WMO-IMO Symposium addresses extreme maritime weather

WMO-IMO Symposium addresses extreme maritime weather



25 October 2019

WMO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) held the first joint Symposium on  Extreme Maritime Weather: Towards Safety of Life at Sea and a Sustainable Blue Economy.

The October 23-25 event at IMO headquarters in London brought together about 200 stakeholders from shipping (including freight, passenger ferries, cruise liners), offshore industry, ports and harbors, coast guards, insurance providers and the met-ocean community - both public and private).

It provided a key platform for WMO to identify best practices and improve services for safety and risk reduction, emergency response, sustainable shipping practices and greater collection and sharing of ship observations.

Nusrat Ghani, UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the Department of Transport stressed the need for met-ocean and shipping communities to build dialogue on global solutions in shipping and maritime transport, especially in the changing climate.

In an opening video address, Peter Thomson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, hailed the symposium as “timely.”

“With the great majority of world trade carried by ships, the value of the historical loss of cargo due to extreme weather conditions is simply vast. Most of these tragedies could have been avoided if better information, communication and preparedness measures had been available at the time,” he said. “The good news is that ocean information services are being continually developed, including early warnings and improved predictions.”

The Symposium is a WMO and IMO contribution to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030).

The “blue economy” is estimated at US$ 3-6 trillion/year, accounting for 70% of world trade, which provides livelihoods for over 6 billion people.

The accuracy and timeliness of weather forecasting over the last decades has improved, however, millions of dollars in goods and thousands of lives are still lost at sea each year due to extreme weather conditions such as high winds, large waves, fog, thunderstorms, sea ice, freezing spray and volcanic ash.

“We must apply the gains we’ve made in science, observing, computing, and communications to bring relevant 21st century services to the maritime community.  We must develop a stronger partnership with this community to improve safety of life and property at sea,” said the Symposium Chair, Tom Cuff, of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In addition to science, participation of local mariner and coastal communities is also important, especially, in polar regions where communication bandwidth is restricted. John Parker, Environment and Climate Change Canada said: ‘Canadian Inuit communities play a critical role in the development of future weather and sea-ice products for the Arctic.  By working together, we are currently examining how Inuit weather and sea-ice forecasting knowledge combined with western monitoring and modelling techniques could lead to better Arctic forecasts to meet local decision-making needs’.

Forecasts need more observations to improve their skill. Peter Hinchliffe (Chair of the Nautical Institute Executive Board and former Secretary General International Chamber of Shipping) emphasised that ‘only 2500 ships voluntarily provide met data. Out of a total of around 80,000 ships in international trade this is a shockingly small number and efforts must be made to increase the contribution of this vital data to improve forecasting and weather warnings’.  More weather data collected by ships at sea will improve forecasts, helping the maritime industry as well as the public.

Developing country situations were addressed and it is apparent that improved end-user understanding is needed. Nelly Florida Riama of Indonesia's BMKG stated ‘We need to understand that different users have different requirements and understanding - this is especially challenging in island countries where, for example, local fishing communities may not understand the technical terms that we use in the forecasts, which has led to misinterpretation’.

IMO-WMO symposium on extreme maritime weatherUltimately, the Symposium has shone a spotlight on the urgent need to close the gap between the met-ocean providers and users of this information in the maritime industry.  Nick Cutmore, Secretary General of the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA) ‘There’s a need for a greater understanding and awareness of the benefits that met-ocean data can provide to the mariner on a day-to-day basis. Similarly, the met-ocean community needs greater awareness of the kinds of decisions that mariners must make.’

Highlighting global examples of extreme maritime weather,  broad discussion also included views of  insurance, investigation and indemnity, ocean forecasting to improve decision making by maritime sectors, digital delivery of maritime safety information, decision support in polar regions from short to longer term seasonal time scales, voyage route optimization, decision support for the offshore industry, and search and rescue.

Other key areas identified that need urgent attention:

  • With the met-ocean community increasingly using thresholds to convey impacts of weather hazards to the public, nascent efforts in this for marine weather are being undertaken by some NMHSs. These impact thresholds must be reconciled with concerns from the shipping industry, in which many different ship types and activities have different operating limits, and setting fixed thresholds may have an unintended negative impact on operations.
  • There is a need for better awareness of the value met-ocean data can add to maritime operations.
  • With so many commercial weather providers, it is essential to ensure that users know what data is authoritative.
  • The maritime community desires clearer and simplified met-ocean data and information where possible, to ensure they are understood and that proper decisions are made with the information.
  • Ports and Harbours are expected  be subject in the future, to more frequent and intense storms and rising sea levels.  Inundation in ports and harbours will be challenging from both a safety and economic perspective.
  • The design of vessels, industry, ports and harbour infrastructure also plays a role in safety and resilience to poor weather.




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