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ICS/ISF International Shipping Conference

September 14, 2011

ICS/ISF International Shipping Conference
14 September 2011
Keynote address by E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO

Heads of international shipping organizations, ladies and gentlemen,
 
I am delighted to be with you here today and pleased, as ever, to have the opportunity to participate in an event eagerly anticipated by the shipping community every year. I have said on many occasions that the more contact, collaboration and understanding there is between the shipping industry and those of us on the regulatory side, the better. We see the fruits of such collaboration between ICS/ISF (and the other Round Table industry organizations, for that matter) on the one hand, and IMO on the other, time and time again and there can be no question that both shipping and the environment have been well served by it.
 
These are tough times for shipowners – well, they are tough times for everyone, if the truth be told. Newspapers and TV screens bring us daily a grim litany: a seemingly never-ending economic crisis, social and political unrest, riots and demonstrations, natural disasters, global warming and climate change, famine and humanitarian disaster. All of these have an impact on shipping, either directly or indirectly, and it is in difficult times like these that the industry looks to its representative bodies for leadership and direction.
 
The topics you have chosen for this conference are, not surprisingly, exactly those with which the industry has been chiefly exercised during the past year or more. In fact, many of them – piracy, greenhouse gas emissions, safety, the environment, seafarer issues, commerce and trade – have, by themselves, attained such a high profile that it seems scarcely possible to have a realistic maritime conference without these issues coming under the microscope – especially at a time when, in defiance of the many negative trends in the world economy we observe almost daily, the shipping industry recently hit the record numbers of 85,000 ships, totalling one billion gross tons, worth almost 1 trillion US dollars.
 
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Of the many items on your agenda, I will address, in particular, piracy and ship-generated greenhouse gas emissions, which are also among those that occupy much of IMO’s time at present.
 
The escalation of piracy, particularly off the coast of Somalia since 2005, has been a matter of great concern to the maritime community prompting IMO to make combating it a central theme of its work this year.
 
The reality, of course, is that piracy (which a Chatham House report has found to cost the world economy between 7 and 12 billion US dollars annually) is too complex and has become too entrenched for any one entity to deal with it effectively. The United Nations, Governments acting collectively or individually, political and defence alliances, shipping companies, ship operators, ships’ crews, among others, all have a crucial part to play if shipping is to be rid of this scourge and the integrity of strategically important shipping lanes maintained.
 
What is needed is a collective effort, and that is why IMO chose “Piracy: orchestrating the response” as its theme for World Maritime Day 2011 in order to underpin its own work in this area this year and beyond.
 
To this effect, even before the year started, we devised, in collaboration with industry and seafarer representative organizations, a multi-faceted action plan, designed to address the problem at several levels. It draws heavily on the Organization’s considerable experience of tackling piracy in other parts of the world – most notably, in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and in the South China Sea.
 
We are seeking solutions in three distinct time horizons.  In the immediate term, our aim is to contain piracy, thwart pirate attacks and punish those responsible for such attacks; in the mid-term, our strategy is to undermine organized crime gangs to plan and mastermind pirate operations and make it harder for them to engage in, and conduct, such operations; while, the long term solution should be for the international community to help the people of Somalia to rebuild their country, including establishing law and order conditions such that crime will no longer be a preferred option for many of them.
 
Despite the number of pirate attacks continuing to cause concern, there is, however, some cause for optimism. The percentage of successful attacks has dropped, from more than 40 per cent in recent years, to less than 20 per cent this year – testimony, no doubt, to the effectiveness both of the naval presence in the region and of the successful implementation by ships of the industry-devised best management practices. The numbers speak for themselves: from 31 ships with a total of 714 seafarers in the hands of pirates in February of this year (when they peaked), the number of those held hostage at present has almost halved to 362 seafarers on 17 ships – although even one seafarer in captivity is one too many! And, of course, these relatively good news should not allow any room for complacency – on the contrary, we should intensify our efforts to rid the world of the scourge of modern day piracy.
 
It is crucial that the political will among those Governments that have the potential to make a difference is translated into their acting in a manner that matches their political ambition and the severity of the issue demands. Resources (in the form of naval vessels and military aircraft) being made available; legislation to ensure that pirates do not escape prosecution being expeditiously adopted and rigorously enacted; and strongly recommending that ships flying their flag comply, while sailing through piracy-infested areas, with the best management practices and, when transiting the Gulf of Aden, keep within the internationally recommended corridor – all these should be high on the agenda of, and acted upon by, Governments and all other entities affected by piracy as it presents itself in the western Indian Ocean nowadays.
 
It is unrealistic to expect IMO and the industry alone to provide a comprehensive solution to the problem – particularly since, although it manifests itself at sea, its roots are to be found ashore. Nevertheless, through our action plan and other initiatives, undertaken at various fora and levels, and in collaboration with all the other interested parties, we feel confident we will be able to make a difference where the problem is being most acutely felt – at sea.
 
The shipping industry deserves praise for the energetic and dynamic way in which it has engaged in international efforts to combat piracy. Its relentless pursuit of the common objective of eliminating the problem (not only off the coast of Somalia but anywhere in the world, most notably in the Gulf of Guinea) deserves praise, while its contribution to the work of IMO to expunge it is acknowledged with due appreciation.
 
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I turn now to the other major issue on IMO’s current agenda – our contribution to the world efforts to protect and preserve the environment.  Having achieved good results in our endeavours to prevent marine pollution (mainly pollution by oil), we have, for the last 15 years, focused our attention towards protecting the atmospheric environment. Here, we have been able to satisfactorily deal with the prevention of air pollution from ships, following which, and for the last five years, we directed our energies towards establishing a regulatory regime to control and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from shipping.
 
Although shipping is comparatively clean, environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient, it, nevertheless, remains dependent on burning fossil fuels and is, therefore, a contributor, however relatively small, to current levels of emissions of GHGs and air pollutants into the atmosphere.
 
Today, we all seem to have accepted that the way we do things is not compatible with sustaining an environment that can continue supporting human life in the long term and that we ought to change things. Perhaps nowhere has that realization been more apparent than in the recent breakthrough achievement of IMO to adopt the first ever mandatory and global GHG reduction regime for an international industry sector.
 
The control of GHG emissions from shipping has been a complex and difficult task from both a conceptual and a technical perspective, with its political connotations having proved to be just as difficult, if not more so, for the IMO Member States. What, first of all, measures were needed? How should they be applied, to whom and as from when? Should they be mandatory or voluntary? If mandatory, should they be introduced in IMO’s regulatory regime by means of an existing convention or through a new, stand-alone instrument? These were all questions with which the IMO Members grappled before, only two months ago, the MEPC adopted, through amendments to MARPOL Annex VI, a comprehensive set of technical and operational measures aiming at enhancing the energy efficiency of ships and thus reduce the volume of greenhouse gases they emit into the environment.
 
With the adoption of those measures, we will have something concrete to present at the next round of UN consultations on climate change scheduled to take place in Durban in November.  Which makes me optimistic that, against such a positive outcome, the Durban Conference participants will have no reason not to continue entrusting IMO with the regulation of shipping on the sensitive issue that they themselves agonize to bring to a successful conclusion after many years of hard work.
 
In the meantime and following the adoption of the technical and operational measures I just mentioned, the time has come for us to focus our endeavours on achieving equally good results in the third, and final, pillar of our work plan, namely, the market-based measures.  Here, I would caution that we proceed with due diligence and make decisions only after the debate, on the basis of well-founded argumentation, has been thoroughly exhausted.  Decisions made in a rush, possibly in response to pressure exerted upon us from outside, may impact adversely the good legislation we should aim at.  If we opt for a fast track process, then we may run the risk of legislation, which, while not achieving its objective of reducing CO2 emissions, may prove unnecessarily costly to shipping.  Prudence would dictate that we aim for substance rather than a half-baked bureaucratic solution.
 
And, as for the shipping industry itself, it is gratifying to see how determined shipowners are to add their contribution to the concerted efforts to reduce GHG emissions and how strongly they have rallied behind IMO in its own efforts to do just that.
 
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Ladies and gentlemen,
 
I must crave your indulgence for having focused the bulk of my speech on piracy and greenhouse emissions, as I observe that your conference will touch on several other topics as well – just as, by the same token, IMO’s work embraces so many other areas than just those that tend to grab the headlines.
 
We intend to emphasize this in 2012, the year that will mark the 100th anniversary of the ‘Titanic’ disaster. Though dreadful at the time, and attended as it was by such a large loss of life, nevertheless it can be looked back on as something of a watershed for safety at sea. I think it is fair to say that the ‘Titanic’ disaster prompted a new way of thinking about maritime safety, an acceptance that ships are not simply “out of sight, out of mind” once they leave port – and certainly not unsinkable. The most direct result of the sinking of the ‘Titanic’ was the adoption, in 1914, of the first ever Safety of Life at Sea Convention– and, of course, it is SOLAS, albeit much revised and updated ever since, that shapes so much of what the shipping industry does nowadays on the safety front.
 
So, we have chosen “IMO: One hundred years after the ‘Titanic’” as the World Maritime Day theme for 2012. We will use it as an opportunity to put the spotlight once again on IMO’s roots and raison d’être, safety at sea – an area in which the results of the collective efforts of IMO (as the industry’s regulatory body); the Organization’s Member Governments (acting as flag, port and coastal States); the shipowners; and the seafarers, are already impressive and should be recognized with due appreciation.
 
And while we will, obviously, focus primarily on what IMO has been able, since its inception, to contribute to the cause of safety, we trust that the industry, equally, will take the chance to highlight the enormous progress it has itself made since that ill-fated ship set out to break the record of the fastest crossing of the north Atlantic.
 
Indeed, it is encouraging to note how good the safety record of the shipping industry as a whole has become.  Proof of this can be found in a recent analysis published by Lloyd’s List Intelligence Casualty Service, which shows that, in the first half of this year, the number of reported vessel casualties fell, year-on-year, by 18 per cent to a total of 1,138 – despite a rise in the number of ship movements worldwide. The analysis suggests a number of reasons for this encouraging drop, including the progressive lowering of the average age of the global fleet, with a large influx of newbuildings featuring safer designs and more sophisticated equipment replacing more vulnerable older tonnage as it heads for the recycling facilities.  Such good results should, rightfully, be attributed to the efficiency of the IMO legislation and the good implementation and enforcement of the Orgainzation’s standards by Governments and the industry alike.
 
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Safety at sea following the ‘Titantic’ disaster apart, next year we will continue working together with affected countries, the UNHCR, FAO and WFP to reduce the unacceptably high number of lives lost every year among persons fleeing famine or political unrest, who use overcrowded sub-standard ships to carry them away in search of a better life.  During the first seven months of this year alone, there have been over 51,000 such fellow human beings arriving in Italy alone from Libya and Tunisia, with more than 1,500 persons reported dead, missing or unaccounted for – compared with 48,800 refugees arriving in Yemen from Ethiopia and Somalia with 122 lives reported lost in the process.
 
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Ladies and gentlemen,
 
With shipping efficiently serving more than 90% of global trade, meaning that the world economy cannot do without it, it becomes more than obvious that the industry deserves a far higher and better public profile than it currently enjoys. 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 they need – but how many of them realize it, I wonder? Over many decades, shipping has actually become safer and cleaner, not to mention more cost-effective. Indeed, you could argue that it is something of a testimony to the ever-improving safety and environmental record of the industry that it is able to go about its business so quietly, largely untrumpeted and unsung and generally unheralded. That is why we, its servants, should not miss a single opportunity to express our pride of its achievements and accomplishments.
 
Shipping has a history and a tradition that few others can match. And it remains as relevant to the modern world as it ever has been – perhaps even more so. The legacy that we should, therefore, hand down to those, who will succeed us one day, should be one of an efficient and effective industry, one that goes about its business in a united manner – an industry in which its two cornerstones, shipowners and seafarers, deliver the goods in full, creative and harmonious co-operation among themselves and both with the industry’s regulatory body. Let this be my wish now that I bid you farewell.
 
Thank you.
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