Making Sense of the Regulations

5 January 2017


Sitting in International Registries, Inc.’s (IRI’s) London office in front of shelf upon shelf of maritime conventions, codes, guides, circulars, and advisory notes, Regulatory Manager Rob Lomas has a big job on his hands. Every ship operator, large or small, needs to comply with international, regional, and national regulations and Rob Lomas as a part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Maritime Administrator’s (the “Administrator’s”) team of experts guide those companies whose ships fly the RMI flag through the complex rules and provide practical advice for real world situations.

“Empowering ship operators with consistent regulations, balancing the role of the regulator with that of the commercial environment, and explaining how the rules should be interpreted, are what I see as the main roles of the modern flag State,” says Rob Lomas.

With over 25 years of maritime regulatory experience working for shipowner representative bodies, including the UK Chamber of Shipping and Intercargo, Rob Lomas has helped shape the debate and interpreted the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) conventions and codes for ship operators around the world.

He started his career in the mid-1980s with the Japanese container line NYK where he specialized in the management of dangerous goods.

“I made it my business to study the regulations, write them out, and then put them into real world situations,” he says.

This was an important grounding for a career that was to see him provide regulatory advice for the North Sea offshore vessel sector, European shortsea trades, and the dry bulk sector. He says that being involved in the drive to improve the dry bulk carrier fleet’s safety record is one of his proudest achievements.

“When I joined the dry bulk owner representative organization Intercargo, dry bulk carriers were in the news for all the wrong reasons. But the industry rose to the challenge, professionalized, and dramatically improved its safety record.”

Expert advice on tap

Today, much of his focus is on meeting the needs of ship operators who require practical and consistent legislation to run their businesses successfully.

In his two years with IRI, Rob Lomas says that he has been overwhelmed by the high levels of expertise that IRI can call upon from within its 400 strong workforce. He says that the quality of advice that is available to him from across IRI’s network of offices is second to none, thanks to the ready availability of experts with decades of experience to provide guidance on every aspect of ship operations.   

The RMI is a committed participant at the IMO with a permanent representative and large, active delegation at the major committee and subcommittee meetings.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he says. “The world has a much safer shipping industry than ever before and regulation plays an important role in this. Yes, sometimes it can take longer than anticipated to reach consensus and yes, it can take a wrong turn from time to time, but the IMO has successfully pushed the industry forward and it is there for the common good.”

An important part of the Administrator’s work is not just providing guidance and implementing the latest legislation, but anticipating and shaping future requirements. Developing standards for electronic recordkeeping on board ships is the next big challenge at the IMO. The IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response will be meeting in January 2017 to focus on developing a watertight standard that could allow for the future admissibility of electronic logs. Currently, decades old regulations are underpinned by a mandatory requirement for paper records.

“Regulation should not hold back modern technology,” says Rob Lomas. “The RMI is very keen that the shipping industry should be a 21st century force that allows its employees to operate efficiently. Introducing electronic records that can’t be tampered with should be an easy win for the industry.”

Beyond IMO

It is not just the IMO that is critical to the RMI’s work. The output of the Geneva based International Labour Organization  (ILO) is the focus for a good deal of the Administrator’s attention, particularly amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. Also important are the relationships that the RMI enjoys with the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) and the International Group of P&I Clubs, as well as the various owner representative bodies such as Intertanko, Intercargo, BIMCO, and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). Rob Lomas also commented that the RMI works closely with other flag States and will often co-sponsor or support proposals at the IMO.

Committee meetings, plenary sessions, and hearings can seem a world away from the realities of a tough life at sea, but thanks to a commitment to progressive, meaningful safety and environmental legislation seafarers are able to do a good job and run the world’s ships safely and efficiently.