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Restructuring of the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO)

September 29, 2016 2:34 PM | Deleted user
Written by: Chris Andreasen

The IHO has just announced that 2/3 of Member States have now ratified the proposed amendments to the IHO Convention placing into effect a restructuring of the IHO.

In 2002, the IHO established a Strategic Planning Working Group (SPWG) which had as one of its tasks the review of the IHO Convention and to provide any recommended changes by December 2003. The SPWG concluded that, in this era of electronic data and products, decision making was too slow and ineffective. SPWG further concluded that the 5-year gap between Conferences was too long to monitor and hasten decision making.

At the 3rd Extraordinary I.H. Conference in 2005, it was recommended to the Member States that the IHO Convention be amended to shift from a Conference every 5-years to an Assembly of all Member States every 3-years with a Council of 30 Member States (or 25% of Member States if greater) to meet annually during the intervening years. The Council is to be made up of the 10 nations or 1/3 of Member States with the greatest “hydrographic interest” plus the remainder, 20 Member States or 2/3 of Member States) from the Regional Hydrographic Commissions so as to give worldwide representation of the hydrographic offices. “Hydrographic interest” was initially decided to be those 10 Member States with the largest tonnage of shipping (which is the basis for assessment of fees), but this definition is to be reconsidered during the second Assembly after having achieved the required 2/3 of Member States ratification of the Protocol of Amendments of the IHO Convention. The U.S.A. is about 6th in tonnage and will automatically be a member of Council.

It was further recommended that the International Hydrographic Bureau (IHB) be transitioned to become the Secretariat of IHO. IHB was really a hold-over from the name of the office prior to the adoption of an IHO Convention, which formed the IHO. IHB will no longer exist. There now will be a Secretary General of the IHO with broader powers than the former President along with 2 Directors who are to support the two subsidiary Committees. Due to the 3-year period of Assembly meetings, the election/terms of the Secretary General and Directors had to be modified. Currently one can serve 10-years (two 5-year terms) but under the new structure one can only serve 9-years.  They now will be elected for an initial term of 6-years followed by a possible second term of 3-years. For the Directors who have just served 5-year terms, they may be elected for an additional 3-year term.

It was also recommended that the work be consolidated under two Committees: Hydrographic Services and Standards Committee (HSSC) and Inter-Regional Coordination Committee (IRCC).

A major positive change is that if a nation is a member of the United Nations when they apply for IHO membership, they can become a Member State without having to obtain the approval by IHO Member States, which often has taken two years under the existing Convention.

Finally, amongst several other changes, it is noteworthy that representation of industry is formalized.

Of course, since Member States often have onerous procedures for national ratification of an international convention (often requiring Senate approval, which is the case of the U.S.A.), it was recognized that Ratification of the Protocol of Amendments to the IHO Convention would take quite some time.

The U.S. Ratified the Protocol of Amendments in 2009, the first international agreement signed by President Obama.

Over the intervening years, IHO has implemented those recommendations that were not dependent upon ratification such as the restructuring into the two Committees, HSSC and IRCC. Now that ratification has been achieved, final restructuring is being implemented.

The first International Hydrographic Assembly will be held at Monaco from 24 to 28 April 2017 where a Secretary General and two Directors will be elected. The Hydrographic Society of America has Observer status at this Assembly.

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