Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Single Window Reporting Requirements Will Soon Impact Freight and Shipping Interests Beyond Europe

Member States and All Companies Must Have Workable Systems Up and Running Shortly
Shipping News Feature

EUROPE – Much of what the European Union has to involve itself in is ‘tidying up’ and aligning the regulations for all manner of trades for which different standards and rules apply in the various member states. Next year will witness a reporting change which all vessel operators and ships masters, in any of the various freight sectors, should be aware of. At present the reporting requirements for vessels arriving or departing any European port can vary widely and so it is that, as from 1 June 2015, all EU member countries must have in place a ‘Single Window’ simplified system to streamline and standardise the reporting formalities for ships docking at or embarking from EU ports.

Such a Single Window system allows parties involved in trade and transport to submit just once, standardised information using electronic data transmission with a single entry point to fulfil all ship, import, export, and transit-related regulatory requirements. The master, or any other person duly authorised by the operator of the ship, must provide the competent national authority with notification, prior to arriving in an EU port, the information required under the Reporting Formalities Directive. Details and video of the current works and requirements can be seen on the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) site here.

Dr Takis Katsoulakos, Director of Inlecom Systems has pointed out that, whilst the logic behind the legislation is straightforward, the reality of developing and rolling-out a compliant system is a good deal more complex both for authorities and shipping companies, and he goes on here to explain how he sees the need to develop a coherent and practical way forward for shipping lines, port authorities, national authorities and all other stakeholders.

“The European Union’s stated aim of introducing a Maritime Single Window is driven by a desire to simplify the administrative burden for ships entering and leaving EU ports. The current reporting requirements are extremely onerous and due to elements of overlapping legislation there is often a need to submit similar information to different authorities in different formats. Furthermore, individual ports have their own by-laws so reporting requirements vary considerably. Very little information is transmitted electronically with paper forms the preferred media. In short, the current system is labour intensive, inefficient and delivers little value to any of the stakeholders.

“Starting in 2009, the EU began to streamline and standardise ship reporting formalities by introducing a number of directives. These included the Vessel Traffic Monitoring & Information Systems (VTMIS) which made every European country responsible for introducing their own SafeSeaNet national application. This means that all Member States became interconnected via the SafeSeaNet Community system which provides a complete view of the movement of ships and dangerous or polluting cargo in European waters. Although initially difficult to roll out, SafeSeaNet has become very successful and is widely used for pollution control and prevention. SafeSeaNet has also demonstrated what is possible in terms of Pan-EU cooperation in the maritime sector.

“In 2011 the EU introduced a policy to promote increased use of maritime transport by creating the European Maritime Transport Space Without Barriers. The concept is aimed to eliminate or simplify administrative procedures in intra-EU maritime transport, thus making it 'more attractive, more efficient and more competitive'. As part of this, directive 2010/65/EU (Reporting formalities for ships) was introduced and this mandates the Member States to adopt the electronic Maritime Single Window by 1 June 2015. It’s important to underline the Maritime Single Window because in the past there have been a number of single windows particularly associated with customs clearance.

“The important element of directive 2010/65/EU is that each Member State must introduce a Maritime Single Window so that ships arriving at EU ports can submit the required reporting information once, to a single point and that information will be disseminated as required to all authorities that need access to it. Furthermore, from 1 June 2015 the directive prohibits acceptance of reporting formalities in paper form so everything from that date will have to be submitted electronically. In terms of satisfying the EU’s goal of reducing the administrative burden for shipping companies, the deployment of the Maritime Single Window should, in the long term, be a major success with a number of additional benefits to ports and regulative bodies. The major issues lie in building and deploying a system that is robust, flexible and fit for purpose.

“In developing its national Maritime Single Window, each EU country must specify a National Data Set reflecting all the regulatory requirements in that specific country. This National Data Set allows each country to include reporting requirements above and beyond what is specified as the minimum reporting requirements by the EU directives. The data model required by the EU, as well as the standard messages to submit the information are being developed by the EU Expert Group on Maritime Administrative Simplification and Electronic Information Services (eMS) committee and the EU-funded Advanced National Network for Administrations (AnNa) project. All this development work is being carried out in parallel with similar EU single window projects for multimodal freight to promote potential interoperability.

“There will be two main channels for submitting reporting formalities to Maritime Single Windows. First, through the Port Community Systems or other port systems that the industry is already using - these systems have a proven track record in transmitting information to various authorities electronically. This methodology reflects current electronic reporting routes used for example in in the UK, Holland, France and Spain. The other is through reporting gateways and applications that shipping companies and their agents may decide to use by extending their own systems or by adopting new/extended compliance applications. This approach is followed by Finland and Norway which operate central single window systems which transmits information to ports. Both routes have their merits and it’s possible that both will be made available and interconnected, in order to provide maximum flexibility for all stakeholders.

“Another key issue during the roll-out of the Maritime Single Window is supporting the stakeholders through the transition period and ensuring that there are contingency measures to deal with ‘not ready parties’. It would be unsatisfactory for ship owners to switch to all electronic reporting only to find that some ports are still asking for reporting using more traditional methods. Taking the UK as an example of a country without a legacy single window system, all the interested government agencies including, HM Customs & Excise, the Home Office, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the Department of Health and the Department of Transport established a steering group early in the process to look at technical and policy issues and provide direction on developments. Inlecom has been working with the steering group together with BMT as part of the eMAR project to address each agency’s differing requirements within the context of a UK system that’s not only fit for purpose, but also future-proof. This has engendered a pragmatic approach recognising that the needs of the user must be paramount.

“Consequently, the steering group has stipulated that rolling-out the Maritime Single Window at ‘least-cost’ for the industry must be a high priority. While 90 of the UK’s large and intermediate ports are already electronically linked, to the MCA there are approximately 250 medium and small ports that have no direct connection. Rather than demanding that these 250 ports invest in an expensive direct connection, information can be entered manually through a Maritime Single Window web interface. Furthermore, there is an understanding that having a transition period where PDF documents could be used as a halfway house between paper forms and direct, electronic submission will help ease the changeover. The next stage will be to roll-out a UK pilot project running to the end of 2014 so that any issues can be identified and addressed prior to the main roll-out in 2015.

“Countries such as Finland and Norway that already have a single window system in place have a different set of issues to contend with. In the main, suitable infrastructure is already in place so the major task will be updating the National Data Set to reflect the reporting formalities data model and standard messages. While stakeholders using the system are used to the process of submitting the reporting information to a single point of contact, they will be faced with different reporting messages. If support is readily available for users, this need not be an issue.

“Looking forward to 2015, the most important action is for the different stakeholders across Europe to prepare for the change that lies ahead. There are already good examples of both National Authorities and potential users across Europe engaging with the process and developing best practices. More pilot schemes will be starting soon providing further knowledge and experience to make sure that the transition period is planned properly. Users that want to integrate their existing systems with the Maritime Single Window to allow direct data transfer will have to start the adaptation process. There will almost certainly be some unforeseen problems during the transition period but the effect of the pilot projects will be to minimise these issues are far as possible. The impact of the EU’s Maritime Single Window will undoubtedly be positive.”

Inlecom has been part of a number of pilot projects over the last five years with various stakeholders developing systems which will indeed be fit for purpose and demonstrating proof of concept. Currently the eMAR Project in which the maritime authorities of Latvia and Norway, DNV and DANAOS are participating is developing prototypes to determine how the software, hardware and infrastructure required to support the Maritime Single Window could be rolled out across Europe. The experience of countries such as Finland, which have long since developed their own single window systems for commercial reasons, have also been taken into account.

One issue that Inlecom says it has considered throughout the development of the Maritime Single Window is building in suitable flexibility and standardisation of messages to allow roll-out beyond the EU. There have been discussions with the World Customs Organisation (WCO) but currently there isn’t the will to drive international harmonisation, although this might change once the pan-EU rollout is complete and operational.

Inlecom has also been working with potential users of the Maritime Single Window and a common thread with companies that have already invested in their own reporting network is the desire not to duplicate systems. Major shipping companies routinely record crew lists, passenger lists, manifests and other important data electronically so they do not wish to enter the data manually for a second time for submission to the Maritime Single Window. In many cases, Inlecom has been able to create a bespoke data map from the internal system to the Maritime Single Window so that reports can be submitted automatically. While this requires an investment in IT by the user prior to roll-out, the long term benefits are clear to see.

Photo: A painting of the Pool of London in its heyday by Charles Edward Dixon 1904