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Legal Committee, 98th session: 4 to 8 April 2011

April 4, 2011

ADDRESS OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AT THE OPENING
OF THE NINETY-EIGHTH SESSION OF THE
LEGAL COMMITTEE
(4 to 8 April 2011)

Good morning, Excellencies, distinguished delegates and observers – and welcome to the ninety-eighth session of the Legal Committee.  I extend a particular warm welcome to those of you who are attending this Committee for the first time.
 
A special greeting is extended to you, Mr. Chairman, on the assumption of your responsibilities.  I wish you every success and the best of luck!
 
As it has become customary for some time now, before addressing the most important items on the agenda of a sitting IMO body, I say a few words about the theme for World Maritime Day, which the Council chooses for each particular year.  This year’s theme, as I announced briefly at the opening of your last session, is “Piracy: orchestrating the response”.  It aims to complement and come as a sequel to last year’s theme, which was dedicated to seafarers.
 
It is in the context of IMO’s overall concern about safeguarding human life at sea that we have set, as the overall aim of the theme chosen for this year, the redoubling of our efforts to meet the challenges of modern-day piracy and, in so doing, generate a broader, global response to eradicate it.  The main aims of the campaign we will pursue throughout the year (and beyond, if necessary) are:
 
• one, to increase awareness about the severity of the piracy situation off the coast of Somalia and its implications for seafarers, the transport of humanitarian aid to the country and the disruption and resulting consequences piracy causes to shipping, international shipborne trade and the world economy;
• two, to motivate Governments, the shipping industry, merchant ships and naval vessels to redouble their efforts to stem the unacceptable incidence of piracy in the areas around the Horn of Africa and beyond; and
• three, to send to seafarers a clear message that their plight, while sailing off Somalia and, worst, when their ships are captured by pirates and they are held hostage for ransom, is central in our thoughts and work; that we do care about them; and that we do all we can to stem the scourge.
 
To give substance to the campaign and make a difference, we have, in co operation with industry and seafarer representative organizations, compiled an action plan, with six main objectives, which was launched, here at IMO, by the UN Secretary-General in February.  It is my sincere hope, and strong wish, that the action plan will generate the widest possible interest and that it will inspire and galvanize Governments, international organizations and industry stakeholders to act in the most appropriate and effective manner to eradicate the now all too frequent incidence of armed kidnap and ransom that characterizes modern day piracy, in particular off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.  I hope you will also support the campaign and assist in the delivery of its components as best as you can.
 
In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with those seafarers, who, at present, are in the hands of pirates.  May they all be released unharmed and returned to their families soon.
 
Piracy, as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, is a global menace and in our efforts to combat and eradicate it, we need to assess what is working, what is missing, and what needs to be improved.  With particular reference to the Somali situation, he also said that, although piracy manifests itself at sea, the roots of the problem are to be found ashore.  I could not agree with him more and would add that, while the political solution to the Somali issue is not for IMO to pursue, we should, however, persevere with our efforts to strengthen and enhance the counter-piracy measures already taken and those recommended by IMO and the industry, taking full advantage of the experience we have gained in a continuously evolving dangerous situation.
 
As part of this ongoing endeavour, it is appropriate that the attention of your Committee should be focused in particular on the legal issues pertaining to piracy that have become increasingly manifest as the international community continues its efforts to work out a decisive and lasting solution on the escalating cycle of hijack, kidnap and ransom of ships and seafarers off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden, in the Arabian Sea and in the western Indian Ocean.
 
At a time when ever more audacious acts of piracy are extending into ever larger sea areas, with a concomitant increase in the degree of violence accompanying such acts, the problem confronting States on the legal front is a dual one.
 
On the one hand, there is a need for flag States, coastal States in the vicinity of Somalia and States, which have despatched naval vessels to the region, to have in place national laws to prosecute the alleged perpetrators of acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea following their arrest.
 
On the other hand, it is also necessary for States to have in place a viable judicial process and penitentiary system to ensure that the prosecutions, once begun, have a realistic chance of resulting in a successful legal outcome.
Meeting both of these pre-conditions is vital in order to ensure that alleged offenders are swiftly brought to justice; tried according to law; and serve whatever sentences the courts might mete out, including terms of imprisonment.  When this happens,  those responsible for committing acts of piracy, as well as those who contemplate to join the “business”, will realize that piracy does not pay.
 
For the Committee’s consideration at this session, the Secretariats of the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and of IMO have each worked out an analysis of the key elements that may be included in national law to facilitate the wide and effective implementation of international conventions applicable to piracy and assist Governments in their uniform and harmonized application.  In this context, Ukraine’s proposal for the development of a multilateral instrument or, alternatively, of model legislation, to address and combat piracy issues deserves due attention.
 
Before concluding my reference to piracy, I would again encourage Members to undertake a review of any relevant domestic legislation their Governments may have adopted with the aim of aligning them as much as possible with the provisions on piracy of relevant international instruments, including UNCLOS and the SUA Convention.  As I have stated on previous occasions, technical assistance to support such efforts can be provided through our Integrated Technical Co operation Programme.
 
***
 
I turn now to another important item on the Committee’s agenda – Guidelines on implementation of the 2010 HNS Protocol.  Following the adoption, last April, of the HNS Protocol, a liability and compensation regime now exists to cater for victims of incidents at sea involving hazardous and noxious substances, including seafarers suffering injury, or their families in the event of their death as a result of such incidents, wherever in the world they may occur.  The time has now come for the 2010 Protocol to be widely ratified thus paving the way for an effective implementation and rigorous enforcement process.  In an effort to encourage States to ratify the instrument and bring it into force in a reasonable time, our Legal Office and the Secretariat of the IOPC Funds have prepared, for your consideration, a number of documents, including a draft consolidated text of the parent IOPC Fund Convention of 1996 and the 2010 Protocol and a revised overview.  Once finalized, the implementation Guidelines should do much to facilitate and expedite the ratification process – which points to the desirability of this happening as early as possible.
 
The HNS Protocol opened for signature on 1 November 2010 and will remain so open until 31 October 2011; thereafter, it will be open for accession indefinitely.  Since no signatures have been received so far, we are still a long way off from being able to provide an assurance that, if an accident were to occur involving a spill at sea of hazardous and noxious substances, a viable international legal regime will be in place and operational to provide prompt, adequate and effective compensation to victims for any loss or damage suffered.  What we need now is prompt action to bring the Protocol into force – a matter, which is firmly in the hands of Member States, your hands.
 
Another long-standing item on your agenda concerns the fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident.  As I mentioned earlier on, we dedicated last year to the seafarers the world over by choosing, as the theme for World Maritime Day, “2010: Year of the Seafarer”.  This was done in recognition of the extraordinary service rendered by the world’s 1.5 million seafarers to the more than 6.5 billion people of the world, in delivering, often under hazardous conditions, the staple commodities so often taken for granted but needed nonetheless in our daily lives.
 
Seafaring is a difficult and demanding job at the best of times, and no one could reasonably argue that seafarers should not enjoy the same rights as those accorded to workers ashore: such as the right to payment of wages; the right to healthy, safe and decent working conditions; and the right to fair treatment in the event of an accident occurring in the course of their work. 
 
Although the Year of the Seafarer has passed, the momentum generated by the theme continues.  This was undoubtedly also the intention behind the decision of last year’s Conference in Manila to designate the 25th of June – the day on which it adopted the 2010 Amendments to the STCW Convention and Code – as the “Day of the Seafarer”.  As I alluded to earlier on, this year’s World Maritime Day theme was chosen, in part, to be a continuation of last year’s theme, bearing in mind that it is seafarers and their families who bear the brunt of pirate raids and whose lives, livelihoods and physical and mental wellbeing are most affected. 
 
In this context, your attention is invited to a letter the Round Table of shipping industry organizations sent last year to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, highlighting their concerns about the ongoing problems faced by seafarers in the aftermath of marine pollution incidents.  Among other things, the industry organizations emphasize the importance of the IMO/ILO guidelines on the fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident.  One way to promote compliance with the guidelines would be to bring the fair treatment issue, once again, to the attention of the IMO Assembly and that of the ILO Governing Body.  In the event the Committee wishes to move in this direction, a draft resolution has been prepared by the Secretariat for your consideration.
 
***
 
Distinguished delegates,
 
There are two documents before you this week I wish to engage your attention on now.  One is from Indonesia and the other from the Secretariat.  They address the issue brought to the Committee’s attention at your last session by the Government of Indonesia proposing  consideration of liability and compensation issues for transboundary oil pollution damage resulting from offshore exploration and exploitation activities.  Pending the Council’s endorsement, at its forthcoming session in June, of Indonesia’s recommendation that an appropriate item be included in the Organization’s Strategic Plan and in view of the fact that your Committee is not due to meet again for another year, you might consider it to be a wise use of your time were you to take advantage of the opportunity presented this week and advance discussions on the issue.
 
***
 
I would now like to say a few words about the IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea, which, since it was established in 2005, has become an important event on the IMO calendar.  Last September, we issued Circular letter No.3101 inviting nominations for the 2011 Award, for actions of bravery performed during the period 1 March 2010 to 28 February 2011.  As stipulated in the Circular letter, nominations must be received by 15 April, that is by the end of next week.  I would, therefore, encourage you all to remind your respective Governments and organizations of the imminent deadline so that nominations are received in time for them to be considered.
 
***
 
Before I conclude, I will say, as I always do, a few words about security during meetings – on which your continued co operation at any given instance would be much appreciated.  These are not easy times and we should not, for lack of vigilance and alertness or the demonstration of any complacent attitude, make it easier for those who contemplate acts of violence to succeed.
 
***
 
Distinguished delegates,
 
Having highlighted some of the most important items on your agenda this week, I am left in no doubt that this will be a busy session, demanding your close attention to the several complex issues that are presented for discussion.  I am confident that, ably guided by your new Chairman, Mr. Kofi Mbiah of Ghana, you will succeed in accomplishing the tasks assigned to you and that the usual commitment to the IMO spirit of co-operation will prevail in all your deliberations.  A fruitful outcome of the session will provide welcome direction and guidance to everyone concerned with furthering the goals and objectives of this Organization, from both the technical and the legal perspective of its mandate.  The Secretariat will, as always, support the meeting to the best of its abilities.
 
I wish you every success in your deliberations and the best of luck.
 
Thank you.
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