ADDRESS OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AT THE OPENING OF THE INTERSESSIONAL MARITIME SECURITY AND PIRACY WORKING GROUP OF THE MARITIME SAFETY COMMITTEE
(13 September 2011)
Good morning, distinguished delegates and observers – and welcome to this intersessional meeting of the Maritime Security and Piracy Working Group of the Maritime Safety Committee.
As you know, the 2011 World Maritime Day theme is “Piracy: orchestrating the response” and our aim has been, since the start of the year, to intensify our efforts to prevent merchant ships from falling into the hands of pirates, especially those operating off the coast of Somalia, through a multi-faceted action plan we have devised in co-operation with industry and seafarer representative organizations.
Despite the number of pirate attacks continuing to cause concern, there is, however, some small cause for optimism. The percentage of successful attacks has dropped, from more than 40 per cent in recent years, to less than 20 per cent this year – testimony, no doubt, to the effectiveness both of the naval presence in the region and of the successful implementation by ships of the industry-devised best management practices. The numbers speak for themselves: from 31 ships with a total of 714 seafarers in the hands of pirates in February (when they peaked), the number of those held hostage at present has almost halved to 362 seafarers on 17 ships – although even one seafarer in captivity is one too many!
You will recall that, when I opened MSC 89 in May, I stressed that I was, particularly, looking forward to the development of guidance to flag States and shipowners, operators and masters on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships; and to measures to improve compliance with the Best Management Practices contained in a series of MSC Circulars – areas, in which the Committee made considerable progress at its May session.
However, given the importance and urgent nature of both issues and the need to finalize and promulgate, as soon as possible, detailed guidance, including guidance to port and coastal States, the Committee further decided to convene this meeting in order to give you an opportunity, on the basis of clear terms of reference, to review, amend and amplify the guidance contained in the circulars I just referred to and take any further relevant action you may deem necessary and appropriate.
Furthermore, the Committee authorized your group and requested the Secretariat to issue, as soon as possible after the conclusion of this meeting, an MSC circular to promulgate any recommendations you may agree to to Governments and industry on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel; and I look forward to a successful outcome of your labours.
In your deliberations, you should take account of the output of the Facilitation Committee, which met last week and, among other things, dealt with your Committee’s request for advice with respect to customs-related issues connected with the embarkation and disembarkation of security personnel and their firearms, ammunition and security equipment. Of considerable importance here is the finalization of work relevant to guidance to port and coastal States on action that should be taken, in conjunction with flag States, concerning the carriage of guards and their arms on ships calling at, or leaving, their national ports or sailing through their territorial waters.
At this point, it should be born in mind that the position of the MSC – and IMO’s, for that matter – on the carriage of firearms and use of armed personnel on board merchant ships remains unaltered: seafarers should not be armed and the carriage of armed personnel remains a matter for the shipowner to request, after a thorough risk assessment, and the flag State to decide. Flag States should have in place a policy on whether the use of privately contracted armed security personnel will be authorized and, if so, under what conditions.
I wish to take the opportunity of this short introductory remarks to welcome the publication of the Best Management Practice for Protection against Somali Based Piracy, or “BMP4” and to thank and congratulate the industry organizations that have contributed to its development for their excellent work. As requested, and in order to circulate the document to as wide a readership as possible, BMP4 will be issued as an MSC circular shortly.
Although your meeting will last only three days, you will have a busy session, demanding close and continuous attention to several complex matters that are before you for consideration and decision. In going about your business, you should appreciate the element of urgency surrounding the whole issue – and act accordingly. When pirates attack ships almost every day, it will be hard to explain to the general public that we address their plight only when an IMO body is in session. Hence the MSC’s decision to convene this group intersessionally.
Against the odds of a short meeting and the complexity and sensitivity of the issues before you, I am confident that, ably guided by your Chairman, Mr. Dominguez of Panama, you will succeed in accomplishing the tasks assigned to you. A fruitful outcome of the session will provide welcome direction and guidance to everyone concerned with ridding the world of the scourge of modern day piracy. 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.