IMO renews push on fishing vessel safety agreement

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has renewed its push for countries to ratify the Cape Town fishing vessel safety agreement, which aims to help tackle the perennial problem of illegal fishing.

A decade after it was adopted in 2012, the international treaty that aims to make fishing safe, sustainable and legal as well as protect fishers has yet to come into force, because too few countries have ratified it.

The treaty aims to establish standards for vessel construction and seaworthiness, nonslip decks, heating, ventilation of unmonitored machinery spaces, fire safety regulations, life-saving appliances, emergency procedures and radio communications, with the overall objective of making commercial fishing safe and sustainable.

To enter into force, the agreement must be ratified by 22 countries with a combined fleet of 3,600 fishing vessels of an aggregate 24 metres in length each.

If that ever happens, fishers would be entitled to the same level of legal protection at sea as currently enjoyed by merchant seafarers. So far, the Cape Town agreement has been ratified by 17 states with 1,925 fishing vessels declared.

Following a ministerial conference in 2019, more than 50 states have signed the Torremolinos Declaration to indicate their determination to ratify the agreement by its tenth anniversary, which will be in October. If the agreement is fully ratified by October, it could enter into force as early as October 2023.

Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary General said that “I remain confident that by working together, we will ensure the agreement enters into force to complete the missing pillar for safe, sustainable and legal fishing”.

It has been a long road. The journey began in Torremolinos, Spain in 1977 with the adoption of the Torremolinos international convention for the safety of fishing vessels. In 1993, the Torremolinos Protocol was adopted, but it never achieved the desired level of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession due to legal and technical difficulties. The Cape Town agreement was adopted in 2012 to address the difficulties and to facilitate ratification of a binding instrument establishing an international safety regime for fishing vessels.