3 October 2011
General opening remarks
By E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO
Mr. President, Ministers, Excellencies, Chairman of the IMO Council, Heads of international shipping organizations, media representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
What a pleasure it is to be with you once again at Maritime Cyprus – truly a major event on the maritime calendar since its inception in 1989 and one which, if anything, assumes additional gravitas through being held only every second year. You clearly like to leave the audience wanting more!
So, congratulations are very much in order to the Conference organizers: the Maritime Administration of Cyprus and the Cyprus Chamber of Shipping and Union of Shipowners.
These are tough times for the industry – 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.
So, what’s next in shipping?
As IMO’s competence does not extend in the commercial cum economic aspects of the industry, I cannot say with any authority – and, to read the markets, especially in this most uncertain and turbulent times, you need more than a very strong crystal ball – which, nonetheless, I do not possess.
As usual, the organizers of this Conference were spot on in picking the items that exercise everyone related to the shipping industry these days. The answers they are seeking to the three questions the theme of the Conference poses (Is shipping safe enough? Is it sustainable? Is there enough confidence?) are so pertinent and relevant 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. Was the recent, and continuing, spectacular growth of the world fleet wise? I am not so sure, especially if I place the expansion within the relatively slower growth of world trade and the resulting widening gap between supply of, and demand for, tonnage. How long will this imbalance last and when will the recovery in shipping commence?
When we met, here in Limassol, two years ago, the consensus view was an average three years. If that estimate was correct, then, next year we should move into the recovery stage – in which case, the green shoots of improving markets should, by now, be there for everyone to see. Are they there? I wish they were, although I cannot see them – but, of course, I am notoriously short-sighted!....
Where, however, I claim a good sight is in being able to follow quite closely – it has been my good fortune – developments in the shipping industry during the 50 long years I have been in its service. It has always given me enormous joy and satisfaction to witness closely, and to be part of, the tremendous changes shipping has gone through over that long time – especially, during my career at IMO – and to be able to watch, from that vantage position, the progress the industry has continuously made in serving the largest percentage of the transport needs of mankind.
As one would expect, it has not always been plain sailing and, over the years, we have suffered some serious accidents with heavy loss of life and environmental disasters. With the undeniable strong support of the industry, IMO’s response has, without exception, been prompt, decisive, comprehensive and thorough. Think of our reaction to the accidents involving the “Herald of Free Enterprise”, the “Estonia”, the “Scandinavian Star”, the “Braer”, the “Erika” and the “Prestige” (all of which, and others, regrettable as they were in causing loss of life and ecological catastrophes, presented unmissable challenges and opportunities to us to enhance safety and environmental protection) while the 9/11 terrorist attacks prompted vigorous action to protect our industry from becoming a soft target for those who may contemplate to harm it.
Can we claim the same success in the fight against piracy – in particular, off the coast of Somalia? Let us draw our conclusions in a short while, when we discuss the issue at the following session.
You may, now that you know I am about to pass the torch to my successor, ask how I have envisaged my role as IMO’s executive head and which are the fundamentals that should continue driving the Organization into the future. I will tell you.
As chief executive, I have strived to lead by example, set my priorities right; motivate, inspire and steer the Secretariat; provide advice to the Council and Assembly on the strategic and policy directions of IMO; serve as its Ambassador on the world maritime scene; and ensure that the Organization can meet evolving circumstances and turn challenges to opportunities for improvement in efficiency and effectiveness.
I have, invariably, stressed the need for international shipping to be regulated, in all technical respects, by the same global standards. Unilateral or regional standards would hinder the industry’s operations and development, and may impact on the effectiveness of any measures adopted to improve safety and protect the environment.
At IMO, all Members are treated the same way and, in our regulatory work, there is no room for any differentiation, as to the standards we adopt, between industrialized countries and emerging economies (as has been sought during the climate change debate) or between developed and developing countries – especially when the composition of today’s world merchant fleet is such that more than 70% of it (both in the number of ships and tonnage) is registered in developing countries.
At IMO, we also strive to make decisions by consensus, as thus made decisions stand better chances to be widely implemented on a global basis than those taken by vote.
I have always considered keeping the membership of the Organization united as one of my worthiest duties. A united membership finds it easy to make decisions by consensus. Helping to build consensus is one of the most rewarding – and perhaps the most tricky balancing act of all. “Tricky” yes, “insurmountable” no – especially if you accept that the gift of “communication” can open many closed doors and that the persuasive power of sound argumentation will leave apathetic only those who are not prepared to listen to the voice of reason. In this delicate and sensitive area of my duties, I have been well served by my motto: “To bridge gaps – to build bridges”.
Chairing the boards of the World Maritime University and the International Maritime Law Institute has been a fascinating and rewarding experience for me as I see these two fine institutions preparing young men and women for a promising career in shipping.
And what of the future?
Personally, even not in active service at the Organization, I will always consider myself in the service of shipping. This has been my destiny and that of my family for generations.
As for IMO, I cannot think of it moving away from what it does best: serving the industry, from the safety, security and environmental protection points of view, efficiently and effectively. But for it to be able to do so, it must continue to keep pace with developments in shipping and the wider environment in which it operates. The increasing inter-connectivity and inter-dependence of our global village means that decisions taken on many issues, including in the shipping arena, will often have social, economic and political ramifications – and we should, therefore, be ready and prepared to respond to any eventualities that may come our way convincingly and effectively.
The human element – and especially the seafarer – should continue to be at the heart of what IMO does. The Year of the Seafarer, which we promoted in 2010 – as well as the Day of the Seafarer, on 25 June annually – were designed to remind us of the indispensable role seafarers play in helping to achieve IMO’s objectives, raise awareness and have an impact on the political will needed to ensure that seafarer issues continue to be kept at the forefront of the agendas of our Member Governments. So, well done to the organizers for the session on “Seafarers/Human element” – I look forward to attending it.
And, while not a matter of regulatory substance, IMO has stepped up to the challenges presented by emerging, high-profile issues confronting civil society, such as the plight of trafficked people, famine and war refugees and economic migrants risking everything in their desperate wish to build a better life. At the same time, we are keen to respond satisfactorily to the challenge posed by climate change, which, having listened to your speeches at UNFCCC-organized Conferences, I know how close is to your heart, Mr. President. Which, of course, should not come as a surprise given the fact that the IMO body responsible for environmental matters, the MEPC, is chaired, in a singularly outstanding manner, by a distinguished son of Cyprus, Mr. Andreas Chrysostomou.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I address Maritime Cyprus for the last time as Secretary-General of IMO. I, therefore, consider it appropriate, while reiterating my deep-rooted faith in the shipping industry, to add that, although, in a rapidly changing world, changes and challenges are inevitably ongoing and it would be satisfactory to say that the ends are tied up on many issues, the reality is that shipping remains a dynamic industry in which, sometimes, the steady course to steer us through the storms may be accompanied by a relatively slow speed No matter how high or slow the speed may be, the course we set always aims at moving us forward to reach our goals successfully.
During my tenure of office, all those I turned to for advice (Governments and industry alike) responded most positively and I want to thank them wholeheartedly for their co-operation, support, understanding and friendship and for enabling me to live the dream: that of a united IMO making decisions by consensus and achieving, to the fullest possible, its objectives in the service of shipping. So, when, at the end of the year, I bid farewell, I shall take with me the fondest memories of the wonderfully rewarding time I have had in the service of IMO and shipping.