Canadian Maritime Pilots’ Association Congress
Halifax, Nova Scotia – 6 July 2011
The Role of the International Maritime Organization
Mr. Chairman, Presidents of the International and Canadian Maritime Pilots’ Associations, Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by reiterating my great pleasure in being with you here today in this historic maritime city, and I am delighted that you have asked me to speak about the role of IMO. Given that I have devoted a considerable proportion of my career to the service of that Organization, first as a delegate, then as a ‘rank and file’ member of the Secretariat and, latterly, as Secretary-General, I confess this is an assignment that I feel reasonably confident about!
The history of IMO is well documented but a brief recap here will, I am sure, help to provide some context for the rest of this session.
So, let us get the bald facts out of the way first. IMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations. The Convention by which it was founded was adopted in Geneva in 1948 and the Organization actually came into being 10 years later, once the Convention had been ratified by enough Governments to meet its entry into force conditions. Today, IMO has 169 Member States and three Associate Members; and a host of governmental and non-governmental organizations – including the International Maritime Pilots’ Association, of course – also participate actively in its work.
Our mission statement is ‘Safe, Secure and Efficient Shipping on Clean Oceans’ and, like all good mission statements, it is a simple enough sentiment behind which lies a detailed, multi-faceted and sometimes complex structure designed with the sole purpose of achieving those ends.
The uniquely international nature of shipping provides an irresistible argument in favour of a framework of international standards to regulate the industry – standards, which can be adopted by all and accepted by all. It is only through such a common approach that ships, complying with IMO’s standards, can ply their trade around the world while countries receiving foreign ships in their national ports can be confident that, in allowing them in, they do not place their safety, security and environmental integrity at an unreasonable risk.
The mainstay of IMO’s work over the years has, therefore, been the development of a regulatory framework for international shipping, based on a comprehensive body of international conventions, supported by literally hundreds of guidelines and recommendations that, between them, govern just about every technical and operational aspect of ships and the corresponding facet of the shipping industry – from the drawing board to the scrapyard.
No generalization can offer complete accuracy but, broadly speaking, IMO measures fall into three categories.
There are those aimed primarily at the prevention of accidents, casualties and environmental damage from ships in the first place. In this group are conventions setting standards for ship design, construction, equipment, operation and manning.
Then there is a series of measures, which recognize, despite the best efforts of all concerned, that accidents can, and do, happen, and which, therefore, try to mitigate the negative effects of such accidents. Rules concerning distress and safety communications; the provision of search and rescue facilities; and oil spill clean-up and response mechanisms, all fall into this category.
The final group is concerned with the aftermath of accidents and, in particular, with establishing a mechanism for ensuring that those who suffer the consequences of an accident – and this mainly, although not exclusively, refers to pollution victims – can be adequately compensated.
The first attempts at such a common approach date back to well before the formation of IMO. From the mid-19th century onwards, several international maritime agreements were put in place. A treaty concluded in 1863, for example, introduced certain common navigational procedures that ships should follow when encountering each other at sea, so as to avoid collision, and was signed by some 30 countries.
And the infamous Titanic disaster of 1912 spawned the first Safety of Life at Sea Convention, which, albeit completely modified and updated, and nowadays within the responsibility of IMO, is still the most important international instrument addressing maritime safety today. As an aside, just last week, the IMO Council decided that our World Maritime Day theme for 2012 should be “IMO: One hundred years after the Titanic”.
Returning to maritime safety, it was not until the establishment of IMO that the need for an international body to address such concerns was widely recognized. Its mandate was originally limited to safety-related issues but, subsequently, its remit has expanded to embrace environmental considerations; legal matters; technical co-operation; facilitation of maritime traffic; and issues that affect the overall efficiency of shipping – such as how to deal with stowaways or how a cargo manifest should be transmitted to the authorities ashore – combating piracy and armed robbery against ships; and, indeed, the whole gamut of maritime security-related issues.
As an example of how all of this works in practice, let us consider for a moment the beneficial impact the work of IMO has on maritime pilots. Potentially one of the most dangerous elements of your job is when you are called upon to board an inbound – or disembark from an outbound – vessel. The pilot ladder is a critical interface that clearly requires the highest standards and a standardized approach from all vessels. That is why requirements for pilot ladders are contained in the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (regulation V/23), in an IMO Assembly resolution on Pilot transfer arrangements and in a Maritime Safety Committee Circular on Required boarding arrangements for pilots.
And it does not stop there. IMO is continually reviewing the existing framework of standards, revising and updating wherever necessary. Last year, the Maritime Safety Committee completely revised SOLAS regulation V/23 and this revised regulation is expected to enter into force on 1 July 2012. The MSC also approved a new draft Assembly resolution on Pilot transfer arrangements, to replace the existing one, for adoption by the Assembly later this year.
And the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation recently endorsed a revised poster on Required Boarding Arrangements for Pilots, which is a graphic depiction of both the relevant SOLAS regulation and the new complementary Assembly resolution, highlighting the principal elements of safe ladder rigging for crew guidance.
IMO has also developed recommendations on training and certification and on operational procedures for maritime pilots other than deep-sea pilots, recognizing that, since each pilotage area needed highly specialized experience and local knowledge, it would be inappropriate for the Organization to get involved in either the certification or the licensing of pilots, or with the systems of pilotage practised in various States. However, considering that some States are still developing pilotage services, the Organization developed these recommendations as a contribution towards maritime safety.
Despite achieving this level of detail in so many maritime matters, by comparison with many other UN agencies, IMO is compact. We have a staff of a little above 300 members at our London Headquarters, drawn from around 50 different nationalities, and small regional offices in Kenya, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and the Philippines and an adviser in the Caribbean.
Although we do not have a massive field presence, the Organization as a whole does recognize that not all of its Members have an equal ability to implement the measures they agree to at IMO. Some lack resources, some lack expertise, some both. To this end, we have established an extensive technical co-operation programme, through which we try to identify particular needs among the resource-shy Member countries and match them to offers of help and assistance from those that are better off. Typically, this might involve arranging training, workshops and seminars on particular subjects at national or regional level. We have also founded and are supporting educational establishments (in Sweden and Malta) that offer advanced-level education in maritime subjects to students, principally from less developed countries.
The list of shipping-related topics that fall under the aegis of IMO is huge. But there are, of course, some things that we are not, have not or do not. We do not, for example, have executive powers and do not act as an enforcement agency; we do not have the mandate or the capacity to put teams of inspectors aboard ships and check their compliance with the standards we adopt.
We are not “operational” in the sense that we follow incidents and accidents at sea, such as groundings, collisions, explosions, etc. on a 24-hour basis – and we are not a court.
There is, of course, an International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, in Hamburg, but this is established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is not an IMO Convention. We do not get involved with issues such as definition of territorial waters, EEZs or fishing rights. Again, these are regulated by UNCLOS and fall within the remit of other international organizations.
So much for the history; what of the present day?
To summarize the current agendas of the Organization’s five Committees and nine Sub-Committees would be a Herculean task. Suffice it to say that each and every one of them is engaged in a series of major work items related to its speciality. As well as the work on pilot ladders and training that I spoke of previously, no doubt the pilots among you will pay particular attention to the work of the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation which, among many other things, includes advanced discussion over the development of a strategy for ‘e-navigation’ – something, which clearly will impact upon your discipline in the future and benefit from your input today.
From a broader perspective, I would mention, in particular, the work under way within the Organization in two areas – combating piracy and regulating greenhouse gas emissions from ships.
The first of these has been a concern of IMO for a considerable time and, this year, provides a central theme for our work. It is of grave concern to the entire shipping community that pirates have become bolder, more audacious, more violent and seem to be better organized. Moreover, their sphere of operation is expanding, too. Ships carrying oil out of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman are now firmly within their sights, soon after they have cleared the Strait of Hormuz.
IMO’s response has included a multi-faceted action plan designed to address the problem at several different levels and we are proceeding with its implementation in an orchestrated manner – 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, ship operators and ships’ crews, all have a crucial part to play in order to rid the world of the threat posed by modern day piracy.
It is unrealistic to expect IMO to supply an instant solution to this problem – particularly since, although piracy manifests itself at sea, the roots of the problem are to be found ashore. Nevertheless, through our action plan and other initiatives, and in collaboration with other interested parties, we feel confident we will be able to make a difference where the problem is being most acutely felt – at sea.
With regard to greenhouse gas emissions, we are now less than a week away from what promises to be a landmark session of IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee, when it will consider a proposal to make mandatory, under a new section on energy efficiency in Annex VI to the MARPOL Convention, a set of robust and efficient technical and operational measures that will, when fully implemented, result in a significant reduction of GHG emissions from ships.
At the same meeting, work will also be progressed on the development of market-based measures, the “third pillar” of IMO’s GHG reduction efforts. It is not possible to say, at this stage, what the outcome will be. But there does seem to be a ground gaining feeling among many Member States that strong action is needed – which makes me feel cautiously optimistic that we shall see a positive outcome.
Another item of particular interest to our MEPC is the designation of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas and Emission Control Areas, such as the one established recently to cover north Atlantic waters off the eastern and western coasts of Canada and the United States.
Looking to the future, it seems inevitable that revising and updating the existing body of IMO measures will remain the ‘bread-and-butter’ of the Organization’s work. But how strong, I wonder, will be the appetite for brand-new regulations? In this respect, the introduction of goal-based standards for ship construction is a change of emphasis that might well find favour in other areas of the Organization’s regulatory framework, too.
It is also quite possible that the IMO Members might want to give the Organization a more “robust” role, perhaps with regard to verification and compliance monitoring. The removal of the word “Consultative” from its title in 1982 and, more recently, the responsibility given to the Organization for verifying compliance with certain aspects of the STCW Convention show that such a concept is not entirely without precedent; and, perhaps, the Member State Audit Scheme, currently voluntary but set to become mandatory in less than four years, is one example of where such a strengthened role might be contemplated.
Although, however, the precedent has been well established in other UN agencies (not least in the Montreal-based ICAO), several of which regularly assemble and deploy inspection teams to verify compliance with international standards and agreements, I do not see such a thing happening in the maritime arena in the foreseeable future.
Developments in ship design, construction, equipment and overall technology may also herald the demise of some of IMO’s long-standing sub-committees as their work reaches a natural conclusion and, perhaps, the emergence of new bodies, with new specialities, as other issues – issues that may not be so easily accommodated within the existing structure – take centre stage. In this regard, one thing I would offer as a hope, rather than a prediction, is that piracy falls rapidly off the agenda as the measures now being taken to eradicate the problem begin to take hold.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Although founded as a strictly technical body, there is no doubt that the political and economic dimensions of the Organization’s work are becoming increasingly influential and IMO is adapting and changing accordingly. The effects of such a shift will, I am sure, become gradually apparent in the make-up and alignments of national delegations to IMO meetings. In other international fora, regional representation (with countries forming similar-interest groups, whether along geographical or political lines) is not unusual and we are already seeing this occurring within IMO too – and not always providing the best outcomes from a technical perspective, in my opinion.
We may also see changes in IMO’s processes and its working practices. Environmental concerns, for example, place a question mark against the long-term desirability of the kind of large-scale, “in person”, meetings that have been the principal modus operandi for IMO to date. Technologies, such as e-mail or video- and web-conferencing, seem likely to play a more prominent role in the future.
Also, on the subject of IMO’s working arrangements, I wonder whether the coming years might see an increase in the Organization’s currently rather limited presence in the field. As ever, it will be a matter of weighing the costs involved against the perceived benefits.
Finally, I think it is interesting to muse on some of the unforeseen events that have shaped the work of IMO in the past – one thinks, for example, of the disasters that befell the Torrey Canyon and the Exxon Valdez; the Herald of Free Enterprise and the Estonia; the Erika and the Prestige, or politically-motivated acts such as the hi-jacking of the Achille Lauro and the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington ten years ago and subsequently on the USS Cole and the tanker Limburg. All have had a profound influence on our work – as last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico may have. And, while we have to be prepared for others to be added to that sad litany, it is my profound hope that none shall.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, to conclude this brief resumé of IMO and its work. First and foremost, safety of life at sea should remain, and should always be, the predominant concern of our Organization. In pursuing the highest practicable standards in safety, we should, in the first place, seek to establish measures to prevent accidents, as the worthiest of all causes – along with measures to mitigate their impact on human lives when they do occur. We should constantly seek steady improvement in the safety record of international shipping, and always remember that prevention is much, much better than cure.
The same should also apply in the other of IMO’s twin responsibilities, the protection and preservation of the environment – both marine and atmospheric. Here, the excellent results of the measures adopted by the Organization – their value proven by a rigorous implementation and enforcement by Governments, industry and seafarers – give cause for reasonable satisfaction – especially, in stemming the introduction of oil in the marine environment resulting from the operation of ships and the occasional grounding or collision.
In the achievement of the good record that shipping currently has, both on safety and environmental protection, the contribution of pilots has been indispensable – and I thank you for what you have done so far and what you will be doing in the future: for, as long as there is shipping, there will be a need for pilots!
While there is always more that can be done, I think our track record thus far stands up to examination, and I have every confidence that the Organization’s course for the future is set fair.