On 5 March 2020, the World Maritime University (WMU) and the International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI) held a Symposium at the Headquarters of the  International Maritime Organization (IMO) on Flag State Responsibilities and the Future of Article 91 of the  United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), with the support of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). The Symposium was attended by delegates from IMO Member States, representatives from international organizations, maritime lawyers and academics. 

Mr. Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General and WMU alumnus, delivered the opening remarks. He noted that States, in their capacity as flag, port and coastal States have the obligation to comply with IMO rules and regulations. In this respect, he emphasized that it is important to enhance capacity-building for the successful implementation of the Organization’s Conventions and other instruments in order to advance the IMO’s role and contribute to the achievement of its goals. Mr. Lim observed that the symposium was a valuable platform to advance further discussions on the relationship between IMO Conventions and the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that came into force in 1982.
In his remarks, Judge Jin-Hyun Paik, President of ITLOS, welcomed the opportunity to discuss the issue of flag State responsibilities and emphasized that “it is important for us to step outside the deliberation room in Hamburg and to engage with the shipping community and IMO delegates on areas of concern in relation to the nationality of vessels”. He informed the participants that the Tribunal “wishe[d] to ensure that States Parties to the Convention, and flag States in particular, understand the work of the Tribunal and the possibilities it offers for dispute settlement in relation to disputes involving vessels”. 

Dr. Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, President of WMU, addressed the Symposium, outlining the history of the nationality of ships that resulted in Article 91 of UNCLOS, which she noted was ultimately a compromise. She highlighted the importance of the topic to the academic curricula of both WMU and IMLI and emphasized the teaching of flag State obligations as a foundation area of studies as the subject crosscuts all activities in shipping. With regard to the symposium she said, “It is only natural to pose the question whether the lapse of almost 40 years from the adoption of UNCLOS and the prevailing market conditions call for a re-negotiation of subject matter. It is hoped that this academic initiative could be a driver for change.” 
In his remarks, Professor David Attard, Director of IMLI, joined Dr. Doumbia-Henry in expressing the importance of ship registration as a fundamental subject taught at both institutions. He then discussed the importance of examining the future of Article 91 of UNCLOS, especially in view of the widespread international efforts to strengthen global ocean governance. In fact, in Professor Attard’s opinion, “the granting of nationality to vessels could be considered as one of the earliest manifestations of global ocean governance.” Professor Attard explained that Article 91 establishes the “juridical link between the flag State and a vessels” and “[f]or centuries, it has represented the principal method by which order on the high seas, which are not subject to the sovereignty of any State, is maintained.” However, as he recalled, whereas UNCLOS leaves to the States to fix the conditions for the grant of nationality to ships, it imposes the condition of the existence of a genuine link between the State and the ship. Profesor Attard then proceeded to raise a number of issues that may be relevant in considering the future of Article 91, including the due consideration to the ITLOS jurisprudence on the matter.

WMU was also represented by Professor George Theocharidis who moderated Panel 2 on Current and Future Challenges on Implementation of article 91 of UNCLOS by flag States, and participated in Panel 3 as a speaker on the topic of Ship Registration: Future Challenges and Opportunities, where he elaborated on the significance for Registries in properly implementing Flag State duties, to avoid pathology symptoms, like fraudulent ship registration and related practices. 

Closing remarks were delivered by Mr. Fred Kenney, Director of the Legal Affairs and External Relations Division of IMO, who expressed his appreciation to all the speakers and participants for their valuable contributions.

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