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Assembly, 27th session: 21-30 November 2011 Farewell speech by Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos

November 30, 2011

FAREWELL SPEECH BY MR. EFTHIMIOS E. MITROPOULOS
SECRETARY-GENERAL
TO THE TWENTY-SEVENTH REGULAR SESSION OF THE ASSEMBLY
OF THE INTERNATIONAL MARITIME ORGANIZATION
IMO Headquarters, 30 November 2011
 
Mr. President, Excellencies, distinguished delegates and observers, ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is hard to know how to respond to the very kind words said about me by so many. I feel overwhelmed and humbled by the depth and warmth of their generosity about me and my time and work at IMO.  Thank you very much for all of them.  It is always very gratifying to have one’s efforts recognized and, particularly so, when, as in my case, the recognition comes from friends and colleagues from the Organization with which I have been associated for the greater part of my working life.
 
IMO is nothing if not a collaborative endeavour and I, therefore, take the liberty of accepting the sentiments just expressed on behalf of the Organization’s entire membership of 170 Governments, 3 Associate Members, 141 observer organizations and my colleagues in the Secretariat – for it is your collective and tireless efforts to safeguard the achievements and promote the objectives of the Organization that are really worthy of recognition. So, thank you, once again, it is very much appreciated.
 
Throughout my long career, I have continually sought to add my modest contribution to the Organization’s mission of achieving a comprehensive, coordinated approach to the regulation of safety and security in maritime transportation and of the shipping industry’s environmental standards.
 
It is, therefore, a source of great satisfaction for me to see how, during that time – indeed over many decades – shipping has become measurably safer and cleaner, not to mention more cost-effective.
 
I have absolutely no doubt that the good results that have been achieved should, rightfully, be attributed to the efficiency of IMO legislation and the largely consensual manner in which it has been developed – not forgetting, of course, the robust implementation and enforcement of the Organization’s standards by Governments and the industry alike.  That said, we should never allow ourselves to rest on our laurels or become complacent in any way.  Much still remains to be done and challenges come our way every day.  Let us turn them to opportunities for even better results, and move on.  There is no end to the road.
 
***
 
This being my “real” swan song (after the many I have delivered over the last six months), I would like to conclude with a few personal remarks, if I may. During my many years in the service of the Organization and, in particular, during my time as Secretary-General, I travelled a lot, visiting countries, attending meetings, delivering speeches, laying the foundation stone of training institutes, commissioning rescue coordination centres, visiting missions to seafarers and conferring with those in hostels, addressing cadets at naval and maritime colleges, meeting dignitaries and people from all walks of life,  exchanging views with maritime experts, enriching my knowledge and experiences, maturing in the mysteries and intricacies of shipping, struggling to find my way among the Scyllas and the Charybdis of this world.
 
How many times, in my extensive globetrotting, did I feel like my legendary mythical ancestor hero, Odysseus, whom Homer describes as a resourceful man, who had been driven to wander far and wide; had seen the cities of many people and had learnt their ways; and, in his struggles to preserve his life and bring his comrades back home, he had suffered great anguish on the high seas.
 
In my wanderings around the world in search of my Ithaca to return to, Constantine Kavafis’ words accompanied me throughout:
 
As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon – you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
………………………………………………………
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.
 
If you replace “Ithaca” for Galaxidi, then you have got it and have got me!
 
Apart from missing my family while on travel; the weekends spent at hotels and in the air; the waiting times at international airports; the safety and security risks associated with travel these days; the loss of sleep and related inconveniences, all these pale compared with the bright sides of the unique opportunities my job had in store in abundance for me to do things and, above all, to meet people, share experiences and concerns, exchange views and ideas and discuss, and agree, on how to move things forward, how to add stones (no matter how big or small) to the edifice of understanding and reconciliation, how, in one word, to bridge gaps and build bridges.
 
For all these treasures, the unique experience of going places and meeting people, the opportunity to become a citizen of the world, how can I thank you enough? What words will prove sufficient for me to express my gratitude for your kindness in rendering me a world traveller in such generous terms. So, thank you for making the world, my world – and for sustaining me and my family, in this Land of Hope and Glory (which has, unsurprisingly, become my adopted country), for 33 odd years.
 
***
 
The appetite for reconciliation and the thirst for consensus-made decisions in this Organization has been evidenced on many occasions, drawing the admiration of many – and not necessarily of only those who spend most of their working life in these Headquarters. Reporting on a recent example of members putting aside political differences in their efforts to reach optimal technical solutions, Lloyd’s List observed that such attitudes [and I quote] “represented IMO at its best, with its intended focus on technical safety issues so that wider political differences between States are put aside in the pursuit of improved maritime safety, even if there are genuine disagreements over some aspects. It might be too much to expect political adversaries to be on the same side in the other United Nations forums, but some people might say it shows how the global village of shipping can rise above the partisan political fray” – unquote.
 
True, there have been, as would be expected, instances where it was easier to know what one was against, than what one was for. But, at the end of the day, the sun would shine and all would become clear and transparent. And thanks to the excellent services of superb men and women the membership elects to lead the Assembly, Council, committees and sub-committees, the end result is a product that serves well the causes of enhanced safety, security and environmental protection.
 
Another source of great joy and satisfaction to me, while in office, has been my association with the World Maritime University and the International Maritime Law Institute, which I served, and am still serving, as Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Board, respectively.  Ensuring they both operate on a solid and strong ground, both from the academic and financial viewpoints, has not been easy but I believe they are now well-equipped to function even better in the future.  I thank President Kjerfve and Director Attard, along with their academic and administrative staff, for their support and co-operation.  Meeting graduates of these fine institutes around the world and seeing them prospering in their respective fields in the service of shipping has always given me enormous pleasure that I want to share with you on this auspicious occasion.
 
And now the point has been reached where a new Secretary-General will take over. Speaking at the June session of the Council, soon after Mr. Sekimizu was elected, I said that for him to succeed in the hugely demanding and heavy task the Council entrusted him with, he would need all the understanding, support and co-operation of the entire membership, and the Secretariat, to enable him to provide direction and steer the Organization prudently and wisely in the challenging times that lie ahead. I wish him every success and the best of luck!
 
While I have no doubt that the membership will provide all that I just suggested (as they did to me, over the last eight years, for which I am ever so grateful), he should rest assured that the Secretariat will stand by him to support him in any way possible and under all circumstances. Indeed, he should consider himself extremely fortunate that he will be leading a staff of the calibre of IMO’s – a good fortune I have had myself and which helped me to do my job effortlessly and for which I am so much grateful – to all colleagues in the Secretariat.
 
***
 
I was immensely fortunate that those I chose to appoint at key posts in the Secretariat responded effectively to my expectations – some even exceeded them.
 
All of the Directors – Dr. Balkin, Mr. Sekimizu, Mr. Winbow, Mrs. O’Neil, Mr. Zhu and Mr. Espinoza, in the order of their seniority, together with those key staff who retired during my office: Mr. Edwards, Mr. Sainlos, Mrs. Mbanefo, Mr. Palomares and Mr. Petrov – proved to be great servants of IMO and loyal and trustworthy colleagues of mine and I know I will never be able to thank them enough.
 
I extend a special ‘thank you’ to my previous ‘Chiefs of Staff’, Mr. Winbow and Mr. Espinoza for their sound advice and co-operation, working long hours – many times, seven days a week – to be of great service to me and the Organization.
 
And, if you asked whether I had any regrets for choosing to work for IMO and spending my life in its service, this is how I would answer: “In the words of Edith Piaf: “Non, rien de rien – Non, je ne regrette rien.” But in my favourite Sinatra song “I did it my way”, the answer would be “Regrets, I had a few…”.”
 
***
 
Dear friends, delegates and colleagues,
 
It has given me enormous joy and satisfaction to witness closely, and to be part of, the tremendous changes and developments shipping has gone through over the last 50 years and to be able to watch, from the vantage position that is IMO, the progress it has continuously made in serving the largest percentage of the transport needs of mankind – in particular, the industry’s improving safety record and the continuous reduction in pollution of the marine environment. As one would expect, it has not always been plain sailing and, during these long years, we have suffered some serious accidents with heavy loss of life and environmental disasters. Our response has always been prompt, decisive, comprehensive and thorough. The results are there for all to see.
 
So, when, in 31 days from today, I bid farewell to all that has shaped my life for more than half a century, I shall take with me the fondest memories of the wonderfully rewarding time I have had in the service of IMO and shipping.
Throughout that long affiliation, I was privileged to enjoy your:
 
• support;
• understanding;
• co-operation; and, above all,
• your friendship,
 
which I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I tried to return your kindness by being:
 
• loyal to the Organization and its principles as much as I could;
• committed;
• dedicated;
• impartial; and
• objective in all my dealings and advice.
 
Whether I succeeded in all these, it is not for me to say – as it is not for me to say whether I delivered on the pledges I made to the Council and Assembly, before I took over the helm of IMO eight years ago, to uphold, defend and promote the interests of the Organization to the best of my ability.  Only time will tell and History will write.
And now that the curtain is about to fall, I thank you for enabling me to live the dream: that of an Organization capable of making decisions by consensus and delivering on its mandate in the service of safety of life at sea, maritime security, efficiency of navigation and protection and preservation of the marine environment.
 
***
 
No man in my position could wish for a more understanding, supportive and loving family.
 
Nothing I put into words will be enough to express my gratitude to Chantal, my wife, who over the past 32 years, has been my rock, safe haven and anchorage – in one word, my sanctuary. Throughout those long years – and there were some difficult ones – she has stood steadfastly by, providing support, comfort and advice – patiently waiting for me to return home from my trips abroad, like Penelope longing for her Odysseus – and I know I cannot thank her enough.
 
And, as for my children, Elias and Athina, I think I can without hesitation and unashamedly repeat the words of King Priam when, speaking to his son, Prince Hector, shortly before the fall of Troy, he said: “No father could have a better son” – which, in my case, should be paraphrased as “No father could have better children!”  They have both been a source of enormous pride for me and I thank them for their unstinting and unwavering love and support.
All three – Chantal, Elias and Athina – have been a great inspiration, influence and drive and my love, affection and gratitude to them is fathomless and eternal.
 
***
 
It would be remiss of me not to thank my country, Greece, for putting forward my candidature nine years ago and supporting me before and during my tenure in office.  A special “thank you” goes to Commander A. Anastasakos, for the kind words he said about me today.
 
Let me now conclude by reiterating my thanks to you all, and the Organization, once again for all that you have given me over the many years I was serving the ideals and objectives of IMO, and by saying this: “Keep the faith and keep fighting the good fight: you will be rewarded with the thankful acknowledgement of your services by all those who benefit from them – the seafarers, in the first place.”
 
And, as for me, if, come the end of next month, I can say, as my hero, Lord Nelson, did, “Thank God, I have done my duty!”, I will be a happy man – a very happy one indeed! – Apart from that, I will miss you sorely!
 
Thank you – and God bless you all and IMO!
__________