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Greek Presidency of the Council of the EU - Informal Maritime Ministerial Meeting, Athens

May 7, 2014

Greek Presidency of the Council of the EU - Informal Maritime Ministerial Meeting, Athens
7 May 2014
Working Lunch Theme: IMO World Maritime Day, 2014
"IMO conventions: effective implementation"
Speech by Koji Sekimizu, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization

Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is a pleasure to be with you today, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts and ideas with such an august group of people.
 
Let me say at the outset how gratifying it is to note the high priority that is being given to shipping and to maritime matters during Greece's presidency of the European Union Council. Given Greece's status as a maritime nation with a long maritime tradition, I suppose that is only to be expected; nevertheless, to see, in the formal programme of the presidency, such a firm commitment to the maritime sector and a clear recognition of the central part that shipping should play in an integrated and sustainable European transport network, is something that gives me great encouragement.
 
I have been asked to speak very specifically today about IMO's theme for World Maritime Day this year, namely "IMO conventions: effective implementation"; and again, I am delighted to see a specific reference to the need for the harmonized implementation of IMO measures throughout the European Union in the programme for the presidency. There is a clear understanding that implementation of IMO measures will have a beneficial effect on the safety of navigation, the protection of life at sea and the preservation of the environment; and that, together, these elements have a significant impact on the overall well-being of all the citizens of Europe.
 
Over the years, EU member States have been instrumental in helping IMO to develop and adopt a comprehensive portfolio of international conventions. Between them, they cover almost every technical and operational aspect of shipping and their combined effect has been to make shipping progressively safer, more efficient and more environment-friendly.
 
But the process of developing and adopting a convention is extremely thorough and, as a result, can be lengthy. The technical work, the debates and discussion, the negotiations and compromises can take years to complete. Then typically, a conference is held, the text is agreed, there are handshakes all round.
 
It sometimes can feel like the end of a process – but, in reality, it is far from that. Indeed, it should be just the end of the beginning. Because, as your presidency programme clearly recognizes, an IMO convention is only worthwhile and meaningful if it is effectively and universally implemented.
 
All the effort required to create an instrument that can be universally adopted may be meaningless if that instrument does not quickly become part of the international legal framework. This is why the theme selected for World Maritime Day 2014 is so important. Through it, we will have the opportunity to put a spotlight on those IMO treaty instruments which have not yet entered into force, or for which a slow pace of ratification and a lack of implementation are serious causes for concern.
 
Let me begin with some good news in this regard. On 14 April 2014, one of these instruments, namely the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007, was ratified by Denmark. Accordingly, the Convention will enter into force on 14 April 2015. I am also glad to report that another of these instruments, the Protocol of 2002 to the 1974 Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, has very recently entered into force, on 23 April 2014 – albeit some 12 years after its adoption.
 
But, despite this good news, I firmly believe that we can, indeed must, do more.
 
Top of my personal agenda in this respect is the Ballast Water Management Convention. As I have said many times before, there is no escaping from the need to prevent the global spread of harmful invasive species via transfers of unmanaged ballast water and sediments, because these harmful transfers are inherently linked to the expansion of trade and shipping.
 
This is, in my view, a risk management measure. The spread of invasive species is now recognized as one of the greatest threats to the ecological and the economic well-being of the planet. These species are causing enormous damage to biodiversity and the valuable nature of the earth upon which we depend. Direct and indirect health effects are becoming increasingly serious and the damage to the environment is often irreversible. Europe is no stranger to such invasions and has witnessed the harm caused by, among others, mitten crabs and zebra mussels. It is impossible to predict what problems may occur in the future, unless action is taken now.
 
Shipping simply cannot avoid this issue, and it is imperative that the best methods and the best technology available now must be deployed. No doubt development will continue, but any such work must be done under the active Ballast Water Management Convention once in force.
 
IMO spent more than 10 years formulating this legal instrument to deal with ballast water management. Another decade has passed since its adoption in 2004. There is an ever-growing number of type-approved ballast water management systems now available, including for ships with high capacity and high flow rate, and these are being fitted in increasing numbers.
 
We all know the serious concerns raised by the shipping industry on the process of sampling and control by port State authorities. The value of IMO is to discuss openly any issue raised by the industry, agree on global measures at IMO and then stick to IMO's measures and implement agreements reached at IMO, objecting to unilateral action. I understand that the industry will submit their proposals to the Marine Environment Protection Committee in October, and I hope Member Governments will seriously consider the industry's concerns and come to an agreement on how to proceed to the implementation of the BWM Convention.
 
The convention has already met its entry-into-force condition with regard to the number of ratifying states. All that remains is the threshold tonnage value of 35%, and I am hopeful and optimistic that this can be fulfilled before the end of this year, 2014, enabling the Convention to be implemented before the beginning of 2016 – and I cannot let this opportunity pass without, once again, urging any Government that has not yet ratified this Convention to do so, with the highest possible priority.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, although I have spoken about this particular Convention at some length, it is by no means the only one to which I would like to draw your attention. For example, another IMO convention on my radar of concern with respect to the need for speedy ratification and implementation is the Hong Kong International Convention on the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships. Having been adopted almost five years ago, and despite the fact that the whole package is complete, including all guidelines identified by the Hong Kong Conference and required under the Convention, it is disappointing that it has, to date, only attracted a single ratification by Norway – although France recently announced its intention to ratify it very shortly.
 
The Hong Kong Convention seeks to improve safety and environmental standards throughout the entire ship-recycling industry. The Hong Kong Convention may not be perfect; but it is the best and only workable instrument on ship recycling currently available for international shipping. It would both improve the safety of workers in this industry and enhance protection of the environment. Any efforts and initiatives of individual countries, or of regional groups of countries to facilitate the early ratification of the Hong Kong Convention, are of course to be welcomed; however, they should be in line with the Convention's framework and not seek to impose different or additional requirements.
 
Another important convention that has yet to meet its entry-into-force criteria is the 1993 Protocol relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels. The barriers to ratification of this Convention were addressed in the form of the Cape Town Agreement of 2012. This Agreement updates and amends a number of provisions of the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol. Once this has entered into force, it will greatly enhance safety standards for fishermen and fishing vessels and, thereby, significantly reduce the number of fatalities.
 
As regards the 2010 HNS Protocol, I am disappointed that the number of signatories has continued to stay the same, with eight countries having signed it, subject to ratification or acceptance, and that still not a single ratification has been secured.
 
Again I would urge all States to ratify all these conventions with all possible haste. The sooner these conventions enter into force, the sooner their benefits will be felt by the international community. During the course of this year, under the banner of the World Maritime Day theme, we will do all we can to encourage the ratification and implementation of all these instruments.
 
As well as conventions yet to enter into force, the wider and more complete implementation of measures already in place is also a major element of this year's theme. There is, as you can imagine, a long list of important activities in which we wish to make significant progress in the Organization's work this year and which will all contribute towards broader and more effective implementation of measures already agreed or in place.
 
Other high environmental priorities, for example, include the wider and deeper implementation of the IMO measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, including the Energy Efficiency Design Index for new ships and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan, together with the promotion of technical cooperation and technology transfer relating to improvement of energy efficiency of ships.
 
Another major concern of IMO for many years is atmospheric pollution from ships, and the Organization can point to a detailed and comprehensive set of measures aimed at reducing it. This work continues, with 2020 identified as a key target date for further reductions in the sulphur content of marine fuel. IMO is committed to carrying out a study on the likely availability of low-sulphur fuel in 2020 and I have voiced my support for proposals that this study should be carried out as soon as possible, without delay. We need a clear picture of the availability of low-sulphur fuel as soon as possible, in order to take appropriate actions in time to meet the target date.
 
I therefore welcomed the decision of the Marine Environment Protection Committee, last month, to instruct a correspondence group to develop the methodology for determining global availability of low-sulphur fuel oils. Subject to the Committee endorsing the group's progress report to its next meeting in October, the study can commence in earnest as soon as possible.
 
Of course, safety must always be the highest priority for IMO. One area in which improved implementation of existing instruments is urgently called for is accident prevention. My top priority target for IMO is that we should aim to work for a reduction of marine casualties by half, with the primary aim of saving the lives of passengers, as well as protecting those of seafarers.
 
The tragic passenger ship accident in the Republic of Korea, just before Easter, has emphasized just how important it is that we never relax our efforts to improve our safety system, whenever and wherever they happen. Apart from that tragic accident, 2,932 lives were lost over the last 3 years in the United Republic of Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and Bangladesh and other developing countries.  SOLAS is not applicable to domestic passenger ships and I will strengthen technical cooperation to improve the safety of domestic ferries.  Also, passenger ship safety is already high on the agenda of next week's Maritime Safety Committee meeting, reflecting the need to ensure a thorough and effective response is made to the Costa Concordia incident, which of course happened more than two years ago. I am looking forward to the Committee taking decisive action to further improve the regulatory system, which should lead the passenger ship industry to explore new approaches to future design and operation of passenger ships. The stakes are high, and if IMO cannot take the appropriate action, then nobody can.
 
One important area of IMO's work that embraces environmental and ship safety concerns is the development of a mandatory code for ships operating in polar waters. In recent years, we have witnessed increasing navigation of the Arctic northern sea route, not only by ships seeking a shorter route between the Atlantic and the Pacific but also through oil and gas exploration activities and increasing numbers of cruise ships bringing passengers to marvel at the majestic scenery of these extreme regions.
 
A universally accepted regulatory framework for vessels operating in these challenging conditions is essential – and the world is looking to IMO to provide that framework. A mandatory polar code is in the final stages of preparation at IMO. It is expected to be adopted by the beginning of next year, 2015, and to become effective at the beginning of 2017.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, I sense that the time allocated to this brief address is drawing to an end, so I shall stop there. I hope I have given you an insight into concerns and priorities facing IMO at the moment, and how we plan to make the most of our theme for this year in order to address them.
 
The inescapable logic of a global regulatory regime for international shipping is long established. The countries of the European Union have always been ready to fulfil their responsibilities as leaders in the development, adoption and implementation of global measures, through IMO, and I look forward to that continuing, both under the banner of this year's World Maritime Day theme, and into the future.
 
Thank you.
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