The UAE's bid for a seat in a select decision making body of the International Maritime Organisation will help the country take strategic decisions for its security and benefit local and regional industry.
Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Nuaimi, Minister of Infrastructure Development and chairman of the board of directors of the Federal Transport Authority, on Monday outlined the steps the country was taking to secure a seat competing against 12 other nations for a voice in a global authority that sets standards for maritime security.
"We are the only Arab country among the 12 countries seeking 10 seats. Being a member of the IMO's executive council we will be well placed and will have first hand information that we can use for our security," Mr Al Nuaimi said.
"It will also give us early knowledge of IMO regulations to help us take future decisions to build infrastructure not only for the maritime industry but for commerce and industry of the UAE.”
Voting will take place during the IMO's general assembly meeting between November 24 and December 5 in London.
The other countries in the fray include Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina, France and Australia.
The IMO, an agency of the United Nations, also issues guidance to protect seafarers and has worked with the industry and governments to create guidelines to prevent piracy, particularly off the coast of Somali, and on the use of private security companies in high risk areas.
After the hijacking of the tanker Aris 13 off Somalia in March, the first major hijacking in the region since 2012, IMO secretary general Kitack Lim urged the industry to follow IMO guidance to avoid piracy attacks.
“The reality is that piracy off the coast of Somalia has not been eradicated and the underlying conditions have not changed,” he had said.
"Merchant shipping should continue to take protective measures against possible piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean through diligent application of IMO guidance."
The UAE’s proximity to key sea routes such as the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el Mandab make maritime security a crucial issue particularly with ships leaving the country’s shores that have been targeted by Somali pirates and Houthi attacks on merchant vessels, a fallout from the Yemen conflict.
Mr Al Nuaimi said while the country has been a member of the IMO since 1981, they were not able to take part in the decision making process.
“When you have the ability of being part of making legislation you become aware that you can protect not only the borders. We will have first hand information to build for the future of the maritime industry because the executive office is the place where regulations, systems and future decisions are made,” he said.
The authority has also been dealing with a rising number of ships abandoned off the country’s shores by owners impacted by the drop in oil prices. The FTA said last month it was working with consular and aid workers to deal with more than a dozen ships off the country’s coast and warned ship owners and agents against abandoning the men.
Mr Al Nuaimi said the authority would continue to work to provide relief to the seafarers.
“This is a human issue. We are doing what we can to because don’t want to see people suffering.”
The IMO also promotes cooperation between governments in prevention and control of marine pollution from ships.
A seat on the executive council will give the country a head start on regulations that need to be framed and also help influence decisions that could impact the region.
“Abiding by IMO regulations is compulsory as of 2016, prior to that it was optional. So in future it would be difficult to bypass any regulation put forward by IMO,” Mr Al Nuaimi said.
“But if there are decisions that might hamper our interests on the seas, we can say ‘no.’ If there are restricted regulations we feel hamper our economy or interests we would definitely seek colleagues, friends and other countries that also say ‘no’.”