All Hands on Deck: International Maritime Organization Ramps Up Battle Against Wildlife Trafficking

Posted on May, 28 2024

IMO has adopted new measures for the prevention and suppression of wildlife smuggling in maritime shipping, including updated guidelines and a new, e-learning course, “Introduction to counter wildlife trafficking in maritime supply chains”
The forty-eighth session of the Facilitation Committee (FAL 48) of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) took place between 8-12 April 2024, with the participation, engagement and guidance of WWF on multiple key initiatives to combat wildlife trafficking.
Two documents co-sponsored by WWF were discussed at the meeting, which centered on the topic "Development of guidelines for the prevention and suppression of the smuggling of wildlife on ships engaged in international maritime traffic." The first document, the Joint Industry Guidelines (FAL 48/9), was submitted by Belgium, WWF, the World Shipping Council (WSC), and the Bureau International des Containers et du Transport Intermodal (BIC). It seeks to bolster the adoption of the Guidelines previously approved in FAL 46 by providing specific and actionable steps for all maritime industry stakeholders. Additionally, a resolution (FAL 48/9/1) proposing revised guidelines was submitted by Belgium, Kenya, South Africa, the Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Shipping (ISCOS), and WWF. Strong support for these two documents was expressed through the interventions of nineteen member states. Countries noted that illegal wildlife trade is a threat to our future, pushing many species to the brink of extinction, robbing communities of legitimate livelihoods in many countries, and threatening public health and ecosystems.
Several IMO members expressed concern over the devastating effects that organised crime has on shipping, and stated that illegal wildlife trade should be treated as a type of organised crime. Statements of support also referenced that the new guidelines will encourage collaboration, coordination, and information sharing among stakeholders in the prevention and suppression of wildlife trafficking, and are a valuable tool for spreading awareness. These guidelines are therefore seen as a critical step that highlights procedures to prevent, report, detect, and interdict wildlife trafficking in the maritime sector that is now available to government agencies and industry to strengthen enforcement measures. These documents were adopted in general by the Committee.
WWF’s representative to the session, Brian Gonzales of WWF’s Asia Pacific Counter-Illegal Wildlife Hub and WWF Hong Kong recalls that “since 2000 we have been partnering with the IMO, its member states, and other stakeholders in the development and adoption of the 2022 IMO Guidelines for the Prevention and Suppression of the Smuggling of Wildlife on Ships Engaged in International Maritime Traffic, and virtual and in-person outreach events. These guidelines are a call to action for both the public and private sectors to increase our vigilance and response to the threats posed by the illegal wildlife trade in the maritime sector and represent a pivotal moment for public-private collective action.”
A side event on "Combating organized crime in the maritime supply chain" was held with speakers from the Belgium delegation, WSC, and John Dodsworth representing WWF-UK. Environmental crime can no longer be considered just a conservation issue, but in fact one of the largest criminal activities in the world that intersects and converges with various other serious crimes, amplifying the influence of existing transnational organized crime networks. At the event, speakers highlighted the importance of collaboration among maritime supply chain partners in tackling illegal wildlife trafficking. They also discussed successful case studies of partnerships that have been instrumental in combating organized crime.
Speakers highlighted the significant untapped potential between law enforcement and the shipping sector to tackle these complex global challenges, such as illegal wildlife trade. Further, trusted partnerships between industry and government have proven to produce significant results, and we will continue building on these relationships between industry and society, and between IMO member states. It was also noted that innovative solutions are in the works, such as a cargo screening tool for illegal wildlife trade.
WWF's involvement at IMO FAL 48 also included a much-anticipated event for the formal announcement of the IMO e-Learning Course on “Introduction to counter wildlife trafficking in the maritime supply chains.” The e-learning course has been developed by IMO, in collaboration with the World Maritime University (WMU) and WWF, and will be launched in June 2024. Speakers during the event were from organizations including IMO, WMU, International Port Community Systems Association (IPCSA); and Mr Brian V. Gonzales, Lead WWF Asia Pacific Counter-Illegal Wildlife Trade Hub. The event introduced the course which is tailored to maritime sector stakeholders to raise awareness of wildlife trafficking through global maritime supply chains.
Mr Watchara Chiemanukulkit, Chairman of Facilitation Committee of the IMO, and Chief of the International Affairs Division of the Marine Department of Thailand, stated “the launch of IMO’s new e-learning course marks a monumental milestone for stakeholders across the globe and the maritime sector to learn about the complex issue of illegal wildlife trade, the maritime supply chains' vulnerabilities to wildlife trafficking, and to gain a deep and comprehensive understanding of the role that learners can play in addressing it.” A teaser for the course is available here.
IMO training has customarily been delivered in person, but with rapid digital globalization, IMO and partners have been working to meet the demand for virtual courses – an approach that was highlighted as important during COVID-19. Panelists agreed that IMO's e-learning courses cater to diverse learner needs, thereby resulting in a more effective achievement of learning outcomes. The unique benefits also include its cost-effectiveness, self-pacing flexibility, and accessibility in reaching a much higher number of people than when you do it in person. The new course covers important topics, such as the complexity and extent of wildlife trafficking, concealment methods, red flag indicators, and the important role of the maritime sector in suppressing it.
Professor Maximo Q. Meija, Jr. President of the World Maritime University said, “the course on introduction to counter maritime trafficking in the maritime supply chains addresses a pressing issue that demands immediate attention. Integrating this course into the education offerings provided by the IMO e-learning initiative demonstrates a commitment to building a maritime community that takes responsibility for preventing the illicit wildlife trade.” The course is enriched with real-world examples and will ensure that participants across the maritime industry at large are aware of the FAL convention and the requirements developed by the FAL committee to prevent wildlife trafficking across maritime supply chains.
WWF, working with key government, NGO and private sector partners, the IMO took important steps during FAL 48 to address a critical issue. Illegal wildlife trade can only be repressed successfully if the entire supply chain is considered. The e-learning course, along with the newly adopted guidelines will support collaborative efforts at the international, regional, national and port level to stop wildlife trafficking, and therefore better protect biodiversity, ecosystems, human health, and sustainable development. Equipped with new guidelines, training courses, and actionable insights, both the public and private sectors will be better able to implement measures to prevent and detect illegal wildlife trade on ships engaged in international maritime traffic.
The 48th meeting of the FAL Committee at the IMO headquarters in London