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European Maritime Safety Agency: “Looking forward: the evolution of EMSA’s tasks”

Safe and clean shipping – a regional contribution to a global issue

November 11, 2011

European Maritime Safety Agency
Maritime Conference “Looking forward: the evolution of EMSA’s tasks”
Safe and clean shipping – a regional contribution to a global issue
11 November 2011
Speech by E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO

Chairman of the EMSA Administrative Board, Executive Director of EMSA, Excellencies, Secretary of State of Poland, Admirals, Representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission, IACS and the EC Shipowners’ Association, Heads of international and national shipping organizations, fellow speakers and dear friends, Ladies and gentlemen, Good morning!
 
It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today, and I am delighted to have the opportunity both to participate in this conference and, on a more personal level, to bid farewell to my friends and colleagues, Jørgen and Willem. This is a gathering I would not miss for the whole world.
 
I have been asked to speak on the contribution that a regional agency, such as EMSA, can make to a global issue, namely safe and clean shipping. If you will permit me, I might add “secure” to that list, too. Not only are these aspirations of vital importance to international shipborne trade and the industry, they are also universal: we can all espouse them and we can all strive to achieve them. And, because of this, an important objective for me, during my time as Secretary-General of IMO, has been to build a harmonious working relationship between the Organization, shipping’s global regulator, and bodies that have regional responsibilities in this regard. Let me say from the outset, that the response I have had from “Europe”, collectively, has been exemplary, and, as such, has been, for me, a source of great satisfaction.
 
I do not think anybody could dispute the need for an international agency with a global mandate to regulate shipping at the global level. It stems from the fact that shipping is perhaps the most international of all the great industries of the world. The ownership and management chain surrounding any particular vessel can embrace many different countries; it is not unusual to find that the owner, operator, shipper, banker, charterer, insurer and the classification society, not to mention the officers and crew, are all of different nationalities and that none of these are from the country whose flag flies at the ship’s stern nor, indeed, from the country in which the ship was built.
 
Moreover, because shipping’s prime physical assets – the ships themselves – move continually between countries and between different jurisdictions, there is an over-arching logic in favour of a framework of international standards to regulate the industry. Without internationally recognized and accepted standards, you might have the ludicrous situation that a ship leaves country A bound with cargo for country B, fully compliant with country A’s requirements for ship design, construction, equipment, manning and operation, only to find that country B has its own, different requirements. Clearly there has to be a common approach, so that ships can ply their trade smoothly and unimpeded around the globe and countries receiving foreign ships can be confident that, in accepting them in their ports or offshore terminals, they do not place their own safety, security and environmental integrity at an unreasonable risk.
 
I would, of course, preach to the converted if I rushed to explain that it is IMO, with its 170 Member States, that develops and adopts these international standards. And, at the risk of blowing our own trumpet, I think that shipping’s continually improving record, in terms of safety and environmental impact, bears witness to the fact that we are doing a good job.
 
I stress the word “we” because all the members of the European Union are, also, Members of IMO. Moreover, many of them – most of them, I should say – are active and influential participants in the work of the Organization. While there can be no denying the gradual eastward shift in global shipping’s overall centre of gravity, it is equally true that some of the finest shipping minds are still to be found in Europe. Drawing on the accumulated experience and know-how of many generations, they bring insight and authority to IMO, from which shipping’s international regulatory framework emerges.
 
The highly-respected, yet often different, views of the European countries are of enormous value in establishing the technical foundations that underpin the regulatory framework.  One can, of course, observe increasing efforts to reach consensus among the countries of Europe on many of the issues discussed at IMO. But there is no doubt that the participation of European nations in the Organization’s work individually adds intellectual rigour to the process, and does much to ensure that the outputs are technically sound, well-balanced and workable.
 
The European Commission, on the other hand, as an entity in its own right, has observer status at IMO – in which capacity it makes a very positive contribution to the work of the Organization. As part of my efforts to build strong links between IMO and Europe, I have made a point of regularly meeting the European Commissioners for Transport, Environment, Climate Action and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries to ensure that there is a good channel of communication between our organizations, and that areas of mutual concern can be discussed and addressed. The result is a good working relationship, which operates to the benefit, not only of the organizations themselves, but also of the stakeholders whose interests we serve, and the public at large.  It is based on the common understanding that, on global issues, IMO legislates and the Commission, through its executive branch, EMSA, seeks the implementation and enforcement of the IMO standards in European ports and European waters.
 
While the global regulations developed and adopted by IMO are wide-ranging and cover most aspects of international shipping – from the Naval Architect’s CADCAM package to the recycling facility, you might say – no set of regulations, however comprehensive, will be of much value unless they are properly implemented. And, of course, with very few exceptions, IMO cannot – does not – get involved in matters of implementation and enforcement – arenas in which regional organizations, such as EMSA, have an important – indispensable, I would suggest – role to play.
 
There are numerous examples of EMSA’s activities and capabilities on the technical front, serving to underpin and enhance IMO’s international regulatory framework by ensuring proper implementation. In the realm of Port State Control in European waters, for instance, EMSA manages the Thetis database and delivers joint training programmes for port State control organizations. It has also undertaken to develop and operate EU traffic monitoring systems, notably the SafeSeaNet, as well as the system management of the EU Data Centre Long-Range Identification and Tracking of Ships. In addition, EMSA monitors oil spills in European sea areas and helps in the implementation and enforcement of the MARPOL Convention by identifying polluters through the Clean Sea Net satellite service. EMSA has also an operational pollution response task-force, and operates a fleet of 20 pollution response vessels (in a public-private partnership), which are spread along the EU coastline. There are, of course, many more examples I could mention – but I am sure you know them all much better than I do!
 
Not everything EMSA does is restricted to the regional sphere: the inspection of EU-based Recognized Organizations, for example, which includes several major classification societies, is carried out on a global basis, as is the inspection of national maritime training institutes in all seafarer-providing countries issuing diplomas recognized by the EU and its Member States – an activity that supports the IMO Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers.
 
From all this, it is not difficult to conclude that EMSA has come a long way since it first went operational back in 2003. From a staff of just 6 persons with, initially, no fixed abode, EMSA now employs some 240 people and is housed in this splendid, almost new, permanent headquarters building, in the opening of which it was my pleasure to participate in 2006.
 
That EMSA has, in such a short space of time, developed into such a sizeable, capable and effective agency is entirely fitting, given the maritime heritage of Europe and the importance of shipping to its members. No one could argue with the assertion that shipping and the maritime world, as a whole, constitute an integral part of the region’s identity and prosperity. Consider, for a moment, that, in terms of volume, some 90 per cent of trade between Europe and the rest of the world is carried by sea. Among several EU Member States, short-sea shipping has become a key element in reducing congestion, ensuring territorial cohesion and promoting sustainable
development throughout the continent. Passenger ships and ferry services have a direct impact on the quality of life of citizens in islands and peripheral regions, as shown by the more than 400 million passengers that travel through European ports each year.
 
Not only that, but Europe plays a major part in today’s global maritime world. I already mentioned the central role that European countries continue to undertake in the shaping of IMO’s objectives, policies and strategies.
 
European owners and shipping companies own more than 40 per cent of the world’s total fleet by deadweight tonnage, while, in Europe today, 1.5 million people find employment in maritime transport and related activities – and some 70 per cent of shipping-related jobs are onshore, in areas such as shipbuilding, science, naval architecture, engineering, electronics, marine equipment manufacturing, cargo-handling and logistics.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, some of you were, I know, present in Poland in May, when I had the privilege to address a conference to mark this year’s European Maritime Day.  As I remarked on that occasion, “the countries of Europe, and others around the world, are now clearly recognizing the major contribution made by maritime activities to their economies and to the well-being of their people. There is a manifest acknowledgement that sea-based activities are both an essential element of, and a challenge to, sustainable development, and their intensification poses a significant test. A comprehensive, coordinated approach, ensuring safety and security in maritime transportation and sustainable development of the different sea resources and activities is the Holy Grail of maritime policy.”
 
With Europe’s Integrated Maritime Policy providing the blueprint for such an integrated approach, and with EMSA acting as the operational arm ensuring that the policy makers’ aspirations are met in practice, Europe’s maritime domain could hardly be in better hands. And it is through this mechanism (to return specifically to the theme that I have been asked to address today), that Europe’s regional contribution to the global issues that are addressed by IMO, is maintained.  Accordingly, the Organization looks forward to a steadily progressing co-operation with EMSA and the Commission in support of our common objectives and, in particular, on joint initiatives, such as the SAFEMED programmes executed by REMPEC in the Mediterranean, which we stand ready to continue through any new phase that might be developed.
 
Much of the credit for Europe’s outstanding collective contribution to the issues I mentioned a short while ago can be laid at the door of a robust institutional model, with EMSA at its heart.  And, although I should not discriminate as to who should be credited with this achievement, I trust you will forgive me for offering a special tribute today to my old friend and colleague in the pursuit of quality shipping, Willem de Ruiter. Willem, who steps down from his position as Executive Director of EMSA at the end of this year (all great men step down at the same time – what?...) is a veteran of the European Commission, having been appointed to the Directorate General for Energy and Transport as long ago as in 1985. Since then, he has served shipping and Europe with great distinction, displaying a deep understanding of the issues that have confronted them and him and a willingness and preparedness to seek effective and workable solutions and to see them through. There are so many examples one could cite, but I think his tenacity in seeking Europe’s thorough and comprehensive response to the Erika and Prestige disasters deserves a special mention in this context.
 
At the beginning of 2003, he was appointed as the first Executive Director of EMSA. That, just eight years later, he is able to pass on such a well-established, respected and, above all, effective institution, is testimony not only to his vision and foresight but also to his immense dedication, firm and unbendable attitude and strong determination. I was prepared to paint Willem as the man that has “the skill, courage and human qualities that mark out all great leaders”, when I realized these were the words used by Andrew Lambert to highlight, in his book entitled “Admirals”, the charismas of another great Dutchman, Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, hero of the third Anglo-Dutch War of 1672. 
 
But it seems that “great” is in the genes of every Dutchman that bears the same name!...  With Willem, I have something very important in common: we are both married to Dutch women – so, we understand each other well!... Willem, you will be missed, that much is certain – as indeed will Mr. Jørgen Hammer Hansen, the distinguished and widely respected Chairman of EMSA’s Executive Board, who also steps down at the end of the year – but, in Jørgen’s case, this would not come as a surprise as he had, before joining the Agency, earned his spurs at the battlefield of IMO!... Gentlemen, your shoes will be hard to fill!
 
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a packed agenda and a host of distinguished speakers to listen to, in what promises to be a fascinating morning. So I will conclude by using this opportunity to bid you all my own farewell. It has been a pleasure to work so harmoniously, constructively and fruitfully with so many of you over many years – especially during my time as Secretary-General of IMO.  Throughout my international career, I always tried to adhere to the motto “To bridge gaps – to build bridges”, and I like to think that, between us, we have built an unbreachable link – one that is strong and solid and, as such, is destined to serve well all those who rely on a safe, secure and clean shipping industry for many, many years to come.
 
Thank you.
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