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Assembly, 27th session: 21-30 November 2011

Opening address

November 21, 2011

Opening address by Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General,
to the twenty-seventh regular session of the Assembly
of the International Maritime Organization
IMO Headquarters, 21 November 2011

Mr. President, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport in the host Government, Ministers, Excellencies, Coast Guard Commandants, distinguished delegates and observers, ladies and gentlemen,
 
Welcome to IMO Headquarters for the twenty-seventh session of the Organization’s biennial Assembly.  As ever, the agenda is full and heavy, including receiving reports on the full spectrum of the Organization’s work over the past two years; approving the work programme and budget for the next biennium; electing a new Council to run the administrative affairs of IMO until the next Assembly; and approving the decision of the Council concerning the Organization’s Secretary-General for the next four years. On an experimental basis, the duration of this Assembly has been shortened to one and a half weeks and I hope that every effort will be made by all to ensure the meeting makes optimal decisions within the allotted time.
 
Mr. President,
 
I have always believed that the strengths of this Organization are:
 
• its Members, whose wisdom, care, vision and foresight provide direction and guidance on how to fulfil its mandate, efficiently and effectively, through the shaping of well debated, well balanced and workable policies and strategies;
• the experts (the best the world can avail), who come to discuss and formulate the technical and other standards that ensure the success of IMO’s delivery on matters within its competence; and
• the staff, that group of committed and dedicated professionals, who, together with delegates and observers, serve the ideals and objectives of the Organization and, together with Governments and the industry, ensure it remains relevant in a world that changes faster than ever before.
 
The 2010–2011 biennium has been as busy, challenging and productive as ever. Delegates, observers and the Secretariat alike have worked hard – above and beyond the call of duty on many occasions – to achieve, through co-operation, compromises and consensus, successful outcomes in a broad range of diverse topics, the most crucial of which I will highlight in a short while – and all of which you will hear about in detail during the course of this Assembly.
 
So, what have been the highlights of the biennium that is to come to a close soon?
 
In June 2010 – a year we dedicated thematically to seafarers – major revisions to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers and its associated Code were adopted at an international conference held in Manila, thereby ensuring that the necessary global standards will be in place to train and certify seafarers to operate technologically-advanced ships for some time to come. These amendments, which are due to enter into force 40 days from now, on 1 January 2012, represent the culmination of a 4-year work programme diligently undertaken by the Maritime Safety Committee and several sub-committees spearheaded by the one on Standards of Training and Watchkeeping.
 
The Manila Conference was preceded by another, held in these Headquarters in April 2010, to adopt a brand new legal treaty – the Protocol of 2010 to the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea, 1996. The aim of the Protocol is to address practical problems that have prevented States from ratifying the original Convention and, therefore, bring it into force and allow its Parties to enjoy the benefits it was designed to bring about.
 
Two treaties, adopted in 2005 to strengthen the resilience of shipping vis-à-vis terrorist attacks planned against ships, port facilities and offshore platforms, entered into force in July 2010. They are the Protocols to the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf.
 
A draft agreement on implementation of the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, which has yet to enter into force, has been concluded for submission to an international conference, scheduled to be held in South Africa in October 2012, for adoption. The Torremolinos Protocol is one of two treaty instruments dealing with safety in fishing operations, the other being the 1995 International Convention on Standards of Training,
Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel, the conditions for the entry into force of which were met two months ago and, therefore, the Convention is due to become international law in September 2012.
 
During the period under review, a comprehensive package of amendments to the international regulations affecting new passenger ships entered into force; goal-based ship construction standards for bulk carriers and oil tankers were adopted; as were new, stricter, safety standards for lifeboat release and retrieval systems aimed at preventing accidents during lifeboat launching. Development of a mandatory Polar Code has commenced and a Code of Safe Practice for Ships Carrying Timber Deck Cargoes has been adopted.
 
On the environmental side, a dominating theme has been the development, and adoption, of amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to enhance the energy efficiency of ships – a subject to which I will return in a few moments.
Other significant achievements have included: a ban on the use or carriage of heavy fuel oils in the Antarctic area; the designation of two new Emission Control Areas; the adoption of comprehensively revised Annexes III, IV and V to the MARPOL Convention; the introduction of Special Areas under MARPOL Annex IV, including the designation of the Baltic Sea as such an area; and the entry into force of a revised Annex VI and a Nitrogen Oxides Technical Code aiming at significantly reducing emissions of air pollutants from ships.
 
So, it really has been a busy and productive biennium for the Organization on the regulatory front, and you will hear much more about the outcome of our efforts in this respect when the Assembly receives the reports of the relevant Committees.
 
***
 
In an equally strong biennium for IMO’s technical co-operation activities, an achievement worthy of particular mention was the completion, in March of this year, of a major project to establish search and rescue cover around the coastline of Africa – a process that traces its origins back to the October 2000 IMO Conference on Search and Rescue and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System held in Florence. Establishing an effective network of rescue centres operating on a 24-hour basis (such as those we helped put in place in Mombasa, Cape Town, Lagos, Monrovia and Rabat) is a major humanitarian undertaking, and all those who have been involved in turning the dream of the Florence Conference into today’s reality deserve great credit indeed.
 
Looking ahead, and building on the successful model of the African experiment, we are proceeding with plans to have two regional MRCCs and five sub-centres established in the Central American region.
 
***
 
Mr. President,
 
It would not do justice to IMO’s work over the past biennium without my reporting, even in a summarized manner, on two topics that, above all others, have been at the top of our agenda and have also had a strong resonance in the shipping community  and beyond. 
 
The first is piracy, in particular off the coast of Somalia, the escalation of which has been a matter of grave concern, prompting IMO to make combating it the central theme of our work this year.
 
Even before the year started, we devised, in collaboration with industry and seafarer representative organizations, a multi-faceted action plan, which was launched, here at IMO, in the presence of the UN Secretary-General and the Executive Heads of the World Food Programme and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  The action plan, which we have since been meticulously implementing, draws heavily on the Organization’s considerable experience of successfully tackling piracy elsewhere in the world – most notably in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and in the South China Sea.
 
Despite the number of pirate attacks overall continuing to cause concern, there is, nevertheless, some cause for optimism. The percentage of attempted attacks that prove successful for the pirates has dropped, from more than 40 per cent historically, to less than 20 per cent this year; and from 33 ships totalling 733 seafarers taken hostage by pirates in February of this year (when the numbers peaked) to 15 ships with 311 seafarers on board at the close of business last week – testimony, no doubt, to the effectiveness both of the naval presence in the region and the implementation, by merchant ships, of the best management practices developed by the industry. 
 
While recognizing, with due appreciation, the contribution of Governments (acting individually or collectively, through political and defence alliances and at a considerate cost) to stem the Somali piracy scourge, we should also recognize how crucial it is that the political will among those Governments that have the potential to make a difference is translated into reality in a manner that matches their political ambition and which the severity of the issue as a whole demands.
 
Today, many seafarers go about their daily business in ships sheathed in razor wire in a state of constant wariness as they run the gauntlet of pirate gangs. Most, thankfully, sail undisturbed by pirates into more hospitable waters, but some are less fortunate as they are taken hostage and kept in captivity for an average, this year, of four and a half months – a traumatizing situation for both themselves and their families, one in which we can take no comfort.  You will hear more about piracy and our efforts to stem it under agenda item 9.
 
***
I turn now, as I alluded to a short while ago, to the other major issue that, quite understandably and justifiably, occupies much of our time nowadays – that is, IMO’s efforts to establish a regulatory regime to control and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from ships. Although shipping is comparatively clean, environment-friendly and energy-efficient, contributing only 2.7% to the world total of CO2 emissions, it, nevertheless, remains dependent on burning fossil fuels and is, therefore, co-responsible – no matter how marginally – for the emission of GHGs and air pollutants into the atmosphere.

The successful control and reduction of emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases from shipping has been a complex and difficult task from both a conceptual and a technical perspective. In this instance, the political aspects of the two issues proved to be just as difficult, if not more so. The fact, however, that representatives of a large number of Governments were able to reach decisions on complicated issues of great importance to the environment, not only bears testimony to the responsible manner with which IMO addresses its respective mandate, but also to the great results that can be achieved when States, with the same concerns and determination to produce meaningful solutions to global issues, work together. The co-operation of the shipping industry and environmental groups also proved of great value in this process – in particular, in the adoption, in July of this year, of amendments to MARPOL Annex VI establishing the first-ever mandatory global GHG reduction regime for an international industry sector – an achievement, which was duly recognized by the UN Secretary-General and the Executive Director of the UNFCCC.
 
The adoption, four months ago, of technical and operational measures to enhance the energy efficiency of ships and thus reduce their GHG emissions will place IMO in a strong position at the next round of UN consultations on climate change – which opens next week in Durban – such that it will enable the international community to agree that the Organization is, in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban, “best positioned to play a leadership role in addressing greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping".  I hope that representatives of Governments to the Durban Conference participating in this Assembly will see to that.
 
I would not leave my report on IMO’s response to the challenges posed by climate change without mentioning our work, in the context of the London Convention and its Protocol, to regulate ocean fertilization and other marine geo-engineering activities, while expanding on standards already introduced for the capture and sequestration of CO2 in sub-seabed geological formations to include the export of CO2 waste streams – work, which, I am confident, will also put the Organization in good light at next year’s Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
 
***
 
Of course, IMO’s work embraces so many other areas than just those that tend to grab the headlines. We intend to emphasize this next year, in 2012, a year that will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking, with heavy loss of life, of the Titanic. Though dreadful at the time, and attended as it was by so many casualties, nevertheless this can be looked back on as something of a watershed for safety at sea. I believe it is fair to say that the Titanic prompted a new way of thinking about maritime safety resulting directly in the conference from which the first-ever Safety of Life at Sea Convention emerged – and, of course, it is that Convention, albeit much revised and updated, that shapes so much of the shipping industry’s day-to-day working practices today.
 
Nowhere can the successful delivery of IMO be better reflected than in the continuing improvements of the safety record of shipping and in the reduction of pollution of the environment from shipping operations.
This is demonstrated by a recent analysis published by Lloyd’s List Intelligence Casualty Service, which has shown that, in the first half of this year, the number of reported vessel casualties fell, year-on-year, by 18 per cent, despite a rise in the number of ship movements worldwide.
 
Other sources of data reach similar conclusions. Statistics, from the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI), for total losses of ships over 500 GT for the 30 years since 1980, demonstrate a continuing downward trend, whether viewed by number of vessels, by tonnage or as a percentage of the world fleet – although it is true to say that the number of serious incidents (other than total losses), reported by IUMI over the last 10 years, has seen a slight rise.
 
And as for bulk carrier safety, the most recent report of Intercargo makes good reading.  Its study “Benchmarking bulk carriers 2010-2011”, reporting on casualties suffered by the type of vessels it covers, observes that “the trend of losses is still consistently downwards, with an average of 26 lives and 5.9 ships per year lost in the period 2001-2010 compared to 74 lives and 135 ships per year lost a decade previously”.  But, notwithstanding these improvements, even one life lost at sea is one too many.
 
Such good results should, rightfully, be attributed to the efficiency of the IMO legislation and the good implementation and enforcement of the Organization’s standards by Governments and the industry, including those on board ships. I think it also appropriate to mention here the contribution that is being made to the overall improvement of the situation by the IMO Member State Audit Scheme, which continues to serve as a valuable tool, with more than 50 audits successfully conducted so far.
 
It is against the background I just highlighted that we have chosen “IMO: One hundred years after the Titanic” as the World Maritime Day theme for 2012. We will use it as an opportunity to put the spotlight once again on IMO’s roots and raison d’être, which is none other than safety at sea.
 
During next year, IMO will also continue, in co-operation with affected countries and on a regional basis, to work on the unacceptably high number of lives lost every year among persons fleeing famine or political unrest, who use sub-standard ships to carry them away in search of a better life. The plight of these persons constitutes, together with the unacceptable phenomenon of piracy, a stigma for the 21st century and we should spare no effort to bring both to an end soon.
 
***
 
Mr. President, distinguished delegates,
 
In order to keep pace with the changing demands made of it, the Secretariat is actively seeking ways to maximize resources and to work smarter and more efficiently, as the Assembly will soon be able to assess itself.
Once again, our accounts were passed by the external auditors without qualification for both 2009 and 2010; moreover, IMO now ranks among the first UN bodies to prepare, as from last year, its accounts in accordance with the International Public Sector Accounting Standards.

Collection of annual assessments from Members reached a very satisfactory 99.34% for 2009 and 99.02% for 2010 – figures that continue a healthy trend, coming after the 99.33% and 98.02% achieved in 2007 and 2008, respectively.  Such a positive trend is, I believe, a clear sign that IMO’s Members feel the Organization is serving them well and providing value for their money.
 
In the continuing search for greater efficiencies, we have made increased use of video conferencing for interviews, meetings and so on – as well as other energy-saving measures in support of our work to contribute to the United Nations initiative to become ‘Climate Neutral’. We have, in addition, reduced the number of documents being printed and translated, all of which have contributed towards a reduction in the cost of meetings by about 14 per cent, when comparing the period from January to June of this year with the corresponding months of the previous.
Indeed, IMO documents (along with a wealth of other IMO-related information) are now available to the public via the enhanced and re-configured IMO website, which has done much to improve the Organization’s outreach and visibility.
 
Further efficiencies and improvements can be expected, too, as we move forward into the next biennium. The online registration system for delegates is expected to be fully implemented during 2012, while an enhanced sound archive to replace the production of written summary records and a move towards digital dictation systems are under consideration, as both are expected to result in a reduction of costs and streamlining of work.
 
***
 
Mr President,
 
These are difficult times. And it is in difficult times that the citizens of the world look for leadership and direction – as the maritime community turns to IMO for guidance and advice.
 
Indeed, if they train their sights to us, they will be able to identify several comforting signs. For they will see that, operating in a continually and rapidly changing world:
 
• we had to change too – and we changed;
• we had to adjust to new conditions and circumstances – and we adjusted;
• we had to transform to keep pace with the environment in which we operate – and we transformed;
• we had to reform lest we became irrelevant – and we reformed.
 
With the Members’ approval, support and co-operation, we changed, adjusted, transformed and reformed to produce a well structured, lean and focused Organization to service the needs of the international maritime community at present and for years to come.  I hope we have got it right and, when the Assembly assesses the outcome, it will find that the results are worthy of the efforts made and justify the funds invested.
Distinguished delegates,
 
I trust that my report thus far has reassured you that, as an organization, we continue to work diligently and conscientiously not only to respond to the increasing demands that changing circumstances in the world, in which we operate, place upon us every now and then but also to make certain that we are well prepared to meet future challenges. 
 
As I said at the beginning of my speech, one of the strengths of IMO is its staff and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my colleagues for their hard work and dedication, without which we simply would not be able to respond to your expectations.  A special expression of thanks goes to all the Directors for their painstaking efforts to ensure that all six Divisions fire on all cylinders.
 
As ever, there have been, during the biennium, several departures, arrivals and transfers among the staff and I trust you will join me in offering thanks to those who have left and welcome those who have either joined us for the first time or who have taken on new responsibilities.  Among those who have left, I wish to pay a special tribute to Mr. Miguel Palomares, who, at the end of last year, relinquished his office as Director of the MED and returned to his beloved Spain.
 
The same applies to those among you, who you choose to lead IMO bodies.  It is my intention to speak about chairmen, vice-chairmen and other officers elected to serve committees, sub-committees and groups of any sort, who have distinguished themselves in the discharge of their heavy responsibilities, in the context of the consideration by the Assembly of the reports of their respective organs.  So, I will come back to this later.
 
Mr. President,
 
It is a customary, yet sad, duty on occasions like this to turn our thoughts to those, who, having served this Organization well, passed away during the two-year period since the last Assembly.  Among them, I would, in particular, mention Mr. Yoshio Sasamura – a tireless and indefatigable servant of IMO and shipping.  Mr. Sasamura left behind a legacy of long and outstanding contribution to the attainment of the objectives of the Organization, both as Director of the Marine Environment and Maritime Safety Divisions and Secretary of both the MEPC and the MSC.  He was a professional of the highest standard, innovative, bright and brilliant, with a unique sense of humour.  His memory will live on for a very long time – especially for his instrumental work on the shaping of the MARPOL Convention and its annexes.
 
Among other former staff members, who passed away recently, I will mention Mr. Thomas Busha, Senior Deputy Director in the Legal Office and Captain John Thompson, Deputy Director and Head of the Navigation Section.  We remember them all with respect and miss them sorely.
 
Distinguished delegates,
 
When I addressed you two years ago, I concluded my speech by referring to the uncertain and difficult times the world was then facing.  Unfortunately, not much has changed since, with a world still beset with problems: climate change and global warming; the faltering global economy; famine and poverty; children dying of malnutrition and poor health care; social and political unrest; armed conflicts; declining ecosystems; and the threat of pandemics are still among the harsh realities desperately waiting for a solution – most of them are inter-connected and all conspire to make the need for concerted action on all fronts stronger than perhaps ever before.
 
What really should please us immensely is that, in a world such as this, our Organization remains a beacon of stability, displaying virtues of calmness, self-confidence and, above all, a strong determination to provide convincing answers to serious questions and move on regardless of the severity of the issues on our agenda.  Our foundations are strong and solid and we feel confident that we will be able to withstand the impact of any storm that may come our way in the period ahead, although we cannot possibly predict all of the challenges that will face the Organization between now and the next time the Assembly meets. As if to prove the point, I looked back at the speech I gave to this Assembly four years ago. It was a time when the world markets were thriving and shipping was doing extremely well.  I did not, therefore, make then any mention whatsoever of the impending but as yet unforeseen global financial crisis, and just a single, brief mention of Somalia – yet, both went on to be, together with the need to act on climate change, major and recurrent themes for us during the biennium that is to come to a close soon. So, who knows what IMO will be faced with as the next biennium unfolds?
 
***
 
Distinguished delegates,
 
It would be remiss of me to conclude this opening speech without paying a special tribute to Mr. Penning, the United Kingdom Minister responsible for shipping, for his deep interest in our work and his unstinting support of the Organization. And, through him, thank most sincerely, Her Majesty’s Government for providing first-class host country facilities, which enable us not only to conduct our business comfortably and without any hindrance, but also to enjoy our life in these magnificent surroundings that are unreservedly praised by all who visit us.
 
Another special tribute I wish to pay on this occasion is to the outgoing President of the Assembly, His Excellency Mr. Georg Boomgaarden, Ambassador of Germany and Permanent Representative to IMO. It has been most gratifying to witness Ambassador Boomgaarden’s keen interest in the Organization’s affairs and how closely he has been following developments at IMO.  His love for the sea and all matters maritime is deep and his attendance, in spite of his heavy duties at his Embassy, at numerous functions at IMO, to which he lent the gravitas of his personality, has been impressive and much appreciated. In thanking him warmly, I wish him and his family all the best – and hope that he will continue showing an interest in, and supporting, IMO in any way he can.
 
And finally, a word of praise for, and a big “thank you“ to, the Chairman of the Council, Mr. Jeff Lantz of the United States, for his strong leadership and, for me, his co-operation, support and friendship since we first met – I fail to remember how many years ago!...
 
It now remains only for me to say that I look forward with great interest, indeed with excitement, to the deliberations that will take place during this Assembly. I feel confident that, at the end of the day, you will sanction the work of the Organization over the reporting period and that, as ever, you will provide the direction and resources we need to continue rendering good services to the causes of safety, security, efficiency of navigation and environmental protection. 
 
Thank you.
__________