The analysis in the present work looks at delegation size, delegation composition and number of submissions as factors that may be connected with ‘influence’ in the IMO, with a focus on MSC and MEPC meetings. To do so, IMODocs, which is the IMO document repository, was used to find more than 10,000 submissions to the MEPC and also the MSC by 47 IMO member states and NGOs. MSC submissions were added to see if there is a difference from the MEPC, since the two committees interact regularly on a number of issues. Analysis of delegation size was based on the list of participants in each session; of the 47 IMO members, an average of more than 1000 delegates per MSC or MEPC session were processed (details follow).
Is delegation size a proxy for influence at the IMO? In a strict sense, it is not, as a large delegation may be, theoretically at least, not very visible in terms of submissions to the IMO or the discussions there. By contrast, a small delegation can be very vocal or prolific in terms of submissions. However, to the extent that the members of a delegation can be used to represent the delegation not only at plenary but also at the various working groups that take place simultaneously, then obviously a large delegation may have an advantage over a smaller one. In addition, a large delegation may project a sense of superiority in meetings if the size of the delegation is perceived by some as related to the resources that the delegation has at its disposal (and in a sense this may be true).
Each delegation is structured into the following personnel categories, not all of which may appear in a specific delegation’s roster: the head of delegation, representatives, alternates, advisers and observers. Typically, heads of delegations, representatives and alternates are staff members of the respective member government (more on the composition of delegations is reported below).
Table 1 lists delegation sizes for the top 20 IMO member states (in terms of controlled fleet in 2018) that attended the MEPC 72, the landmark MEPC that adopted the Initial IMO Strategy, again in 2018. Representation at the MEPC 72 (IMO 2018b) is considered as a good proxy of representation at the MEPC in general (aggregate statistics of the most recent meetings of the MEPC and the MSC are presented below). The table also juxtaposes delegation size versus the DWT of the controlled fleet of the Member State, and it also shows the ratio of delegate size divided by fleet size (DWT).
A number of observations can be made from this table:
The number of delegates among member states ranges widely. There seem to be no guidelines on delegation size, either as a total or in terms of the various sub-categories. This decision is totally left to the discretion of each member state.
No apparent correlation between delegation size and fleet size seems to exist; For instance Greece, the member state with the largest controlled fleet in the world, has a rather small delegation, in fact of the same size as Turkey, whose fleet is about 8% the size of Greece. Greece has the smallest non-zero ratio of delegation size/fleet size.
Japan is by far the most populous delegation (45), Rep. of Korea and Denmark (24 each) are distant seconds, with Indonesia (23) not far behind. The USA, Germany, China and Norway form a cluster of countries that follow next (between 17 and 20);
Indonesia is top in terms of ratio of delegation/fleet size, with Denmark a distant second;
Two countries with significant fleets (Bermuda and Taiwan) send no delegations. It was noted above that Bermuda is not a member of the IMO.
Some countries which were very vocal at the MEPC 72, especially on GHGs, e.g. Brazil (22 delegates) and Saudi Arabia (12 delegates), are not in the top-20 table.
As a side note, a reasonable estimate of the cost of more than 40 delegates travelling from Japan to London for a week is 150,000 USD, and if we also consider that many of these people also attended the intersessional meeting on GHGs the week before and that Japan traditionally hosts a welcoming reception right before the MEPC, we can get an idea of the resources that some member states are allocating to the IMO meetings; And this is only for the MEPC and does not take into account resources allocated to preparing submissions to the IMO (of which more below).
It could be argued, however, that the small size of its IMO delegation has certainly not prevented Greece from being number one in terms of world fleet. The question of course is the extent to which this or other countries are able to influence IMO decision-making process and the factors that may contribute to such influence.
Table 2 is the equivalent to Table 1 for some of the major IMO observer organizations. These are listed by decreasing order of delegation size. There is no official differentiation on personnel categories for each delegation. The table is not exhaustive.
Again, there seem to be no guidelines on delegation size. It can be seen that the delegations of some IMO observer organizations may surpass in size that of some of the IMO member states. It is remarkable, for instance, that the Clean Shipping Coalition (CSC), an NGO, had 29 delegates under its umbrella at the MEPC 72 (more on this later). It is also interesting that shipowners are represented by not one but several distinct organizations. In the above table, ICS, BIMCO, CLIA, Intertanko (representing tanker owners), Intercargo (representing dry bulk owners), WSC (typically representing container shipping), Interferry (representing owners of Ro–Ro ferries) and even the International Parcel Tanker Association (IPTA) can be seen. Collectively, these organizations fielded as many as 47 representatives at the MEPC 72. Of the above associations, ICS and BIMCO are ship-type neutral and the others represent sectoral interests, which however appear quite fragmented.
To shed more light, we turn to an analysis of the composition of each delegation in the section that follows.
After a cursory investigation and using again the MEPC 72 (IMO 2018b) as a representative example, the following remarks can be made:
There seem to be no rules on who may be allowed to take part in a delegation. The willingness of the delegation to include someone is about the only prerequisite. To be included in the roster of a delegation, it is not even necessary to be a citizen of that member state. A national delegation can have a mixture of government officials and industry representatives, with no established norm on composition.
An industry representative has the choice of being part of a number of delegations. Only one can be used for a specific meeting, but there is a choice; For instance if someone is a staff member of a shipping company, he can come under any of the shipping industry observer organizations (see above) or under a specific member state.
If shipowner interests could field 47 representatives at the MEPC 72, as shown above, the number itself would be misleading, as a shipping company person can alternatively be included in the roster of a member state as an adviser or as an observer; For instance of the 45 Japanese delegates, 7 were from the Japanese Shipowners Association. Of the 10 Greek delegates, 4 were from the Union of Greek Shipowners (they could also come under the umbrella of the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping—HCS— but that was not the case in the MEPC 72). Of the 24 Danish delegates, 2 were from Danish Shipping and 4 from A.P. Møller-Mærsk; and so on. In that sense, shipowner interests are very well represented at the IMO, even though there is certainly a lot of fragmentation.
The same is true of the representation of other members of industry. Of the 21 Brazilian delegates at the MEPC 72, 5 were from mining and logistics giant Vale. Also, a staff member of a classification society can be included either under IACS or under a specific member state. As an example, classification society DNV GL had 4 delegates with the German delegation, 4 delegates with the Norwegian delegation, and 2 delegates under IACS (that is a total of 10 delegates). The Korean Register of Shipping had 5 delegates with the Republic of Korea delegation, plus 5 under the IACS delegation (again a total of 10 delegates). And so on. Numerous additional representation possibilities shall be seen for class societies below. This means that class is extremely well represented at the IMO, far beyond its official representation, which is IACS;
The European Commission (EC) delegation (20 members) included not only European Commission staff but also members of the European Parliament (7 members), even though their roles are distinctly different. The European Commission has only observer status at the IMO, even though it has long sought to become a regular member. The European Commission, together with the EU 28 member states, is entitled to make submissions to the IMO on matters that supposedly have ‘EU content’. For these submissions, an EU member state is not allowed to deviate from the position expressed in the EC submission.
The composition of the CSC delegation at the MEPC 72 is worth noting. The delegation consisted of 29 people, by far the largest of all observer organizations and second only to Japan (Table 1). None of these people are CSC staff members, as CSC is an umbrella organization that hosts several others. In the delegation, people from NGOs such as Seas at Risk, Transport and Environment, Environmental Defense Fund, International Council on Clean Transportation, International Windship Association and from a variety of other organizations including University College London (UCL) (5 members) can be seen. Influence Map, the NGO that raised the issue of corporate capture at the IMO, was also under the CSC umbrella at that meeting.
The affiliations of delegates can sometimes be misleading or hidden; for instance a shipping company staff member may come as an adviser of the Greek delegation, but his affiliation, as it appears in the IMO delegates list, is not the one of his own company but that of the HCS, which is the official adviser to the Greek government on shipping matters and the one that sends him there to represent them. This means that the original affiliation of someone who attends the IMO meetings may be partially or completely hidden.
Other cases of hidden affiliation are with IMAREST, which is a marine professionals association. IMAREST regularly lists under its delegation selected university and classification society staff, with their employers’ identities suppressed. A hidden identity may allow any organization to promote its interests without been listed or quoted by its real name, in addition to other possible channels it can use, and this has the potential to lead to conflict-of-interest situations.
Who can speak at the IMO? People who take the floor on behalf of member states are not limited to the heads of delegation or to official representatives (e.g. civil servants working in specific ministries, coast guards, embassies etc.) but may also include advisers who come from a broad spectrum of organizations, including national research institutes, universities, national industry or maritime advisory associations, shipping companies, classification societies, consulting companies etc. Apparently, the right to take the floor is given to these people by the respective member state, and what they can say has been first cleared by that state in accordance with its position on the subject being discussed. This scheme allows a specific company or group (such as for instance classification societies mentioned earlier) to be given the floor not via one but via multiple delegations in the same meeting.
The same is true as regards people who take the floor on behalf of observer organizations. Even though most observer organizations have specific rules on who may take the floor and what should be said, others are less strict, and situations where what the speaker says on the floor favors primarily their original affiliation (which as mentioned above may be hidden), vis-à-vis the position of the delegation on behalf of which they speak, may be seen. And even if the latter is the case, the fact that a company or a group can be given the floor not via one but via multiple delegations may very well distort representation.
There seem to be no rules on possible switching among delegations, which appears to be free. In that sense, a person may come under delegation A in one meeting and under delegation B in another meeting, with the listed affiliations not necessarily being the same (if they are not hidden). This possibility maximizes the benefits of that person’s original affiliation to promote its interests as they see fit.
Number of submissions
The number of submissions to the IMO is surely an indicator of influence or power. Simply speaking, if you do not submit, only by coincidence will someone else submit something that conforms to your interests. A member state that regularly submits say 5 to 10 submissions per MEPC (or MSC) meeting has a higher chance of seeing some of its submissions adopted than another member state that sends many fewer or no submissions. Of course, submission does not necessarily guarantee adoption, however persistent submissions project a sense of leadership and may bear fruit in the long run. A member state that habitually does not submit cannot aspire to have a leadership position and is relegated to the role of commentator on other delegations’ submissions (in the best case) or simply to the role of observer (in the worst case). If you want to lead, you have to submit.
Of course, submission, non-submission or limited submission is a matter of choice. Nobody forces someone to submit, and it may very well be that as a matter of national strategy some delegations may have chosen to adopt a ‘passive’ role, i.e. that of mainly commenting on others’ submissions or staying at the sidelines and watching others debate the issues. Making a non-trivial submission takes significant resources, possibly involving R&D or studies to support positions, and if these resources are not available or are limited, maybe the best strategy is to use them for responding rather than proposing. Of course, such a strategy is not necessarily the best way to pursue one’s interests.
Some aggregate IMO submission statistics for MEPC and MSC meetings since 2010 are presented in Fig. 2. As mentioned above, MSC submissions were added to see whether there is a difference versus the MEPC, particularly since the two committees regularly interact on a number of issues. To get a wider perspective, the total number of submissions to the IMO was also added, as further explained below.
The left vertical axis of Fig. 2 shows the MSC and MEPC submissions of various delegations since 2010. Submissions are shown as a bar chart (blue: MSC, green: MEPC). The right vertical axis of the same figure shows the total number of IMO submissions in the same period (not limited to the MSC or MEPC). The ranking on the horizontal axis of Fig. 2 is by the total number of MSC and MEPC submissions. Joint submissions are counted for each of the submitters. In the period since 2010, there have been a total of 10,146 submissions to the IMO, of which 2252 have been to the MEPC and 1780 to the MSC (the rest have been submitted to other IMO committees, subcommittees, working groups or other bodies).
In Fig. 2, submissions by the EU-28 (submitted via the European Commission) are treated separately (label EC) and do not count in the submissions of each of the 28 EU member states. For joint submissions, information on who, among the submitters, took the initiative to draft the submission was not readily available and is not reflected in the figure. In that sense, the figure probably underestimates the leadership position of delegations that originated joint submissions by putting them at an equal footing with their co-submitters. The figure also does not show the submissions by the IMO Secretariat, as these do not shed any light on the influence of any particular delegation.
It can be observed from Fig. 2 that, for the period since 2010, the USA, Japan, Germany, IACS and Norway have been the top five IMO delegations (in that order) by total number of submissions. The order in terms of MSC + MEPC submissions is very similar: Japan, USA, Germany, IACS and Norway. Greece, the world’s top fleet, is ranked as low as number 17 in terms of MSC and MEPC submissions and number 18 in terms of total IMO submissions. There seems to be no substantial difference in activity between MSC and MEPC submissions, i.e. one delegation being very active at the MSC but not very active at the MEPC or vice versa. Some individual differences do exist, for instance Japan being more active in the MEPC than in the MSC, while IACS is more active in the MSC versus MEPC.
Figure 3 shows average delegation size for the last two MSC and the last three MEPC meetings, against total number of submissions since 2010, for selected IMO member states. The total number of delegates registered in these five sessions was 5427. The size of the circle for each member state is proportional to that member state’s controlled fleet in 2018.
In Fig. 3, Japan (and to a lesser extent the USA) stand out as outliers, in terms of average delegation size (for Japan) and, to a lesser extent, in terms of number of submissions (for both the USA and Japan). It should be noted that, according to UNCTAD (2018), in 2017, China, Korea and Japan accounted for 23.34, 22.51 and 12.94 million gross registered tonnage (GRT) in new buildings, respectively. These three countries total 58.79 million GRT versus 64.99 million GRT for the world shipyards (this is a share of 90.45% of global ship production). This, together with fleet size, can perhaps explain the high submission profiles of these countries. It should be noted that shipbuilders’ interests are also represented in Europe by Community of European Shipyards’ Associations (CESA) and in Asia by the Active Shipbuilding Experts’ Federation (ASEF). In the above period, CESA made only 13 submissions (joint with a number of other observer organizations) and ASEF, which was granted consultative status in 2017, had only one. So, even though it seems that shipbuilding industry associations are not very active in terms of IMO submissions, the member states that represent major shipbuilding interests are.
The high submission profiles of Norway, Germany, UK and to a lesser extent, Denmark can perhaps be explained by the significant maritime clusters that are present in these countries. These clusters include shipbuilding, marine equipment, class, banking, marine insurance and other related industries. In contrast, Greece, number one in the world by controlled fleet but practically non-existent in terms of shipbuilding, looks like a ‘sleeping giant’ in terms of both delegation size and total number of submissions.
Of course, its few IMO submissions certainly did not prevent Greece’s controlled fleet from attaining number one status in the world. In this case, it is clear that IMO submissions and delegation size are clearly not relevant for a member state’s controlled fleet size. However, a question that can be asked is, which of the major IMO regulatory developments in recent years has experienced the distinct footprint of Greece? We can think of only one, the bulk carrier double hull issue, when due to the intervention of Greece in 2004 (IMO 2004), the IMO reversed its earlier decision, requiring double hulls for bulk carriers. That was an MSC activity. By contrast, in major recent IMO regulatory activity, including the MEPC drive to decarbonize shipping and the initial IMO Strategy which is likely to significantly influence the shape of the industry in the years ahead, Greece has been conspicuously low-key, at least thus far. In the words of a prominent member of the Greek shipping industry, ‘In the nineteenth century we were part of the transport system. Now we are just taxi drivers waiting for someone to hire our cab.’
Figure 4 is a variant of Fig. 3 with fleet size removed but with observer organizations added.
Among IMO observer organizations, IACS clearly stands out, being number four in terms of overall submissions and even surpassing all member states except the USA, Japan and Germany. Other industry associations such as ICS, BIMCO and Intertanko follow at a distance. Given that (as in previous sections) some IACS members can also participate in an IMO meeting under multiple different delegations (including IACS itself) and thus may influence discussions via these delegations as well, the above confirms the significant and perhaps extraordinary profile of class societies in IMO matters.
In fact, our analysis confirms that class society influence on the shipping industry is significant, and due to the very lax IMO governance rules, perhaps it is way more significant than what it ought to be. Thus, and even though we may stop short of claiming that ‘what is good for DNV-GL is good for Norway’ (or for Germany for that matter), the fact that the IMO rules allow class to be represented via multiple outlets and act in unison on selected matters with no checks and balances whatsoever ought to be, in our opinion, a source of concern for IMO governance and something to be seriously looked at going forward.