Today we celebrate World Meteorological Day and welcome the focus on the ocean, our climate and weather. The WMO (and the IMO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations and is responsible for promoting international cooperation on atmospheric science, climatology, hydrology and geophysics. International cooperation is essential because weather forecasting is the ultimate ‘team sport’, requiring the global exchange of vast quantities of data and products to create forecasts. The WMO counts 193 countries and territories amongst its members, and facilitates the “free and unrestricted” exchange of data, information, and research between its members.
Seafarers will be knowledgeable about the role of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Fewer will be familiar with its sister organisation, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). Along with the International Hydrographic Organisation (IHO), the WMO and IMO share responsibility for ensuring the provision of services and information in accordance with Chapter V of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974.
The WMO Marine Services Committee
I was honoured to be the UK national representative on the WMO’s newly formed Standing Committee on Marine Meteorological and Oceanographic Services (this is quite a mouthful and so I will refer to it as Marine Services Committee). The theme for this year’s WMO World Meteorological Day (23 Mar 21), is “The ocean, our climate and weather”. This is a perfect opportunity to provide an update on the activities taking place in the WMO of relevance to seafarers.
The Marine Services Committee is currently leading on 3 topics that are of immediate interest to seafarers.
SOLAS Chapter V
The safety of navigation is ensured through the provision of the Worldwide Navigational Warning Service (WWNS), operated by the IHO and the Worldwide Met-Ocean Information and Warning Service (WWMIWS), operated by the WMO. Both are the responsibility of designated coordinators and are delivered via SafetyNet and NAVTEX for the 21 NAVAREAS/METAREAS shown on the map in Figure 1.
Even though the NAVTEX and SafetyNet forecasts are text based and look ‘old fashioned’ (more about this in the next section) they are mandated by SOLAS regulation IV/12.2 which states, “Every ship, while at sea, shall maintain a radio watch for broadcasts of maritime safety information on the appropriate frequency or frequencies on which such information is broadcast for the area in which the ship is navigating”. They remain an essential and trusted resource for seafarers.
The METAREA forecasts and warnings are the only authoritative source of weather information for safe navigation.The reference document for Marine Safety Information, including the format and definition of the terms used in the METAREA forecasts, is MSC.1/Circ.1310/Rev.1, the ‘REVISED JOINT IMO/IHO/WMO MANUAL ON MARITIME SAFETY INFORMATION (MSI)’ (dated 21 Nov 2014). Other relevant documents are WMO. No 9 Vol D (METAREA Coordinator and broadcast details) and the WMO 558 Manual on Marine Meteorological Services.
Commercial weather companies offer routeing services and are often engaged by owners and charterers to monitor voyages for safety, efficiency and charter party compliance. Some provide software onboard and stream data to seafarers to create weather graphics and routeing advice. None of these providers are monitored by the WMO or the IMO and the weather forecasters and data do not currently have to meet any standards or accreditation. Providers will respond to this absence of regulation differently.
Editorial note: You can read how theStratumFive Group, Fleetweather Inc and the Royal Meteorological Society ensure weather forecasters have scientific and professional qualifications here.
The IMO approved the E-Navigation Strategy Implementation Plan in 2014.
“E-navigation is the harmonized collection, integration, exchange, presentation and analysis of marine information on board and ashore by electronic means to enhance berth to berth navigation and related services for safety and security at sea and protection of the marine environment.”
In brief, a lot more information will be moving to ECDIS over the next decade including the Maritime Safety Information Services provided by the IMO, IHO and the WMO.
In addition to revised versions of the METAREA forecasts and warnings, this will include real time observed ice, wave and weather conditions and forecast conditions which will be display on ECDIS as overlays, point data and text. Figure 2 illustrates the concept and Figure 3 shows some of the products in development.
Different organisations are leading on the development of these features, which will be introduced gradually as they become available and as ECDIS are updated to receive the new formats. An IMO presentation on the current situation can be found here and a NOAA presentation on the meteorological elements here.
Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW)
The WMO Marine Services Committee was only established late in 2020 and it brings a new focus on customer needs and wider community engagement. The IHO and the IMO have senior representatives on the Committee and a group that I am leading is seeking to provide input on the meteorological aspects of the STCW. The current provisions are seen to be falling behind advances in weather forecasting. In the longer term the committee will also seek to introduce a standard of competency and accreditation process for the Commercial Weather Companies engaged in maritime services. This should result in a framework comparable with the requirements set by the WMO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for aviation.
The WMO has been the preserve of nations, but is beginning to open to engagement with commercial entities and to Public Private Partnerships. The theme of ‘The ocean, our climate and weather’ neatly encapsulates the maritime services environment companies work in, providing solutions focussed on the safety, efficiency and sustainability of shipping. With the increased application of technology to the end user experience, there is a need to ensure that all parts of the system whether data, machine or human, work together coherently and effectively. This short update on the work of the WMO Marine Services Committee should assure you this is and remains a priority.
Stay connected and safe.