surely affecting Bangladesh's maritime interest.
Keeping ourselves away from the IMO council will not only be detrimental to our national interest, rather we will be lacking in the business of international shipping and will not be able to keep in pace with the development of the Blue Economy which is one of the priorities of our government.
However, the recent outcome (IMO council election 2021) we had, is a pity! It looks like there has been lack in responsibilities for IMO matters, no one felt seriously on country's interest or image!
For future, kind attention of our DG Shipping, Secretary of the Ministry of Shipping, the Minister in charge of the Shipping Ministry, the minister in charge of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and above all our honourable Prime Minister need to be drawn.
Captain Md Anam Chowdhury is the President, Bangladesh Merchant Marine Officers Association (BMMOA) and an expert on maritime, shipbuilding and ship breaking issues.