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Maritime Safety Committee 89th session

Opening speech

May 11, 2011

​ADDRESS OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL MR. EFTHIMIOS E. MITROPOULOS AT THE OPENING OF THE EIGHTY-NINTH SESSION OF THE MARITIME SAFETY COMMITTEE
(11 to 20 May 2011)

Good morning, Excellencies, distinguished delegates and observers – and welcome to the eighty-ninth session of the Maritime Safety Committee.  I extend a particularly warm welcome to those of you who are attending this Committee for the first time – and, most certainly, to the 2011 class of IMLI graduates, who are visiting London and to whom I had the great pleasure and privilege to hand over their diplomas at their graduation ceremony in Malta last Saturday.
 
As 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 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 are pursuing, and will continue to 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 (of which a progress report on its implementation during the first four months of the year is to be found in MSC 89/INF.25) 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 today’s piracy – in particular off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean.  I hope you will also support the campaign and assist in the delivery of its components as best as you can – not least through your work on agenda item 18 this and next week.
 
Although we can claim some success in thwarting pirate attacks, given that, since the beginning of the year, out of 145 attempts, only 22 (that is 15.2% of the total) ended up with hijacked ships, the fact that, at present, there are 27 ships with a total of 574 seafarers being held hostage makes us neither content nor proud of the situation.  Until they are all released and returned to their families unharmed, our thoughts and prayers will be with them.
 
Although preventing merchant ships from falling into the hands of pirates should be our main objective, we should also think, plan and organize our mid- to long-term defences and, from this perspective, I consider the good progress we are making in the implementation of the Djibouti Code of Conduct as a positive development.  I am pleased that all three information-sharing centres, which the Code has recommended establishing, are now operational – in Sana’a, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam – and also that work to establish a regional training centre in Djibouti is proceeding.  It gave me particular satisfaction to commission the Mombasa centre in late March, it being co-housed with the Regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, which I was privileged to commission five years earlier and which operates on a 24 hour basis, covering extensive areas of the western Indian Ocean, including Seychelles.  And I look forward to assisting in the laying of the foundation stone of the Djibouti training centre very soon.
 
The delivery of capacity-building training and the development, in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, of the legal framework needed to prosecute pirates are also ongoing high-priority activities under the Djibouti Code project.  I wish to take this opportunity to thank most sincerely all those States that have contributed to the Djibouti Code Trust Fund as well as those States and organizations that are providing in-kind support to this IMO-led initiative of vital importance.  And also thank the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia for their work to combat the scourge and their support of, and co-operation with, IMO in pursuing the good common cause.  The support of navies from so many countries also deserves recognition and appreciation of the highest level – as do the Commanding Officers, Officers and crews of the ships and aircraft involved, who do a splendid job.
 
At this session, the Committee is asked to consider two key issues relative to our response to the risks posed by piracy: 
 
• one, how to ensure the full implementation, by merchant ships, of the IMO guidance and the relevant industry best management practices; and
• two, the employment and use of armed security personnel on board ships.
 
On the former issue, you are invited to consider the adoption of an MSC resolution calling for the full implementation of counter-piracy measures – a resolution, which, once finalized, may be upgraded to Assembly resolution status in response to an invitation addressed to IMO by the UN General Assembly.
 
On the latter, you are invited to consider the complexities of the use of private armed security personnel and vessel protection detachments in situations where naval assets are unavailable to support merchant ships; and whether flag States and the industry should be provided with any relevant guidance required – in which case, we should proceed with developing same.
 
I do appreciate that making a decision on whether armed guards should be sanctioned on board merchant ships to repel pirates is not an easy one – especially if, so doing, would place the lives of seafarers at risk, a predominant factor in any decision you will also make when dealing with “mother ships”.  But a decision, nonetheless, is needed and should be made now.  And, once made, it should be implemented with prudence and due regard to the prevailing circumstances.  Such a decision should be supplemented by the demonstration of a positive attitude from port States where armed guards would embark pending a passage through known risk areas – if, of course, your decision is in favour of armed guards.  A decision on this sensitive issue by IMO would, more than on others, justify the Organization’s role in orchestrating the response.
 
As early as in October 2008, I advocated, as the best way to ensure optimal coordination among the naval vessels under various flags that have joined forces to protect merchant shipping against pirate attacks in the western Indian Ocean waters, the United Nations way, on political grounds.  I am advised that a coordination system under the abbreviation “SHADE” (that is, SHaring Awareness and DEconfliction) operates well under the Combined Maritime Force, European Union Naval Force and NATO, with considerable input from all navies taking part in counter-piracy operations originating from Somalia.  Should you, however, consider that better coordination results may be achieved through an optimized approach, you may consider recommending so.
 
In my keynote speech at the recent Chemical and Product Tanker Conference, I urged that:
 
 - Governments should show that their political will is translated into resources being made available to match the level of their political ambition; and also adopt and enact legislation that ensures that pirates do not escape with impunity for their criminal acts; and that
 - all ships transiting piracy-infested areas should comply with the recommended best management practice guidance and measures.
 
On the first issue, I sense that the political will, among those Governments that have the potential to make a difference, is not expressed in the strong manner that the severity of the issue demands.  It would, of course, be unwise and naive of me to suggest that, in the turbulent times we live, the focus should be directed and maintained on the piracy issue alone, thus ignoring what is happening in so many other parts of the world nowadays.  But the impact piracy has on seafarers and its potential to further disrupt shipping services and thus disrupt global supply chains (over and above the reported 7 to 12 billion US dollars it costs the world economy annually) are, I think, strong reasons for those, who can, to act before things take a turn for the worse.  We will all regret it if we allow piracy to escalate to the extent that more lives are lost or economies, and peoples, suffer for the lack of natural resources transported by sea in the event that strategic shipping lanes are affected or avoided for the fear of pirate attacks.  I am doing all I can to galvanize stronger political will for action.
 
On the issue of compliance with best management practices, last month I wrote to Transport and Merchant Marine Ministers in countries owning large fleets of merchant vessels and countries with a reported poor level of compliance by ships flying their flag, asking them to take action to improve the situation.  I am sure that the Committee will agree that a reported rate of compliance below 40% of ships sailing through the piracy risk areas is unacceptable.  It should rise – and rise substantially soon!  To assist in this, we have prepared the draft MSC resolution I mentioned earlier on, which I hope you will sanction when considering document MSC 89/18/8.
 
I will return to the issue of piracy when you start dealing with agenda item 18.
 
***
 
Distinguished delegates,
 
Measures to enhance maritime security have, for the best part of the past decade, occupied a considerable portion of the Committee’s time and this session is no exception.  This time, in particular, you will be invited to endorse the long-awaited Maritime Security Manual as it has been reviewed by the correspondence group you established at your last session.  A lot of time and effort has been put into this project by the Secretariat, aided by eminent consultants, including Commander Chris Dougherty of the U.S. Coast Guard, Mr. John Platts of Canada and Mr. Frank Wall of the United Kingdom and, of course, by the correspondence group as a whole.  While expressing our appreciation to all of them, we should be looking forward to having this useful guidance document published soon.  Meanwhile, we should continue reviewing any experience gained from the implementation of the ISPS Code, related MSC circulars and SOLAS chapter XI 2 to ensure maximum security benefits.  To such an end, you are expected to review, at this session, the reports submitted by Governments and international organizations and act accordingly.
 
***
 
The development of an adequate regulatory regime governing the rescue of persons in distress at sea and establishing regional facilities to support it remains central to this Committee’s mandate.  It was, therefore, with great pleasure that, in March, I commissioned the Rabat MRCC, which, together with the regional centres already established in Mombasa, Cape Town, Lagos and Monrovia, brought to completion the network of regional MRCCs we undertook to put in place in Africa, in compliance with the requests of the 2000 Florence Conference.
 
Following this, we have explored the merits of extending our efforts to implement the global SAR plan through a regional approach and, to that effect, we are proposing, for the Committee’s consideration and approval, that we move on to covering SAR-wise the Central American region, with one MRCC covering the Caribbean side and another the Pacific Ocean one.
 
To the extent necessary and possible, we will, towards such an end, make use of the International Maritime SAR Fund, which we hope to be able to replenish through the sale of prints of the IMO painting you see behind me , as will be explained to you in a short while.
 
***
 
Distinguished delegates,
 
You will, again this time, continue work to advance the development of the goal-based standards concept in conjunction with your work on Formal Safety Assessment.  In this context, you are expected to complete, at this session, draft Generic guidelines for developing goal-based standards to serve as a basis for any future regulatory work involving GBS; and to consider how your work on this innovative concept should progress further.
 
While all this good work goes on, preparations for the implementation of the International Goal-Based Construction Standards for Bulk Carriers and Oil Tankers should continue in tandem.  We need to receive many more nominations for GBS auditors, over and above the 13 nominated so far, to allow for a proper selection of qualified auditors to form the Audit Teams reqired.  I would, therefore, urge Member States and international organizations concerned to make suitable nominations at the earliest possible time.
 
The report of the two-day meeting of the FSA Expert Group, which was held yesterday and the day before, includes a review of the FSA studies on general cargo ships safety carried out by IACS.  I look forward to a fruitful exchange of views on it, bearing in mind that the outcome of your discussions may have a direct bearing on how to address the issue henceforth – another important item on your agenda this week and of considerable interest to the industry. 
 
***
 
I now wish to highlight several elements of our technical work, which, thanks to the strenuous and painstaking work of the reporting sub-committees, have come to fruition and on which you are invited to make final or interim decisions.
 
Starting with proposed amendments to mandatory instruments awaiting the Committee’s consideration for adoption, I would highlight, in particular, the draft amendments to part B of the International Code on Intact Stability, 2008 and the draft amendments to the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code, 2011.  As you know, the latter Code entered into force, under SOLAS chapters VI and VII, on 1 January of this year, having become, over the years, the authoritative source for any information of a technical nature needed for the safe, secure and efficient transport of solid bulk cargoes by sea.  The draft amendments you are invited to adopt this week aim at ensuring that the Code is kept fully up-to-date.
 
I am very pleased that the latest session of the DE Sub-Committee successfully completed, with the consensus of all parties involved, the complex task of devising a satisfactory solution to the long-outstanding issue of lifeboat on-load release hooks.  Following a lengthy debate at the Sub-Committee and further to extensive discussions at your last two sessions and in two ad hoc intersessional working groups, the proposed new SOLAS regulation III/1.5 on evaluation and replacement of existing release mechanisms is now before you for adoption and approval, together with related draft amendments to the International Life-Saving Appliances Code and the associated draft Guidelines. 
 
After four years of intense elaboration, putting the Committee’s seal of approval on a technical issue that has been seen as the cause of several casualties to seafarers (such as those on board the car carrier “Tombarra” in Bristol in February and, most recently, those on the container ship “Christophe Colomb” in Yantian two weeks ago) is eagerly anticipated and will be greatly appreciated by all concerned.  Above all, it will establish confidence among seafarers that they can rely, without any hesitation, on the life-saving appliances and equipment we place at their disposal.  I look forward to your full endorsement of the DE 55 outcome so that the Guidelines and the associated SOLAS and LSA Code amendments can be implemented on a global scale as soon as possible and certainly by 1 July 2014, the implementation date of the new SOLAS requirements agreed at MSC 88. 
 
An item that ranks high on the agenda of the DE Sub-Committee is the development of a mandatory Code to regulate shipping in the polar regions, which recently are seeing great changes, having become more easily accessible to shipping and opening new frontiers for exploration and exploitation of seabed natural resources.  The new Code will, therefore, be our timely response to the fundamental developments in the polar regions from IMO’s perspective.
 
***
 
Distinguished delegates,
 
The safety of fishermen and fishing vessels forms an integral part of the Organization’s mandate and, as such, it should be given priority place in our efforts to enhance both.  No matter, however, how much we have succeeded in achieving this over many years, the sad fact remains that the fishing sector is still experiencing a large number of fatalities every year.  The absence of a binding international safety regime, as neither the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol nor the 1995 STCW-F Convention have yet come into force, has not helped to reverse the trend. 
 
 And I know that you are as concerned as I am at the slow progress in the ratification of the Protocol – 18 years since it was adopted, almost double that figure since the original treaty instrument saw the light of the day in 1977. 
Against this less than satisfactory background, the work accomplished by the SLF Sub-Committee to provide options to facilitate and expedite the earliest possible entry into force of the Torremolinos Protocol, together with a set of draft amendments to it, should be heralded as a positive step in the right direction. 
 
 It is now your task to decide which option to proceed with: either an ad hoc Agreement – SLF’s preferred choice – or an Assembly resolution.  Should you decide to proceed the Agreement way, then you ought to consider whether this should be pursued by means of a conference convened in the shortest possible time – a decision, which should forthwith be brought to the attention of the Council for it to consider the relevant budgetary implications.
 
***
 
The anticipated acceptance, on 1 July of this year, of the 2010 Manila Amendments to the STCW Convention and STCW Code, expected to enter into force on 1 January 2012, is a very exciting prospect indeed.  If we wish them to benefit seafarers as they are meant to, we must swiftly move on to the next step, which is to ensure their full and effective implementation.  In this context, the revision and updating of the model training courses associated with the amendments presents a new challenge, which the STW Sub-Committee is determined to respond to satisfactorily in a timely manner.  Meanwhile, the Secretariat is proceeding as planned, with the organization and running of a series of regional seminars and workshops to increase awareness and explain the implications of the requirements enshrined in the Amendments. 
 
While on the subject of seafarers’ training, I wish to express my sincere appreciation for the hard work undertaken by the BLG, DSC and FP Sub-Committees to develop draft Revised Recommendations for entering enclosed spaces aboard ships.  Your favourable consideration of them, for approval at this session and subsequent submission to the forthcoming twenty-seventh Assembly in November for adoption, would be timely given that the dangers of entering enclosed spaces aboard ships remain a common cause of seafarer deaths or life-threatening accidents.  In this regard, I also look forward to the Committee approving the draft MSC circular concerning Guidelines on tank entry for tankers using nitrogen as an inerting medium, as prepared by the BLG Sub-Committee at its last session. 
 
***
 
I note with satisfaction that good progress is being made by the Sub-Committee on Flag State Implementation on the development of a Code for Recognized Organizations and on making the Code for the implementation of mandatory IMO instruments and auditing of the applicable provisions mandatory. 
 
The new RO Code, once adopted, will be a very useful tool for Administrations when delegating authority to recognized organizations.  Although not yet finalized, the draft Code is presented to the Committee for it to be apprized of its development and to enable it to provide further guidance to the FSI Sub-Committee on its framework and on issues such as the definition of statutory certification and the principle of sovereignty.
 
***
 
Other items on your agenda equally important as those I have already mentioned include:
 
• LRIT-related matters;
• safely-related technical co-operation matters; and
• matters related to the consolidated Guidelines on the organization and method of work of the Committees and their subsidiary bodies.
 
These and all the items on your agenda deserve careful consideration and, in dealing with them, you should keep uppermost in your mind the role of the human element, as emphasized by the Committee and specifically called for in its Guidelines on the organization and method of work. 
 
This focus on the human element is most appropriate in this, the twentieth anniversary of the Joint MSC/MEPC Working Group on the Human Element – a group established in 1991 by a joint decision of the two Committees (MSC 59 and MEPC 31) in order to ensure that, in all aspects of our regulatory system, due emphasis is placed on the critical contribution the human element can play to enhanced maritime safety, security, the efficiency of navigation and the protection of the marine environment. 
 
***
 
Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,
 
Before I conclude, I wish to share with you my profound sadness at two recent tragic events.  The first is about the massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck the north east coast of Japan on 11 March, causing untold loss of life and destruction – a situation, which was exacerbated by the radiation released from the damage sustained by the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  Upon hearing of the incident, we activated the IMO emergency response team, establishing and maintaining frequent contacts with NAVAREA coordinators in the Pacific and co-competent international organizations, including IAEA, WMO, IHO, the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, IALA and Inmarsat.  We then issued Circular letter No.3175 providing masters of ships sailing off the eastern coast of Japan with suitable advice and referring them to the navigational warnings issued regularly by the NAVAREA XI Coordinator (Japan). 
 
We were relieved to learn that, apart from a number of fishing vessels and small craft that were swept away, sunk or otherwise destroyed by the tsunami, no serious casualties to shipping were reported.  At the same time and in conjunction with the Japanese Hydrographic Service, IHO and IALA, we sought information on the status of the aids to navigation in the affected area.  On behalf of the membership, staff and myself, I conveyed profound sentiments of sadness, sympathy and solidarity to the Ambassador of Japan in London and offered any assistance that might be required in the circumstances.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims of this unprecedented disaster.
 
The other tragic event concerns the loss, on 6 April, of over 200 migrants from a capsized vessel in the central Mediterranean Sea area.  While 53 among those on board the ill-fated vessel were rescued, the loss of so many persons, who were fleeing a region in turmoil in search of a better life, filled us with sadness and compassion, which the tragic circumstances of their demise made it all the more acute.  As you know, together with countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, we seek to establish a system aiming at strengthening the provision of search and rescue services to persons such as those caught up in the recent incident; ensuring that they are brought to a place of safety; and then dealt with by the receiving country in the most appropriate manner.  I hope our efforts on this complex, complicated and sensitive issue bear fruit soon.  In the meantime, I can but express my appreciation to the Italian Coast Guard for the gallant efforts of its staff that rescued all 528 refugees from a boat that went aground off the island of Lampedusa last Sunday.
 
***
 
Last but not least, 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, I am left in no doubt that you will have, once again, a very busy session, demanding close and continuous attention to several complex issues that are presented for discussion. 
 
As you go about your work in this and the following seven days, you will appreciate the considerable progress made on several items of your agenda by the various correspondence groups you established at your last session.  All the members of these groups, especially their coordinators, deserve our thanks for, and recognition of, their important input.
 
I am confident that, ably guided by your Chairman, Mr. Neil Ferrer of the Philippines, 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.  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.
_________