07/19/2011 19:59

Showing maritime transparency will improve global perception, Ports Authority dir.-gen. says; Israel, Turkey first non-EU countries to sign deal.
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Israel has agreed to undertake a voluntary audit from the International Maritime Organization at the end of 2012, and in doing so, will join Turkey as the first non- EU countries in the Mediterranean region to allow the global body to evaluate how the country is complying with its commitments to sea pollution prevention and nautical safety, officials said at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon at the Transportation Ministry.

In preparation for the future audit, a strategy workshop was also held in Jerusalem that morning for senior officials from various government ministries led by Albert Bergonzo, project officer of a regional program called SafeMed II.

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The program, which aims to foster cooperation among non-EU Mediterranean countries, is a section of the Maltabased Maritime Administration of the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC), part of the International Maritime Organization as well as the United Nations Environment Program.

SafeMed II, which was preceded by a SafeMed I program from 2006-2008, has a 5.5 million euro budget provided by the European Union, and includes Algeria, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.

“We have regional activities and in these activities we invite representatives from all the beneficiaries,” Bergonzo said, noting that SafeMed is a multilateral cooperation project.

“Since we are working on a technical subject it works quite well, but it’s true of course we are aware of what is going on in the region. It’s one more motivation to make things move forward.”

In order to ensure a safe and thriving Mediterranean, while SafeMed requires the cooperation of many otherwise disparate countries, the project does not force each nation to abide by exactly the same protocols, according to Bergonzo.

“An international convention will not go into each and every detail of how things should be done – what is important is the result,” he said. “For example, the MARPOL [the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978] will say that you need to have a system of penalties to be able to prosecute offenders, but it will not tell you exactly what is a concrete result of this.”

The audit that Israel will soon undergo – which 26 other countries around the world have already completed – will assess just how effectively the system here is performing, according to Bergonzo.

The audit will check 10 “conventions” that have become standard according to International Maritime Organization protocol, including safety of life at sea, MARPOL maritime pollution and Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) for seafarers, explained Jens Schroeder- Hinrichs, a consultant for Israel’s audit from admaris GmbH, based in Hamburg, Germany.

“They regulate the safety standards for the ships, they regulate how pollution resulting from ships should be avoided and how you qualify seafarers to act in a responsible way,” Schroeder-Hinrichs said.

A wide range of Israeli ministries will need to be involved in the process, with the Shipping and Ports Authority of the Transportation Ministry “running the show,” according to Capt. Yigal Maor, director of the Israeli Maritime Administration and directorgeneral of the Shipping and Ports Authority.

Maor said the government formally decided to volunteer for the audit about a year ago.

“The problem is that when the auditing becomes compulsory, the sanctions against you will be taken immediately,” he added, noting the audit will be compulsory in 2014. “Here, we will still have a chance to rectify and improve the situation.”

In the fall, Israel will undergo a test phase of the audit, just to get a “taste” of what the full version will be like a year later, Maor said. Meanwhile, Schroeder-Hinrichs is currently conducting a training course with government officials in Acre to brief them on the requirements of the audit.

“This is exceptionally good for us and will also facilitate everything that has to do with marine environmental legislation procedures, identifying any gaps in that manner,” said Ran Amir, director of the Marine and Coastal Environment Division in the Environmental Protection Ministry.

Maor commended Amir’s division for conducting monthly checks as to Israel’s preparedness to withstand contamination and also emphasized monitoring ship safety is crucial to the environment, as “with bad safety at sea there is pollution” – caused by ship collisions.

“Israel sits on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, so all pollution beginning in Gibraltar will end up on the Israeli shore,” Maor said. “The Mediterranean is the most traffic-filled maritime lane in the world. Thirty percent of world maritime trade is moving 60 kilometers from the shores of Israel.”

All the participants in the meeting concluded that choosing to be part of the maritime audit can be nothing but positive for Israel.

“Volunteering for the audit shows that your administration is open, it is transparent, it is willing to be examined by people from the outside,” Bergonzo said. “The fact that you accept to commit yourself for this audit is very good sign for the international maritime community.”

Maor agreed. “We are completely transparent and we shall demonstrate in the audit that despite some feelings in the outside world, Israel is not hiding something.

This is going to significantly improve the attitude toward the State of Israel.”