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The e-Certificates are coming!

This article is provided by Fathom Content Partner, the Isle of Man Ship Registry. Dick Welsh is a proud Manxman and director of the country’s registry.

The maritime industry is taking a leap of faith and embrace the digital revolution.

I recently watched a TV programme about the 1980’s where an interviewer asked a bearded electronics professor “so what exactly is a computer?” and he struggled to explain. I mention this because it is a statement that would be unthinkable today. The global shift to online services and the huge progressions in technology have infiltrated our daily lives, however, change in this area has been so rapid it made me think about my own world and question: why are we holding on to paper certificates on ships?

We are all aware of the pitfalls of the paperless ship but working to the lowest common denominator will always hold us back. Sometimes in life you just have to close your eyes and jump!

This is the position we are in with e-certificates and we need to embrace it as an industry. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) laid the foundations in 2014 when it issued its first guidelines for the use of e-certificates. This was replaced in 2016, when IMO’s Facilitation Committee reviewed and refined its guidelines. The document set out what Flag States need to include in their e-certificates. All the requirements make perfect sense:  validity and consistency with the recognisable format of the certificate; protection from edits, modifications or revisions; a unique tracking number used for verification; and a printable and visible symbol that confirms the source of issuance. Nothing difficult there.

The committee also looked at the acceptance of e-certificates by Port State Control authorities. This is probably the area which creates the most reluctance to move to this brave new world. Flag States, Recognised Organisations and operators are fearful of changes which may result in problems with Port State Control. However, the committee recommended changes to the IMO procedures for Port State Control such that e-certificates are considered equivalent to paper certificates, including guidance for acceptance of certificates delivered via a website on a ship’s computer. Now this is ground-breaking.

So let’s get on with it. IMO says we can and have instructed Port States to accept it. We need clever systems and the will and resources to make it happen. I have attended seminars to talk about this and it is very easy to get bogged down in the whole ‘digital signature’ argument. Is it an electronic squiggle which looks like a signature but isn’t, or is it something entirely different? Whatever the outcome, e-certificates will revolutionise the industry, reduce wastage and eliminate excessive courier charges. That has to be a good thing.

The Isle of Man Ship Registry has really taken a lead on this. In September, we launched the full online system for STCW Endorsements which can be submitted, verified, produced and dispatched electronically back to the crew manager for onward transmission to the ship and crew member. This is done the same day and massively reduces the time and cost of global courier services. In addition we have notified IMO and our clients that the first two Classification Societies (DNV-GL and ClassNK) are now authorised to issue electronic statutory certificates to ships on behalf of the Isle of Man. Conversations with our clients indicate they are all keen to progress, so here we go.

The e-certificates are here!

 Dick Welsh, Director of the Isle of Man Ship Registry.




About Author

Craig Eason Stockholm
Craig Eason is the owner and editorial director of Fathom.World. He has a background in the shipping industry having started his career as a cadet on oil tankers and gas carriers before becoming a navigating officer on a range of vessel types. A change in career, with ensuing university studies, and he has now gained 20 years experience in written and broadcast journalism. He now is in demand as a knowledgeable and competent editor and event host and moderator, both for in-house events and ones for the public.