Tuesday, February 15, 2022
Date : February 15, 2022
To : Young Lawyers


I very much thank Elda Kazara-Belja, Senior Lecturer and Admissions Officer at IMO IMLI, for answering my questions about Master of Laws (LL.M.) in International Maritime Law. GHK


GHK: Mrs. Kazara-Belja, the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (“IMO IMLI”) is one of the best educational institutions, and a world-recognized center for the training of specialists in international maritime law with the particular emphasis given to international regulations adopted by the International Maritime Organization. What do you think are the most critical factors behind the success of the International Maritime Law LL.M. program offered by IMO IMLI?


EKB: Thank you Dr. Kasap for allowing me to contribute to your project. There are many factors which have contributed to the success of our LL.M. program. I would like to highlight that at IMLI we teach maritime law from an international perspective. We provide training in international maritime law through the periscope of international instruments, especially those developed under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization. Indeed, in the words of the IMO Secretary-General, IMLI is a cornerstone of the Organization’s Integrated Technical Cooperation Program. The program is addressed mainly to government officers, especially from developing countries. However, those engaged in private practice can also benefit from the program as IMLI offers education in all areas of maritime law with IMLI students receiving dedicated lectures in shipping law and become familiar with the latest developments in the industry.  A major contributor to our success is the establishment of the Distinguished Visiting Fellows Program. IMLI students have the privilege of being addressed by an elite of reputable academics (Professor Hakan Karan will address them soon on carriage of goods by sea), judges of international courts and tribunals (Judge Albert Hoffman – President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, will address the IMLI students on 19 April), IMO Senior Officers (IMLI students have had the honor of being addressed by the IMO Secretary-General, Directors of IMO Divisions and many senior officials of the Organization), and renowned practitioners in international maritime law. These eminent personalities bring to the classroom the latest development in their respective fields and contribute to the students’ professional networking. Last but not least, for the last 30 years IMLI has been led by Professor David Attard, a leading scholar in public international law and law of the sea who ensured that the IMLI training responds to the needs of the international maritime community. He has worked relentlessly towards the realization of the vision of the Institute’s funding fathers for IMLI to serve the rule of international maritime law.


GHK: Maritime industry has historically been a male-dominated industry, and many young women may not very well know careers in the maritime industry. It drew my attention that fifty percent of the places available in the LL.M. program are reserved for suitably qualified women candidates at IMO IMLI. Could you give us more information about the reason for this policy? Do you think IMO IMLI receives enough applications from woman candidates?


EKB: I would like to sincerely thank you for raising this point. We take real pride at IMLI for promoting the participation of women in maritime affairs. It was on the Director Attard’s insistence that such clause be introduced in the IMLI statute. It is his firm belief that education does not recognize gender, and should the industry be male-oriented than we deny opportunities to 50 per cent of the pool of professionals. Bringing down barriers for women to penetrate the industry was not an easy task. It had to start from somewhere. And that’s the reason for the IMLI policy. Women however are not empowered because of their gender; they are selected because of their merits. What the IMLI policy did is to offer them the opportunity to be represented, to contribute equally to their male counterparts. What started as a trickle, is now a full force to be reckoned with. Female participation is growing every year, on occasions being larger in the student body. Attaining education in the field, has allowed women from all over the world to have a place in the table, to contribute meaningfully to the development of the maritime sector, and being role models for young generations. We are proud of the achievements of our Alumnae who are leading the sector to new heights. Our policy resonates with the values of the international community as encapsulated in SDG5 and we are grateful to all our partners and donors for supporting this IMLI policy.


GHK: I understand that each student is required to submit a maritime legislation drafting project under the supervision of a designated member of the Faculty during the LL.M. program. Such maritime legislation drafting project sounds unique and exciting. Could you tell us a bit more about this project? Have you encountered a piece of maritime legislation draft that you particularly remember?


EKB: The Institute aims to contribute further to the promotion, adoption, and effective implementation of UN and IMO international maritime conventions on a global basis particularly in developing States. It is estimated that there are over sixty such conventions and hundreds of legal instruments that have been agreed to by the Member States of the said Organizations, but a large number of them are not ratified or acceded to by Governments of developing States. This is a serious failure that stultifies the international regulatory order of maritime affairs.  This failure is largely due to the fact that such States lack the domestic legal expertise to advise on the adherence to these instruments.

Furthermore, even when such instruments are adopted by developing States, the lack of expertise results in a failure to incorporate the provisions of these instruments into domestic law. This renders the implementation of treaties and legal instruments meaningless. As the UN and the IMO lack any adequate enforcement mechanisms to ensure the effective implementation of these treaties, enforcement ultimately depends on States themselves.  The courts of these States however will not enforce international treaty provisions unless they form part of the State’s national law.

With this in mind, it is a unique feature of the LL.M. Program that students are required to submit for examination a draft law which incorporates one of the IMO conventions into national law. One of the major challenges facing many developing countries is the implementation and enforcement of the large body of international maritime conventions. Implementation almost always entails the drafting and adoption of local rules or legislation to give effect to the applicable international standards.  Local lawyers and legal draftsmen are often unequipped and lack the special skills needed for this task.  Recognizing this need, the LL.M. Program offers unique training and guided practice in the techniques of maritime legislation drafting.  Candidates are expected to assimilate the modus operandi and methods of implementation of international conventions into national law through a unique legislative drafting project formulated under the supervision of experienced supervisors. It is envisaged that graduates of the Institute will thus provide the expertise required for such purpose.

I remember numerous drafting projects. I am proud to note that drafting projects prepared at IMLI have been adopted by the country’s legislature as is the case of Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malta, to mention a few.


GHK: Specialized courses offered by IMO IMLI should be a great opportunity to those who cannot attend for a full academic year but seek to update their knowledge upon current developments in a certain area of maritime law. Are there online LLM courses or programs offered by IMO IMLI, too?


EKB: The programs and courses at IMLI have been traditionally delivered in situ. The pandemic however prompted the Institute to adapt its method of delivery of lectures. For the last two years the Institute has delivered all its academic activities online. Challenging as it was, I believe it has been one of the most rewarding experiences. The online delivery of lectures has allowed the Institute to deliver numerous specialized courses, such as Law of Treaties, Law of Ports, Seafarers’ Rights, Protection of the Marine Environment and Ocean Governance, Maritime Security Law, Peaceful Settlement of Maritime Disputes, and Delimitation of Maritime Boundaries. These courses have attracted participants from nearly 150 countries and have consolidated IMLI’ s reputation as a center of excellence in international maritime law. We plan however to return soon on presential delivery while exploring the online options for the future.


GHK: Could you please explain the weight or emphasis given to each part of a student’s application, such as GPA, a letter of motivation, and letters of recommendation?


EKB: It should be recalled that the student’s application is a very important document as it gives insights into the candidate who is applying to the program. IMLI adopts a holistic approach when assessing applications. All the information provided in the documents you mentioned is carefully considered. A strong letter motivation which is supported by strong reference letters adds to the positive assessment of the candidates. In addition, we also conduct interviews with our candidates which provides an opportunity for them to add further information which may not be included in the application documents.


GHK: I see that donors place great importance on a strong motivation form when selecting their fellows. What do you think donors look for in a letter of motivation? Could you offer applicants from Turkey any advice regarding writing the letter of motivation?


EKB: I think donors look at honesty and authenticity. Donors look into what the candidate has to say about himself/herself and how the training at IMLI will contribute to personal and professional growth. It is important for the candidates to convey the message clearly as the motivation form forms also part of the assessment of the candidate’s written skills.  


GHK: Maritime law is a highly specialized, niche legal practice of law that can have varying applications to other law practices. However, young lawyers trying to establish a maritime practice through self-teaching or after a maritime law class may have a hard time. What do you think is the best way for young lawyers interested in maritime law to get into the practice?


EKB: Maritime law may be specialized but it is an important part of trade development and interconnectivity. Young generations have a lot to offer to push the sector forward in a sustainable manner. I suggest for them to embrace the challenges and turn them into opportunities. Thankfully, there are educational institutions like IMLI which offer opportunities of training and networking. As in every field, you start from the bottom. Several practitioners are focusing on maritime law. Join such firms at a low level and be curious about the sector. Never stop learning, law is never static. And be passionate about the subject. Maritime law is passion.


GHK: Considering the relatively short nature of the LL.M. degree itself, what should the LL.M. candidates do to make the most of their LL.M. experience?


EKB: Learn as much as they can about international maritime law. Forge professional relations which will be useful in their professional lives. IMLI is a multicultural environment which brings together students from all over the world. As I mentioned above, the Distinguished Visiting Fellows Program offers opportunities of consulting and exchanging ideas on issues of international maritime law. Above all, take this opportunity to think outside the box and contribute to the country and industry.


GHK: Could you share with us the most exciting aspects of teaching in the maritime industry, specifically at IMO IMLI?


EKB: Although we call them students, many of the participants in our programs and course hold very senior positions prior to joining the Institute. Hence, they contribute substantially to the class discussions, bring into the classroom their national experiences and thus push the dialogue further. The greatest satisfaction is following their careers upon completion of studies. Many of the IMLI alumni have risen to managerial positions in their countries or international organizations. They are the Institute’s best ambassadors who speak the language of international maritime law.


GHK: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us, Mrs. Kazara-Belja. Anything you would like to add for the Turkish law graduates reading this article?


EKB: Thank you for the opportunity. Turkey is a country with maritime tradition and has an important role to play in the region. I would therefore like to invite the law graduates to learn more about IMLI and hopefully to welcome them to the Institute.

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