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Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), 93rd session, 14 to 23 May 2014 (opening address)

May 14, 2014

ADDRESS OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AT THE OPENING OF THE NINETY-THIRD SESSION OF THE MARITIME SAFETY COMMITTEE
(14 to 23 May 2014)

Good morning, Excellencies, distinguished delegates and observers.
 
Welcome to the ninety-third session of the Maritime Safety Committee.
 
Before I say anything, I would like to express my sincere condolences and sympathy to families of coal mine workers who lost their lives, were injured or trapped in the mine due to yesterday's explosion at a coal mine in western Turkey.  I wish those trapped to be rescued as soon as possible.
 
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This is the first meeting of the new biennium for the Committee following the restructuring of the sub-committees and their reduction from nine to seven. Four have already successfully met. You will be considering the reports of the SDC, PPR, HTW and SSE Sub-Committees in due course. I have monitored developments closely and believe that, under the very able leadership of their chairmen, the sub-committees are settling down in their new formats. I believe the transition will be seen to have improved efficiency.
 
I will continue to monitor developments closely during the rest of the year when the NCSR, III and CCC Sub-Committees will have their respective first sessions.
 
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Two weeks ago at the meeting of the Legal Committee we held a minute’s silence to express our condolences for the victims of the Sewol accident and I take this opportunity to reiterate my condolences and to commend the responsible authorities in the Republic of Korea for their rescue and recovery efforts following this tragedy.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
Apart from the Sewol incident and looking at the status of safety of domestic ferries in the world, it is an unwelcome fact that, in just the last two and a half years, there have been 2,932 lives lost in domestic passenger ship accidents around the world. I have counted this number myself following all domestic passenger ship accidents in the world in this short period.
 
The Committee will be aware that in its strategic directions, IMO's highest priority is the safety of human life at sea and, in particular, Strategic Direction 5 states that greater emphasis will be accorded to:
 
.1 ensuring that all systems related to enhancing the safety of human life at sea are adequate, including those concerned with large concentrations of people; … obviously passenger ships with hundreds of passengers.
 
This is all-encompassing and, in response to loss of life on ferries in domestic waters, the Organization has provided technical assistance to a number of Member States under our project on domestic ferry safety. I welcome the support we have received from Interferry and others in this regard.
 
At the Legal Committee, I stated that, in my view, the time has come to step forward to take further action to improve the safety of passenger ships carrying hundreds of passengers, regardless of the nature of navigation, either international or domestic.
 
Whilst SOLAS, the principal international treaty regulating safety of passenger ships, is neither intended to be applied to, nor enforceable on ships engaged on domestic voyages, it is at the discretion of the maritime administration of each Government as to what safety standards should be applied to passenger ships on domestic voyages.
 
In my humble opinion, the general public should enjoy at least the same level of minimum safety standards whether on international or domestic voyages – standards that are good enough to prevent the sort of accidents that have occurred recently.
 
In this centenary year of SOLAS, 100 years after the adoption of the first SOLAS in 1914, if IMO could not clearly declare that we will, in the 21st century, also improve the safety of passenger ships in domestic navigation, even though the IMO membership has expanded to 170 Member Governments and we claim that IMO is, now, a global Organization and not a consultative body of dozens of advanced maritime nations anymore, which was the case some 50 years ago, dear colleagues, people will question whether IMO has become a truly global Organization dealing with the safety of ships, in particular the safety of passenger ships of all Member Governments of IMO in the world, that are, in many cases, the only available means of public transportation for thousands and thousands of people in almost every country in the developing world.
 
Under the ITCP, we have already established a specific project on domestic ferry safety. I think that we should make a step change and strengthen this project by including a new element which includes the development of comprehensive standards as a recommendation covering design, engineering, structure modifications, operation, manning, training, survey and certification for domestic ferries and provide assistance to Member States to implement them through activities under the ITCP domestic ferry project. I intend to discuss how we can enhance current domestic ferry safety with those Member States and organizations already involved in the project so far.
We may need to discuss this issue at the Technical Cooperation Committee but I would welcome any advice from the MSC on the issue of strengthening of IMO's domestic ferry safety project.
 
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Turning now to the international field, on 13 January 2012, the Costa Concordia hit rocks, capsized and partially sank off the shore of the Italian island of Giglio, costing 32 lives.
 
On my way back to London from Rome last week after the Chief Executives Board meeting of the United Nations, I flew over the island and saw the ship in its supporting framework and with cranes and other vessels still in attendance.
 
The Committee will recall that, immediately after the accident, I called for the casualty investigation and for its report to be submitted to IMO. This has been done and, since then, three sessions of the Committee have debated the issue.
 
Some measures have been adopted; new work programmes proposed; and the Committee and sub-committees are working on various issues on passenger ship safety, including at this session when the Committee will discuss all of these issues.
 
At that incident, the survivability of modern cruise passenger ships in the case of grounding and breach of the hull by hitting rocks was highlighted in the most dramatic way. IMO must exhaust its efforts to improve the survivability of cruise passenger ships in addition to strengthening operational and management measures.  This requires serious efforts of not only operators and management but also naval architects and designers and the cruise industry to explore a new design of cruise passenger ships in the future.
 
Two years have passed, enormous amounts of time and energy have been expended and hundreds of pages of documents have been generated. The cruise industry itself is also working hard to improve safety procedures.
On this basis, you may conclude that the IMO mechanism is working and you may respond to anyone who wants to know what IMO has done by referring to the hundreds of pages of the casualty investigation report; all the related documents submitted to the Committee; the outcome of its deliberations thus far and the fact that it is still responding to the accident and thus IMO is working.
 
But for me, such a statement is not good enough. We must be able to summarize what actions have been taken to date and what more the Committee will do, two years after the accident.
 
In my view, what the general public and maritime community wish to know is not that IMO has produced hundreds of papers. The general public and I would like to have simple answers to simple questions:
 
What went wrong?
What were the lessons learned?
What measures have been adopted or will be adopted in response?
 
If the Maritime Safety Committee cannot respond to such simple questions in a concise but also comprehensive manner two years after the accident, who can say that IMO has responded well?
 
In this centenary year of SOLAS and after two years' extensive discussion, if IMO could not clearly provide a definitive statement on the response of IMO to the Costa Concordia incident, IMO's credibility as the global safety standard-setting body in the United Nations system will be seriously questioned.
 
I think that the Committee, at this session, should review all that has been done to date and summarize the current status of our response. I sincerely hope that, after the eight days of this session of the Committee, a clear response will be forthcoming to my questions so that the general public will be in no doubt about the effective role and action taken by this Organization.
 
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Distinguished delegates,
 
As you are all aware, I have set this year as the target year for finalizing the new international code for ships operating in polar waters. The development of the ‘polar code’ has been an important item on the agendas of the sub-committees and their efforts in completing successfully their part of the work on the various elements of the code augurs well.
 
The finalization and implementation of the polar code will do much to enhance the safety of ships operating in the remote polar areas and the protection of their pristine environments and fragile ecosystems.
 
A universally accepted regulatory framework is essential for the sustainable development of shipping in the waters around the two poles – and we should not be in any doubt that the world looks to IMO to provide that framework.
 
Distinguished delegates,
 
I feel optimistic about the adoption of the polar code and its future implementation as a result of my recent participation in a formal meeting of the Arctic Council (i.e. the Senior Arctic Officials Meeting held in Yellowknife, Canada, in March). This was the first time an IMO Secretary-General had been invited, and I believe it has effectively opened a new era of cooperation between the Arctic Council and IMO that will benefit the implementation of the polar code through collaboration in important fields such as search and rescue and pollution preparedness and response in Arctic and Antarctic waters.
 
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Another matter involving groundbreaking work by IMO, and on which I also wish to see significant progress this year, concerns the mandatory goal-based ship construction standards for bulk carriers and oil tankers, which are now in the implementation phase.
 
At the end of last year, the IMO Secretariat received requests from twelve IACS members and one non-IACS Recognized Organization for GBS verification audits of their structural rules for bulk carriers and oil tankers. The organization and conduct of these audits involves a considerable amount of work for the Secretariat as well as for the auditors. I take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to those who have volunteered to be auditors and to wish them well in this pioneering endeavour. The Committee will have the chance to consider a progress report on the GBS verification audits later this week.
 
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Distinguished delegates,
 
The Organization has continued its work aimed at supressing piracy and armed robbery against ships at sea, in conjunction with its many partner organizations in the United Nations and elsewhere. The fact that no cargo ship has been taken off the coast of Somalia by pirates since 10 May 2012 demonstrates the effectiveness of the provisions in place, but also the need to avoid complacency. Furthermore, we must not forget those seafarers who are still being held captive, an estimated 50, all of them imprisoned on land and held for years without any prospect of being released. I urge Governments to continue to provide support to counter-piracy operations and industry not to drop its guard in respect of shipping operating in the areas known to be susceptible to piratical acts, particularly in the High Risk Area.
 
As regards the situation off the coasts of west and central Africa, regrettably, both the number of attacks and the increasing violence involved remains unacceptable and recent incidents have demonstrated the need for all countries in the region to cooperate and communicate effectively. This is of vital importance not only to prevent piracy occurring in the first place, but also to deal with its consequences to the benefit of all concerned, not least the seafarer victims and their families.
 
I believe delegates are aware that since the Committee met in May last year, representatives of Heads of State of 25 countries from west and central Africa have endorsed the Code of conduct on the prevention and suppression of piracy, armed robbery against ships and illicit maritime activity in the Gulf of Guinea. The Assembly subsequently adopted resolution A.1069 on the same subject in November last year and the IMO West and Central Africa Maritime Security Trust Fund has received generous donations from China, Japan and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the Secretariat is making its own contribution by engaging in a vigorous campaign to support the Member States in the region to improve maritime governance, and I have pledged my support to the countries in the west and central African region to enable them to improve maritime security, and I do not hesitate to restate my determination and commitment again here today.
 
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All items on your agenda call for your careful consideration; however, I would like to remark on just some of them.
 
First, you will recall the work done to date on determining the way forward for future amendments to SOLAS and the related establishment of a correspondence group to address this issue. I am hopeful that the Committee will conclude this item at this session as this should ensure that future amendments are drafted in order to make application to new and existing ships clear, thus reducing any opportunity for confusion.
 
Second, you are expected to adopt the amendments to SOLAS and others in order to make the use of the Code for Implementation of IMO Instruments (the III Code) and auditing mandatory. In this context, you will be invited to take into account outcomes of other IMO bodies, namely:
 
- the relevant outcome of the twenty-eighth regular session of the Assembly on the adoption of the III Code (resolution A.1070) and related amendments to the Load Lines and Tonnage Conventions and the COLREG (resolutions A.1083, A.1084 and A.1085); and
 
- the related outcome of the 66th session of the MEPC of last month, when amendments to all six MARPOL annexes were adopted to make the use of the III Code and the IMO Member State Audit Scheme mandatory.
 
With this work completed, the Organization is set fair to bring the mandatory Scheme to fruition in 2016, when the relevant amendments to all the major IMO conventions are expected to enter into force, on 1 January of that year.
 
Third, I look forward to the Committee given the appropriate, careful and balanced, consideration to proposals for inclusion of new unplanned outputs in the work programme, ranging from the adoption of the Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System into the World-wide Radio Navigation System to the proposal to review, in light of the investigations of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident, the 2009 MODU Code, the Life-Saving Appliance Code and Measures to prevent accidents with lifeboats (MSC.1/Circ.1206/Rev.1).
 
The fourth concerns the IMO Symposium on the Future of Ship Safety, which I convened here at our Headquarters two years ago, in June 2013. You will be aware of my suggestions for follow-up, which you will be invited to consider later next week under agenda item 21 – Any other business. I shall therefore introduce the document in more detail at the appropriate time. Suffice to say now that this week may be a good opportunity for the Committee to consider taking forward some of the Symposium’s recommendations.
 
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It remains for me to wish you every success in your deliberations and to give my best wishes to your Chairman, Mr. Christian Breinholt of Denmark. He is entitled to everybody’s full cooperation to enable him to steer the Committee through its extensive agenda, keeping a tight timetable and striking the appropriate balance between competing demands. I thank you in advance for your cooperation. For our part, we, as the Secretariat, will support both the Chairman and the work at this session to the best of our abilities.
 
With these words, I now hand over to your Chairman and look forward to you all joining me and my Secretariat colleagues for relaxed conversation and informal consultation at the customary drinks reception in the Delegates’ Lounge after close of business this evening.
 
Thank you.
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