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Sub-Committee on Fire Protection (FP) - 54th Session (12 - 16 April 2010)

ADDRESS OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AT THE OPENING OF THE FIFTY-FOURTH SESSION OF THE SUB-COMMITTEE ON FIRE PROTECTION

April 12, 2010

(12 to 16 April 2010) 

Good morning, distinguished delegates and observers,

It is also a pleasure for me to welcome you to the fifty-fourth session of the Sub-Committee on Fire Protection.  I extend a particular welcome to those of you who are attending a meeting of this Sub-Committee for the first time.

The devastating news of the tragic death of the President of Poland, Mr. Lech Kaczynski, his wife and many dignitaries of the Polish political and military élite, has filled us all with sadness, grief and a feeling of personal loss. It is most unfortunate that the proud Polish nation that has, in its long history over the centuries, suffered so much, had to endure another trauma of unimaginable dimensions. I would like, on behalf of the entire membership and staff, to express our deep condolences, our sympathy and, above all, our solidarity to the Polish people, the families and friends of the President and his entourage.  It is ironic that I use the word “solidarity” in reference to the country that gave the word its true meaning.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who perished in this tragic accident and I should be most grateful if the Polish delegation would convey our sentiments of utter despair and dismay to their Government and countrymen. We share in their anguish and join in their mourning.

Distinguished delegates,

Before I address some of the most important items on your agenda, I wish to say a few words about this year’s World Maritime Day theme, which is “2010: Year of the Seafarer”.  By choosing this theme, the Organization will have, throughout the year, the opportunity, together with the maritime community at large, to pay tribute to the more than 1.5 million seafarers from all over the world for their unique contribution to society and in recognition of the risks they shoulder in the execution of their daily tasks and duties in an often hostile environment.  The theme should, furthermore, help to attract continued attention to some hazards – largely unknown until recently but confronting seafarers nowadays – such as pirate attacks, unwarranted detention when their ships are involved in accidents, refusal of shore leave for security purposes and abandonment, to name but a few. 

The selection of 2010 as “Year of the Seafarer” is also in line with the “Go to Sea!” campaign we launched in November 2008 to focus attention on the urgent need to attract young people of the right calibre to the seafaring profession, by emphasizing the rewarding, stimulating and long-term prospects seafaring offers, not only at sea but also in the broader maritime industry ashore.  If studies that are underway at present confirm the reported shortage of qualified merchant navy officers worldwide, it makes it ever more incumbent upon IMO and the shipping industry to take action now to prevent a situation from taking hold in which ships are not adequately manned because of the lack of sufficient skilled personnel. 

***

 

Distinguished delegates,

Since your previous meeting 14 months ago, the Maritime Safety Committee held its eighty-sixth session and, under agenda item 2, you will be informed of decisions it took relevant to your work. 

At that session, the Committee approved draft amendments to SOLAS chapter II-2, prepared by you and designed to give the new 2010 Fire Test Procedures Code mandatory status, subject to your Sub-Committee completing its comprehensive revision of the existing Code.  You should, therefore, use the opportunity of this session to bring this particular task to the stage that will enable the Committee to approve the new Code, in time for its adoption, with the draft amendments to SOLAS, at MSC 88.

Furthermore, MSC 86 approved, for adoption at the Committee’s forthcoming eighty-seventh session, proposed amendments to the Fire Safety Systems Code and several supporting circulars concerning fire safety-related matters.  This is a welcome endorsement of your Sub-Committee’s on-going work to ensure that the Organization’s fire safety standards, for both passenger and cargo ships, are kept up-to-date with developments in fire protection, detection and extinction technologies and systems.

Your work on items such as those I just mentioned will prove its worth also in the context of the ISM Code, as it will assist shipping companies, shipowners and operators, as well as ship designers, shipbuilders and equipment manufacturers to take the necessary measures to enhance the safety of ships from the perspective of your Sub-Committee.

The comprehensive review of the performance testing and approval standards for fire safety systems is another important item on your agenda, which you have been addressing for some considerable time.  As this entails a heavy workload still to be dealt with, it might necessitate one more session before you are able to report to the MSC that you have finalized it.  Good progress on this item will reflect positively on our strong commitment to enhancing fire safety on board ships by ensuring that the corresponding IMO standards keep pace with evolving technologies.

The need to provide clear guidance that will ensure the uniform and effective implementation of the regulatory framework IMO develops has been the driving force behind your work to prepare explanatory notes for the application of the ‘safe return to port’ requirements that passenger ships should comply with under the 2006 SOLAS amendments, which are due to enter into force on 1 July this year.  You may recall that the passenger ship safety initiative launched in 1999, which eventually led to chapters II-1 and II-2 of SOLAS being extensively amended, evolved into a package of measures that incorporate a range of innovative concepts, (such as casualty thresholds – including criteria for defining them – and the ‘safe area’ and ‘safe return to port’ concepts), all of which provide a degree of flexibility that will enable ship designers to meet passenger ship safety challenges, as they may evolve in the future.  The Sub‑Committee’s role in providing unambiguous guidance on the application of the aforementioned measures is of great value and, seen from this perspective, I would encourage you to make every effort to complete the draft explanatory notes at this session.

Measures to prevent explosions on oil and chemical tankers transporting low-flash point cargoes will, once again, demand your close and meticulous attention, following the extensive debate you had on the issue at your last session, when it was agreed that new oil tankers of below 20,000 tonnes deadweight, and new chemical tankers, should be fitted with inert gas systems.  The task you face now is to modify the relevant provisions of SOLAS chapter II-2 to incorporate the new provisions.  A lower tonnage limit for the application of inert gas systems to new oil tankers has to be established and the appropriate associated draft amendments to the Convention developed.  This will not be the easiest of tasks, given the complexity of the issue; however, I hope that, by working together in the usual IMO spirit of co-operation, and in the knowledge that your work will be crucial to guaranteeing the best interests of both safety and environmental protection, you will be able to successfully resolve any difficulties that you may encounter in the process.

You will all be aware that, notwithstanding the Organization’s and the industry’s efforts, deaths and serious casualties continue to occur to persons working in enclosed spaces on board ships.  In response, you are to commence, on a priority basis, work on the revision of the Recommendations for entering enclosed spaces aboard ships as part of a concerted effort, involving other sub-committees as well, to examine the root cause behind the many apparently avoidable crew fatalities and serious injuries that continue to occur despite the promulgation of relevant advice and guidance.  Is the problem essentially one of non-compliance with the existing health and safety standards or has the current regulatory regime not addressed the issue adequately to date?  In seeking to find answers to these and other relevant questions, we should spare no effort so that the dangers to persons entering enclosed spaces become better, and more widely, understood by all concerned and, by devising appropriate guidance, the reported accidents are stemmed and eventually eliminated.  At your last session, you gave preliminary consideration to the issue and this time you have several documents providing possible solutions on which to focus your deliberations.  Given the urgency of the matter, I trust you will give the evidence provided full and due consideration so that you may complete the revision of the Recommendations at this session to the satisfaction of all parties concerned – the seafarers, in particular.  Succeeding in this would be a fitting contribution of your Sub-Committee to the Year of the Seafarer and a tribute to the memory of those who lost their lives in relevant accidents.  One of the best ways we can show seafarers that we do care about them and that we do all we can to look after and protect them is to redouble our efforts to enhance their safety while they are at work in the service of world trade and to the benefit of civil society at large.  I consider it incumbent on all of us, at IMO and in the wider maritime community, to ensure that neither safety nor environmental standards are compromised in any way and that, as I have stressed many times in the past, commercial considerations should not be given any precedence over safety of life and environmental protection. 

***

Distinguished delegates,

Many other important items feature on your agenda this week, all of which, nevertheless, deserve your careful attention.  They include, among others, matters pertaining to:

  • the fire resistance of ventilation ducts and the associated draft amendments to SOLAS chapter II-2;
  • the clarification of SOLAS chapter II-2 requirements regarding the interrelation between central control stations and safety centres;
  • the draft guidelines related to fixed hydrocarbon gas detection systems on double hull oil tankers; and
  • amendments to SOLAS chapter II-2 related to the releasing controls and means of escape for spaces protected by fixed carbon dioxide systems

As you go about your work this week, you should constantly keep in mind, whether you are developing new or revising existing revised standards, the human element, as repeatedly emphasized by the MSC and specifically called for in the Committee’s Guidelines on the organization and method of its work and that of its subsidiary bodies.

 

***

Distinguished delegates,

Before I conclude, I shall briefly invite your attention, once again, to two issues of a more general nature.

The first concerns security during meetings – a matter on which I will appreciate your continued co‑operation at any given instance.  As we are occasionally reminded, unfortunately with the loss of precious lives, 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 in their evil aims. 

The second concerns the need to seek continued progress in the implementation of the Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme so that its benefits may be enjoyed by all Member States.  I am pleased that the Assembly, at its session in November of last year, decided that the Scheme should move to a more substantive phase of development engaging all Members party to a list of specified IMO conventions, and I know that I can count on your support and contribution to the success of the process leading to the new phase.

Distinguished delegates,

To conclude, your agenda places heavy demands on you this week, in the course of which you are expected to make progress on a number of important issues, including finalization of some.  I am confident that, with your unswerving commitment to promote safety and environmental protection, and with the customary IMO spirit of co-operation, you will succeed in all your objectives and reach sound, balanced and timely decisions on which to base your advice to the MSC.  The experience and leadership skills of your Chairman, Mr. Cubisino of Argentina, will guarantee a successful outcome.  I am confident that both you and the Secretariat will assist him to lead the Sub-Committee successfully throughout the session.

I wish you all the best in your deliberations.

Thank you.

________

12 April 2010