Keynote address via video by Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization
17 March 2010
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,
I thank Lloyd’s List for inviting me to address you today and for making it possible for me to participate in your event by means of a “virtual” presence since my schedule prevents me from being with you in person as you launch this important two-day conference on maritime manning and training in India.
The year 2010 will be an auspicious and important one for shipping, in general and the seafaring profession, in particular. In June, a diplomatic conference will be held in Manila to adopt an extensive set of amendments to the STCW Convention and Code to bring them both up to date with developments since they were revised and introduced in 1995; and to enable them to address issues that are anticipated to emerge in the foreseeable future. This is an extremely significant undertaking because, once the proposed amendments have been adopted and have entered into force, the necessary global standards will be in place to train and certify seafarers to operate modern ships, with their increasing technological advancement, for some time to come.
At the same time, the maritime community must come to grips with the long-predicted labour-supply shortage in the shipping industry – a shortage that may have been temporarily alleviated by the present downturn in global trade but which, nevertheless, remains ever-present. This makes it imperative for shipping to re-launch itself as a career of choice for the high-calibre, high-quality young people of today.
It was against this background of anticipated shortage and the traditional risks that seafarers face, exacerbated by the exceptional risks of the modern era (including the threat of piracy off the coast of Somalia, unfair treatment, denial of shore leave, abandonment, etc.) that “2010 – Year of the Seafarer” was selected as the theme for this year’s World Maritime Day.
The worldwide celebration of the theme will provide the opportunity to convey to the one-and-a- half million seafarers of the world a clear message that the entire shipping community understands and cares for them – and add impetus to the ongoing “Go to Sea!” campaign, which was launched by IMO in November 2008, in association with the International Labour Organization, the “Round Table” of international shipping associations and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
If shipping is to continue to serve global trade, while maintaining and improving standards, it cannot afford to ignore the shortage of worthy entrants to the industry. The evidence clearly suggests that, today, not enough young people (especially in the western hemisphere) seem to find seafaring an attractive and appealing career, although so many positive ingredients for such a venture are in place.
Yet, as we know, shipping has made great strides in recent years to become safer, more secure, cleaner, greener and generally more efficient and modern, and there can be little doubt that education and training will continue to play a big part in the future development of the industry.
Indeed, today’s ships are designed and built to standards more exacting than ever before. The emphasis must, therefore, now be to ensure that standards of training and certification, on the one hand, and manning, operation and management, on the other, are equally high, and it falls to countries like India, which is among the major suppliers of manpower to this most international of industries, to play a leading role, both in terms of quantity and quality.
It is my firm belief that, despite the numerical decline in officer-level entrants, shipping remains an exciting, rewarding and fulfilling career – a career that can take people almost anywhere, both in geographical terms and in terms of the sort of work they may finally find themselves doing. Seafaring is not only a satisfying and worthwhile career choice in itself, it is also a passport to a huge variety of related jobs ashore for which experience at sea will make one eminently qualified. Indeed, many dedicated professional seafarers are now serving in governmental departments, are superintendents and managers in shipping companies, maritime pilots and VTS operators and are, in general, scattered throughout all parts of the industry and in rescue coordination centres, after serving their early years at sea.
There now seems to be a greater awareness that, after a seagoing career in a responsible and demanding job, there are many opportunities ashore in related industries that rely on the skills and knowledge of those with seafaring expertise, and this is certainly a cause for encouragement. Management and communication skills, I.T. knowledge and familiarity with handling budgets are key requirements for many shore-side positions and, while many of these may currently be outside the formal technical standards required, they are, nevertheless, among the far broader set of attributes and competencies needed by the professional seafarer today. There is, therefore, a challenge for trainers and employers to ensure that these skills are developed and practised for the future well-being of the shipping industry as a whole.
Despite the challenges it presents – or perhaps because of them – time spent at sea offers a series of enticing advantages and unique opportunities. The potential for good wages, early advancement to positions of responsibility, opportunities to travel, good long-term career prospects, long holidays and the sense of doing something very different from just working in an office, have a universal and timeless appeal to many young people embarking on a career.
Seafarers render extraordinary service every day of their professional lives, frequently under dangerous circumstances, in delivering essential goods to the people of the world. They deserve our respect, recognition and gratitude and, during 2010, we, at IMO, are resolved to ensure that the world does take notice of their exceptional contribution and of the special debt that all of us owe to them. The fact that 1.5 million seafarers serve the daily needs of more than 6.5 billion citizens of the world is a remarkable fact that goes unnoticed or is taken for granted by most, but one that should be trumpeted loud and clear and here I paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous words: “never before have so many owed so much to so few”.
However, we cannot pretend that everything in the garden of seafaring is rosy; the industry needs more seafarers and it needs them to be increasingly well qualified and well trained. The impending revision of the STCW Convention and Code will provide a blueprint for solving the latter part of that equation, but that is only part of the story. Conferences such as this, in which related issues, including safe manning levels, stress and fatigue, seafarer welfare, recruitment strategies and employment practices, are discussed in the round, will help to fill in the gaps by increasing general awareness of the issues and exploring potential solutions and ways forward.
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Today, Indian seafarers are renowned all over the world for their skills, their knowledge, their integrity and their reliability – in short, their quality and professionalism. They are in great demand right across the shipping industry and can be found in positions of great responsibility throughout the world fleet.
Indian seafarers, and particularly Indian officers, have become familiar and welcome visitors in the ports and terminals of every continent. Their reputation is one of competence, efficiency, skill and dedication. They are liked, trusted and respected and have become a reliable source of quality personnel that shipping companies of all nations have come to depend on. The topics selected for discussion at this conference are a clear and welcome indication of the strong intention to ensure that this remains so in the future.
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Ladies and gentlemen,
The importance of sustaining and developing a high-quality manpower resource for shipping cannot be overestimated. The topics you will address during this conference are of great consequence and I, therefore, wish you every success in your deliberations. I look forward to receiving your conclusions and recommendations.