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In a Time of Pandemic and Sanctions It Pays to Get to Know Your Vessels

    Michael Watt

Recent headlines of actions by bad actors and rogue governments continue to complicate the complex regulatory regimes of the shipping and maritime industries. In addition to the increasing challenges around countering sanctions evasion and illicit trade, the reverberations of COVID-19 and its economic impacts have led to new reputational and financial risks associated with global supply chains. Events have shown that the challenge of maintaining global trade networks during a disruption may lead shipping organizations exposed to new counterparties that have unassessed risks.

During a time of rapidly growing commercial and regulatory exposure, it is important for shipping businesses to have a levelheaded response and act quickly to implement a robust know your vessel (KYV) program. This should happen through an organization-wide dedication to compliance, a nuanced understanding of enterprise risk, and a supply chain that properly balances efficiency and resilience. 


What Risk-based Approaches Should Be Implemented

The US administration’s May 14 Global Maritime Advisory provides detail on the level of vetting and other compliance actions expected of businesses at risk of breaching US sanctions. But given the maritime industry is subject to numerous international regulations, there may be inconsistent requirements which could lead to disruptions in business. If businesses first assess their program and understand the applicable regulatory regimes, they can more effectively implement additional approaches that are fit-for-purpose.

The bottom-line of US administration’s guidance is that businesses need to purposefully and dramatically strengthen their compliance activities.
At minimum, a know your vessel (KYV) program includes risk-based due diligence. This starts by collecting the necessary information from the vessel, particularly documentation regarding its ultimate beneficial owners. As appropriate, this documentation should be verified and independently monitored for changes.
The goal of these approaches is to develop a unique risk profile/score based on the risk assessment for each vessel and have policies and procedures in place to act on that information, but to also be adaptable to business demands. 


Develop a Strong Governance Program

Once the overall regulatory and sanctions risks to a shipping business are assessed, a strong governance program would lay the foundation for consistent due diligence, screening, and approval processes prior to chartering vessels or engaging with a shipping business.

Expanding this foundation with nuance and clear guidance will allow the business effectively and quickly onboard new vessels. For example, businesses should outline parameters when each new vessel needs to be chartered, as well as controls around how quickly a vessel can be approved. Similarly, heightened levels of risk based on the nature of a contract, whether for a spot charter or a subcontractor, should be determined to prompt more extensive vetting.

Governance programs must also reflect that initial screening and subsequent decisions do not negate the need to undertake an ongoing and routine review. Conditions are subject to change and businesses need to keep their finger on the pulse of their vessels’ risk profiles.

These programs are a commitment in supporting an organization’s central mission and their ongoing ability to carry it out. Ultimately, a robust governance program can help ensure shipping businesses “knows their vessels” and feel confident with their level of risk. And should an issue arise, it’s important that businesses be prepared to respond effectively.

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