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3rd Annual Chemical & Product Tanker Conference

March 8, 2011

3rd Annual Chemical & Product Tanker Conference
Tower Hill Hilton, London
8 March 2011
Address by Mr. E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO

Chairman, IPTA Chairman and General Manager, Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
 
Let me begin by thanking the organizers, IPTA, for inviting me to address this third annual Chemical and Product Tanker Conference.  I find the event particularly interesting, indeed stimulating, because yours is such a highly specialized sector of the shipping industry and, because of that, it presents unique challenges to those who operate within it. And yet, still more of the matters that concern you, and which currently exercise those who tread the corridors of IMO, are common to merchant shipping as a whole, regardless of sector or specialization.
 
Before I move on to matters common to both IPTA and IMO, I consider it worth dwelling for a moment on the unique nature of your sector. Chemical and product tankers are among the most sophisticated of all cargo vessels. It is not uncommon to find, among those of your members, vessels capable of carrying as many as 60 different types of chemicals, each of which may dictate its own conditions of carriage. Some cargoes require heating, others need refrigerating. Some must be carried in inert conditions, while others react violently with water and have to be handled in ultra-dry conditions. With other cargoes, corrosion is the risk, and these need to be carried in tanks made from high-grade stainless steel. And many more are flammable, explosive or give off noxious vapours.
 
The nature of the cargoes carried by chemical and product tankers and the patterns and structure of the trade mean that safety and environmental concerns require very special attention and that specialized training and certification is required for those who man such ships – it comes as no surprise, therefore, that the sector requires “specialist” regulation. IMO’s response to this has been commensurate and, as statistics prove, successful – while IPTA’s contribution to our work in various important areas of our regulatory tasks (e.g. SOLAS chapter VII and its attendant codes) has been vital and should not go unacknowledged.
 
For example, the mandatory use of nitrogen as an inerting gas has been the subject of intense debate at our Sub-Committee on Fire Protection in the context of its work on Measures to prevent explosions on oil and chemical tankers transporting low-flash point cargoes.  Finding an appropriate solution that caters for both the overall safety of the ship and the safety of individuals, who may have to enter inert spaces, is proving to be a significant challenge, but it is a challenge that we are determined to take and respond to satisfactorily. 
 
The dangers of entering enclosed spaces aboard ships are well known and yet, regrettably, they remain a common cause of seafarer deaths or life-threatening accidents.  Work on the revision of the relevant Recommendations is now complete for approval, in May, by our Maritime Safety Committee, which will also be invited to adopt guidelines for tank entry on tankers using nitrogen as an inerting medium.
 
Similarly, the Sub-Committee on Stability and Load Lines and on Fishing Vessels Safety is currently developing Guidelines for the verification of damage stability requirements for tankers, including chemical and product tankers.
 
The input of IPTA in the examples I gave and on several other items on IMO’s agenda has been invaluable in helping the Organization to reach conclusions that result in improved safety at sea and environmental protection.
 
I mentioned previously some of the peculiarities of parcel tanker design and, again, we are indebted to IPTA for, quite rightly, intervening in discussions at IMO on the subject of piracy to point out the particular vulnerabilities to pirate attack of these ships – ships, which are relatively small, relatively slow and have a low freeboard when laden – all of which render them obvious targets for pirates, who, like most criminals, will look for whatever seems likely to be the most vulnerable and, thus, offer them the best chance of success.
 
Against this background, it is entirely appropriate that you are devoting an entire session to piracy matters and my colleague, Mr. Trelawny, will talk to you in detail about IMO’s work on this topic. But allow me to set the scene and offer some general observations.
 
Piracy is a problem that has blighted all sectors of shipping for far too long. Innocent seafarers bear the brunt of it while the world economy suffers an annual cost that is now estimated to be between 7 billion and 12 billion US dollars. Moreover, recent events indicate that the perpetrators of these unlawful acts, who, in the case of Somalia, engage in kidnap and ransom, are becoming bolder, more audacious, more violent and seem to be better organized. There are around 700 seafarers on about 30 ships currently being held hostage and the average period for which they are being held is more than 6 months.  Unconfirmed data reveal that of the 185 ships hijacked off Somalia, at least 30 were chemical tankers.   All this leaves us with only one path to take: we must redouble our efforts and coordinate our actions to expedite the end to this merciless trade.
 
Last year, the IMO Council agreed to make combating piracy a central theme of IMO’s work during 2011. To this end, we have developed a multi-faceted action plan designed to address the problem at several different levels. As an indication of how strongly the international community feels about this matter, the UN Secretary-General came to IMO Headquarters last month to help us launch this effort and add his personal support to it.
 
The “theme” that will underpin our anti-piracy work this year speaks of an orchestrated response – a reflection of the fact that the problem has become too entrenched and deep-rooted to be solved by any single entity. The United Nations, Governments acting collectively or individually, military forces, shipping companies and operators such as yourselves, ships’ crews and several others all have a part to play and we all need to do what we can in what must be a collective effort.
 
Time does not permit me to present an exhaustive overview of our anti-piracy action plan. But let me give you a flavour of the objectives we are pursuing. During 2011, we will seek to:
 
• one: increase pressure at the political level to secure the release of all hostages being held by pirates;
• two: review and improve the IMO guidelines to Administrations and seafarers and promote compliance with industry best management practices and the recommended preventive, evasive and defensive measures ships should follow;
• three: promote greater levels of support from, and coordination with, navies;
• four: promote anti-piracy coordination and co-operation procedures between and among States, regions, organizations and industry;
• five: assist States to build capacity in piracy-infested regions of the world, and elsewhere, to deter, interdict and bring to justice those who commit acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships; and
• six: provide care, during the post-traumatic period, for those attacked or hijacked by pirates and for their families.
It is unrealistic to expect IMO to supply the “magic bullet” to solve the problem. Nevertheless, through these, and other initiatives, and in collaboration with others, we feel we can make a real difference. But I think Mr Ban hit the nail on the head when, at the launch of our action plan, he said: “although piracy manifests itself at sea, the roots of the problem are to be found ashore”, before adding “piracy is a criminal offence that is driven by economic hardship, and that flourishes in the absence of effective law enforcement. The only truly successful way to address the problem in the long-term is through a strategy that focuses on deterrence, security, the rule of law and development.”
 
In the meantime, no effort should be spared to alleviate the situation and, in that context, it would be remiss of me not to stress that the shipping industry has a duty to protect itself. That is not to say that the industry is not fully engaged in what we try to achieve through our anti-piracy campaign.  On the contrary, the industry’s representative bodies have, ever since piracy manifested itself as a major threat to seafarers and international shipborne trade, been in the forefront of any effort to tame it.  Their initiative, launched last week, under the title “Save our Seafarers”, is most commendable and should be supported in any way possible.  Nevertheless, shipping companies must ensure that their ships rigorously apply the relevant IMO guidance and industry-developed Best Management Practices in their entirety. Any ship – every ship – venturing into the western Indian Ocean region must comply with the recommended measures:  too many large ships seem to think they are invulnerable, but experience has clearly shown that this is not the case – in particular when it comes to fully laden tankers with relatively low freeboards and slow steaming speeds. Again, I am not just talking about policies adopted at boardroom level but about making sure that, through whatever means necessary, these policies are put into practice by the people on board your ships. That is where it really counts.
 
And, as an afterthought: Should sailing races be organized, of all oceans of the world, in the western sea area of the sub-continent these days?
 
Having said that, I view our response to the menace today’s piracy presents off the coast of Somalia as a four-party business, with the respective parties each playing their part both within their individual sphere and collectively:
 
• regulators and industry should continue their work to create the necessary framework for effective action to stem the scourge, including reconsidering their position on issues such as the use of armed guards (military or non) on merchant ships;
• 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 will ensure that pirates do not escape with impunity from their criminal acts;
• all ships transiting piracy-infested areas should comply with the recommended best management practice guidance and measures – i.e. not only the reported 20-40%; and
• navies should continue their efforts to support and deter attacks, and intervene, arrest and forward pirates to be tried.  It should, however, be mentioned here that, of the 73 attacks reported so far this year, only 15 have ended in hijacks, demonstrating an almost 20% rate of success.
 
***
 
Looking at other matters on your agenda, I note, not with any sense of surprise, I must add, that you will also devote a considerable part of the Conference to environmental matters and, in particular, to vessel energy efficiency. There can be no doubt that atmospheric pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases are the environmental “hot topics” of the moment. Indeed, IMO, and the shipping community at large, have been working, for more than a decade, towards an effective regime to combat and reduce the effects of both.
 
I should hardly remind you that atmospheric pollution is addressed in MARPOL Annex VI, which was adopted in 1997 and set, for the first time, limits on sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ships’ exhausts; prohibited deliberate emissions of ozone-depleting substances; and put a global cap on the sulphur content of fuel oil. It also introduced the concept of Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) to allow for further emission reductions in specially designated sea areas.
 
Through amendments to Annex VI, adopted in 2008 and in force since July 2010, further reductions of air pollutants are due to be ushered in, progressively, over the next few years.
 
With regard to the emission of greenhouse gases, or GHGs, even though shipping is the most energy-efficient mode of mass transport and only a modest contributor to global CO2 emissions (2.7 per cent in 2007), this has not stopped our collective quest for further improvements in energy efficiency and emissions reduction, especially in view of the inevitable growth in sea transport in line with increases in global population and international trade. Indeed, we are in the final stages of developing a robust regime to regulate shipping emissions at the global level.  It consists of three distinct ‘building blocks’: technical and operational reduction measures (the development of which is at a very advanced stage) and market-based measures (on which the Organization is making good progress in pursuance of a work plan set to culminate this year).
 
The control of GHGs from shipping has been a complex and difficult task from both a conceptual and a technical perspective and, in my view, there can be no denying that the development of technical and operational measures is a substantial achievement worthy of considerable praise.
 
But the political aspects of the issue have proved just as complex, if not more so, making it difficult for our Member States to reach consensus on it. Following the most recent meeting of our Marine Environment Protection Committee in October 2010, some States, party to MARPOL Annex VI, proposed amendments to that Annex to make mandatory certain key aspects of the technical and operational measures to control GHG emissions.
 
Although circulation of the draft amendments was opposed by some other States, those measures are scheduled to be considered by the Committee in July with a view to adoption, ahead of the next meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Durban later this year.
 
Last October’s MEPC also debated extensively how to progress the development of suitable market-based measures for international shipping, following the submission of a comprehensive report by an Expert Group, which had carried out a feasibility study and impact assessment of several possible market-based measures submitted by Governments and observer organizations. An intersessional Working Group session, to be held later this month, will take this work forward and report to the next MEPC meeting.
 
Throughout all this, one thing that should not be overlooked is that the industry and its regulators share common aims. GHG emissions reduction is a quest on which we are jointly embarked and in which success will produce a “win-win” situation. After all, improvements in vessel efficiency will result in lower fuel consumption, from which everybody benefits, while also helping significantly to protect the world’s climate.
 
I believe that it is essential that the maritime community at large demonstrates that it has both the capability and will to take the required action on GHG emissions. The alternative is to risk that the responsibility for designing the most suitable response to the issue would be placed in the hands of people to whom the nuances of the shipping industry are less well understood.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, you have a full agenda and a “Who’s Who” of speakers from the shipping and chemical industries waiting to address you, so I will take up no more of your time. As ever, it has been a pleasure to have an opportunity to exchange information and ideas directly with representatives of the industry – a process I view very much as a two-way street; not only as a good chance for me to tell you about the concerns, priorities and challenges on IMO’s current agenda, but also to glean feedback from you about how things appear from your perspective.
 
I wish you every success with this conference which, I am sure, will be informative and thought provoking.
 
Thank you.
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