2010 Year of the Seafarer Forum
26 June 2010
Philippines International Conference Centre, Manila
President and Officers of IFSMA, Secretary-General Emeritus, Heads of international shipping organizations, President and participants to the STCW Conference, colleagues, fellow speakers, distinguished guests, dear cadets, ladies and gentlemen,
We gather here today at the end of what has undoubtedly been the most historic and portentous week, thus far, of what we anticipate will prove to be a historic and portentous year for the seafaring profession as a whole.
Just in case anyone here has been living on a different planet from the rest of us for the past few days, or was absorbly distracted by what is happening in South Africa nowadays, let me reiterate that this week - yesterday, in fact - a diplomatic conference here in Manila -indeed, here in this very conference centre - adopted a set of far-reaching and comprehensive amendments to the 1978/95 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers - known to us all more conveniently and, dare I say, affectionately, as the STCW Convention and its associated Code.
These two instruments have jointly been described as one for the four pillars of the global maritime regulatory system, along with two other IMO Conventions, SOLAS and MARPOL, and ILO's Maritime Labour Convention. The amendments adopted yesterday mark the first major revision of the two instruments since those adopted in 1995, which completely revised the original 1978 STCW Convention.
I do not propose to go into them in any great detail during this address, partly because I do not think that is what you expect from a keynote speech and partly because I see they will be put under the microscope later this morning. Suffice it to say that their adoption means, in my view, that the necessary global standards to train and certificate seafarers to operate any modern, technologically advanced ship are now in place. This is a tremendous achievement, a great step forward and I should like to emphasize, once again, the spirit of my closing remarks to the conference, which was that all concerned, and that includes a great many of you here today, deserve credit and gratitude for what has been a huge effort.
Today's "Year of the Seafarer" forum was, I am certain, deliberately timed so that the dust from this week should have had no time to settle. Instead, the organizers have clearly decided to capitalize on the momentum created and that, to me, seems like a sound strategy. I congratulate them for their foresight.
In today's global economy, hundreds of millions of people all over the world rely on ships to transport the great multitude of commodities, fuel, foodstuffs, goods and products on which we all depend. Yet, for most of them, shipping, not to mention the huge range of related maritime activities that, together, go to make up what is loosely termed "the shipping industry", does not register a particularly strong echo on their personal radar. The very nature of shipping makes it something of a "background" industry. For most people, most of the time, ships are simply "out of sight and out of mind".
And the same, as a consequence, can be said of the humble seafarers, despite the fact that the global economy depends utterly on their presence. Seafarers are, in effect, the lubricant without which the engine of trade would simply grind to a halt - which has prompted me, on several occasions in the past, to refer to our industry and its sine qua non servants, the seafarers, as "the unsung heroes of an unsung industry".
It is, of course, a sad truth that many work-forces are largely unrecognized and more-or-less taken for granted. When we switch on a light we do not, generally, pause to think of all those who have laboured in the various sectors of the power generation and transmission industries to make it happen. Or when we sit at the table and start by blessing our daily bread, we do not pause to think who brought the grain that enabled our local baker to bake it. Or when, faced with a severe winter, we do not pause to think who carried the oil that heats our homes or fuels the energy on which we all so much depend these days. Well, perhaps we should; and we certainly should not use that as an excuse to continue to allow the seafarer to be ignored at best, and poorly treated at worst.
I am very aware that the majority of you here today have served or are still serving as seafarers. You do not need me to remind you of the peculiarities of the job; the fact that, at the end of a long and stressful day, there is usually no return home to the family; no evening with friends at the taverna or the pub; no change of scenery; no chance to properly relax, unwind or de-stress. Just the relentless drone of the diesels and the never-ending movement of the vessel that is not only your place of work but also your home, 24-hours a day, seven days a week, for weeks and often for months on end; and, ever-present in the back of your mind, the possibility of both natural and other, invidious hazards, such as pirate attacks, unwarranted detention, denial of shore leave and abandonment in foreign ports.
In the Year of the Seafarer, our intention has been not only to draw attention to the unique circumstances under which seafarers spend their working lives but also to make a palpable and beneficial difference.
Ladies and gentlemen, when IMO first mooted the idea that our theme for 2010 should focus on the seafarer, we wanted to do two things; first, we wanted to draw attention to a workforce that is largely unheralded and unacknowledged, often even within the industry it serves: and, second, we wanted to extend the theme beyond the regular World Maritime Day celebrations and to galvanize a momentum that would last for the whole year and, indeed, beyond. We wanted 2010 to be the start of this momentum; but we certainly do not want the end of 2010 to be the end of the initiative - we should, rather, want to make it the end of the beginning. That is why I was delighted with the Conference's decision, from now on, to name the 25th of June - the concluding date of its proceedings -the "Day of the Seafarer".
Earlier in the year, I identified three targets that I would be happy to see achieved in conjunction with our "Year of the Seafarer" initiative. They were:
- one, increased awareness among the general public of the indispensable services seafarers render to civil society at large;
- two, a clear message to seafarers that we recognize and appreciate their services; that we do care about them; and that we do all that we can to look after and protect them when the circumstances of their life at sea so warrant; and
- three, redoubled efforts at the regulatory level to move from words to deeds to create a better world in which seafarers can operate.
Just over halfway through the year, I think I can safely say that progress has been made towards all three of these. And the message from the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, which was read out during the opening session of our Conference last Monday, stands as testament to our efforts to galvanize global public attention to the seafarers' cause.
In this context, it was always envisaged that this year's theme would constitute a focal point around which the maritime community as a whole could rally, to seek ways to recognize and pay tribute to seafarers for their unique contribution to society and the vital part they play in the facilitation of global trade. This has undoubtedly been happening, with seminars and fora such as this being examples of it in action; and I would urge all of you in the industry to give wide circulation to Mr. Ban's message and my own open letter among your seafarers and other personnel - just as you have so widely and effectively used the "Year of the Seafarer" logo - to reinforce in them the sense of pride, value and recognition that they so richly merit.
As to the regulatory process, well, the amendments to the STCW Convention and Code that have just been adopted should, rightly, be considered as the pinnacle of our efforts this year to create a better and safer world in which seafarers can sail. Of course, other efforts continue in parallel because, at IMO, the human element and the interests of seafarers' work and life on board are at the forefront of all our regulatory work, as you will no doubt hear in a short while from Mr. Neil Ferrer, the Chairman of our Maritime Safety Committee and President of this week's Conference.
In the same vein, and still with the interests of seafarers top-most in our minds, I proposed, and the IMO Council unanimously endorsed, earlier this month, that the theme for next year's World Maritime Day should be "Piracy: orchestrating the response". Our aim is for the selected theme to give us the opportunity to maintain, indeed enhance, the efforts of all of us in the maritime community to address the piracy scourge that so affects individual seafarers and their families and does so much to dissuade young people from joining the profession.
And, in this particular respect, I think that the "Year of the Seafarer" theme has also helped to re-focus attention on the pressing need to come to grips with the long-predicted labour-supply shortage in the shipping industry - a shortage that may have been temporarily alleviated by the recent downturn in global trade but which, nevertheless, remains ever-present. This makes it imperative for shipping to re-launch itself as a career of choice for the high-calibre, high-quality young people of today. In this context, the "Year of the Seafarer" has added valuable impetus to the "Go to Sea!" campaign, which we launched at IMO in November 2008, in association with ILO, the "Round Table" of shipping industry associations and ITF.
Above all, though, it is providing an excellent opportunity to reassure those that labour at the "sharp end" of the industry - the seafarers themselves - that those of us who work in other areas of the maritime community, and yet whose actions have such a bearing on seafarers' everyday lives, understand the extreme pressures they face and approach our tasks with genuine interest and concern.
Ladies and gentlemen, I see that you have a busy programme ahead of you and I will take up no more of your time. Let me simply conclude by urging you, in this "Year of the Seafarer", to miss no opportunity to convey, to the 1.5 million seafarers of the world, the message that the entire shipping community appreciates them and their indispensable services; is aware of the conditions under which they operate; shows compassion for the sacrifices they make; and really does care for them. I am confident that the discussions and outcomes of this forum will reflect those sentiments and add to the groundswell of positive sentiment that has been engendered throughout this very special year.
IFSMA's initiative to organize this seminar to coincide with the Conference in the Capital City of the country that supplies the largest number of seafarers in the world is commendable and I thank and, once again, congratulate them for that.