A Club for Old Sailors? New York Times Article Blasts IMO’s Secrecy

Barry Parker
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June 3, 2021

By Barry Parker

Shipping’s relationship with the general news media has never been a good one. Secrecy of individual companies, based on tradition, and perhaps- fear of divulging competitive secrets, has kept the media mainly in the dark, which is the way that many industry folks have preferred it.

Over the past year, two major swirling currents are shining an unwelcome light on the business. With the upward economic whipsaw as the Covid 19 pandemic’s impacts wane in the developed world, battered supply chains and shortages of consumer products have put shipping in the news; think about those images of vessels anchored at San Pedro Bay waiting for berth space. Then, with the Ever Given grounding at the Suez Canal, and ships deviating around the Cape, that spotlight was turned on to its high intensity setting. 

The other current, across all businesses, has been the effort to reduce emissions of all types as we grapple with climate change issues. A month after the release of the European documentary “Black Trail”, where a group of investigative journalists took aim at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and included a hidden camera aimed at its Secretary General, the better known New York Times (NYT) has now entered the fray.

In a June 3 top-of-the-fold (or webpage) article, the NYT portrayed the IMO as being tradition-bound and shrouded in secrecy. The article, coming a week prior to the important Maritime Environmental Protection Committee’s MEPC-76 (begins June 10th) conveys a cozy old-boys kind of culture, replete with industry insiders, that has hindered progress on matters related to climate change.

The message of the article, hidden among the various innuendos, anecdotes and characterizations, is that the IMO does not really have a cogent long-term plan for cutting emissions. The NYT asserts that the IMO is putting forth: “…regulations that do not cut emissions, have no enforcement mechanism and leave key details shrouded in secrecy. No additional proposals are far along in the rule-making process, meaning additional regulations are likely five years or more away.” The Marshall Islands figures prominently in the NYT’s narrative (including one delegate sent back to his hotel after being told he was violating the IMO’s dress code), noting its concerns, along with other low-lying Pacific islands, regarding rising seawater. 

The NYT does touch on some important realities and real issues facing the IMO; noting that: “Regardless of the outcome [of MEPC 76], the political winds are shifting.” It mentions the European Union’s intent to include shipping in its system of emissions trading. It also mentions the Biden administration’s more aggressive stance in dealing with shipping emissions. The MEPC 76 meeting next week will be revealing. Will the IMO affirm its previously agreed targets (setting the stage for their inclusion into MARPOL), or will it respond to criticisms such as those in the NYT article and take a more aggressive stance before the rules are codified?

The shipping world, and the mainstream media, will all be watching.

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