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Maritime Interests and the role of the training of seafarers

Almirante Storni Conference, Buenos Aires

October 6, 2010

Maritime Interests and the role of the training of seafarers
Remarks on the importance of the maritime sector to the world economy and the principal issues on IMO’s agenda
Almirante Storni Conference
Buenos Aires
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Keynote speech by Efthimios E. Mitropoulos
Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization

Minister, Ambassador D’Alotto, Dr. Lorusso, Chiefs of the General Staff, Excellencies, Secretary General, distinguished guests, members of the maritime community of Argentina, ladies and gentlemen,
 
I am delighted to be with you today and to have the opportunity to say a few words at this Conference, which marks the beginning of several activities forming part of this year’s World Maritime Day Parallel Event being hosted by the Government of Argentina, to whom I express the gratitude of the whole of the International Maritime Organization, as well as my own.
 
Argentina is a staunch supporter of IMO and a valuable contributor to the work of the Organization and for that I thank wholeheartedly the Government, the Navy and the Prefectura Naval.  With an extensive coastline, Antarctica, SAR : a true and genuine maritime nation.
 
One of the principal reasons for celebrating a Parallel Event, to mirror our celebrations at IMO Headquarters each year, was to ensure that the positive momentum generated by World Maritime Day could be felt in as many different parts of the world as possible. Judging from the programme that has been put together for the next few days, it becomes very clear that Argentina has taken up the gauntlet with customary enthusiasm and aplomb and, for that, I thank and congratulate all parties involved.
 
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Ladies and gentlemen, we live in a global society, which is supported by a global economy. Shipping plays a vital role in this, underpinning international commerce as the only effective delivery mechanism for the vast majority of world trade.
 
The maritime industries have seen enormous change in recent years. And, today, they stand poised on the brink of even more change. As always, change is primarily driven by economic considerations; but environmental-, safety- and security-related concerns now exert a stronger influence than ever before. What cannot be ignored or denied is that shipping has become a global transport system capable of moving millions of tons of cargo and thousands of passengers safely, efficiently and in an environmentally-friendly manner each day – not to mention that it does so at a fraction of the cost required by other modes of transport.
 
Having said that, there is equally no denying that, from an economic perspective, the maritime sector has had to batten down the hatches to weather the financial storms that have rocked the global economy in the past two years.
The green shoots of recovery have been observed and reported in several places around the world since the beginning of the year but the plant that supports it is tender and requires care and attention. However fragile the recovery may be, one thing of which we can all be fairly certain is that, no matter how global markets may contract, expand or otherwise metamorphose, there will always be a demand for ships and shipping.
 
Decade on decade, seaborne trade has continued to grow and, with global commerce and the world’s population predicted to continue to rise, the demand for shipping can only increase. The reality is that, in good times and bad, hundreds of millions of people all over the world rely entirely on ships to transport the great multitude of commodities, fuel, foodstuffs, goods and products on which we all depend. 
 
Yet, for most of those people, shipping, together with the huge range of related activities in the maritime sector, does not register a particularly strong echo on their personal radar. The very nature of shipping makes it something of a “background” industry.  For most people, most of the time, ships are simply “out of sight and out of mind”.
And the same, as a consequence, can be said of the seafarers that operate the world’s shipping fleet, despite the fact that international trade and the global economy depends utterly on their services.  Seafarers are, in effect, the lubricant without which the engine of world trade would simply grind to a halt.
 
At IMO we pay great attention to the human element and the training of seafarers so that, in turn, they may sail, safely and efficiently, today’s technologically and sophisticated ships. 
 
That, and the well-known global shortage of merchant marine officers was one of the reasons behind IMO’s decision to make this year, 2010, the Year of the Seafarer. And when, tomorrow, we celebrate the World Maritime Day Parallel Event, here in Buenos Aires, we will examine several of the issues that confront seafarers these days and this, I am sure, will help draw attention to the unique circumstances within which seafarers spend their working lives while rendering their indispensable services to the benefit of all of us.
 
During this, the Year of the Seafarer, we have, among other things, tried to highlight the many hazards faced by them during their working lives. Inevitably, there has been considerable focus on acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships, which, apart from being a threat to trade, have a significant and personal impact on the seafarers involved, especially those taken hostage for ransom, and constitute a major challenge for IMO and the global maritime community.
 
The presence of naval forces in the piracy hot spots off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden has, of course, had a welcome positive effect. But it is worrying that the perpetrators of these unlawful acts appear to have moved their activities further offshore, into the wider Indian Ocean and into waters as far south as the Seychelles.
While recognizing that the root causes of piracy in the area mentioned must be addressed on the Somali land, IMO is doing everything in its power to restore safety of navigation in the wider region, acting, to that effect, in unison with the United Nations and other UN agencies, political and military alliances and several industry organizations.
 
The list of measures we have either initiated or been involved in is a long one; we have, for example, raised awareness of the issue and successfully called for action within the UN Security Council; participated actively in the work of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, established within the context of an ad hoc Security Council resolution; issued advice to Governments, shipowners, ship operators and seafarers about practicable avoidance, evasion and defensive measures ships sailing through the troubled waters should take; worked out, with NATO and the World Food Programme, a system of co-operation to ensure safe delivery of humanitarian aid transported by sea to Somalia; and co-operated with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN Department of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea to assess the extent to which existing legislation provides a sufficient basis for the prosecution of alleged pirates.
 
In 2009, IMO developed the Djibouti Code of Conduct, which has so far been signed by 16 States from the affected region and provides a framework for co-operation on the investigation, arrest and prosecution of suspected pirates; the interdiction and seizure of suspect ships and property; the release of ships, persons and property subject to piracy; the facilitation of care, treatment and repatriation of seafarers, fishermen and other persons held hostage as a result of such acts; and the conduct of shared operations both among signatory States and with navies from other countries.
 
Looking slightly further afield, IMO has also organized advisory missions and workshops in several regions of the world to build counter-piracy awareness, coordination and co operation among States, including support for the establishment of arrangements similar to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, which has, through the efforts of its Contracting States, helped significantly to reduce the overall number of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships in that region, particularly in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.
 
Notwithstanding the relative success of the various and multi-faceted efforts so far made by the many parties involved to address the scourge of piracy, the IMO Council has recognized that much work still remains to be done and has decided that the theme for next year’s World Maritime Day should be “Piracy: orchestrating the response”. This will provide us all with an excellent opportunity, throughout 2011 and beyond, to maintain and enhance our efforts to galvanize worldwide support and resources for effective counter-piracy strategies and operations, at the same time transcending our perennial duty of care for the safety of those who go down to sea on ships.
Piracy may well be a key challenge as I mentioned before; but it has not diverted IMO’s attention from other arenas.
 
The Organization has continued to work on its core objectives of safety, security, facilitation or international seaborne trade and protection of the environment – both marine and atmospheric.
 
There is no doubt that the latter subject has, over recent years, held a certain predominance in our work, especially because the most significant challenge to our environment today is perhaps the preservation of the earth’s atmosphere. Although the shipping industry is a relatively small contributor to the total volume of harmful emissions (standing at less than 3 per cent of the world total on 2007 data), IMO and the shipping community at large are, nevertheless, continuing to work towards combating atmospheric pollution, as well as limiting or reducing emissions of greenhouse gases – thus adding our own contribution to the world efforts to address the worrying phenomena of climate change and global warming.
 
Atmospheric pollution is addressed in Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, or MARPOL.  It was adopted in 1997 and set, for the first time, limits on sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ships’ exhausts; prohibited deliberate emissions of ozone-depleting substances; and put a global cap on the sulphur content of fuel oil. In 2008, IMO adopted amendments to Annex VI, which entered into force in July of this year, providing for further reductions.
 
With regard to the emission of greenhouse gases from shipping, the Organization is in the final stages of developing a robust regime to regulate the matter at the global level.  This regime consists of three pillars: technical, operational and market-based measures – all designed to pave the way for significant reductions in GHG emissions.  Our Marine Environment Protection Committee, which met at its 61st session, last week, was able to make further, albeit smaller than anticipated, progress on all three pillars.  We now look forward to the next phase of the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún in November/December, when greenhouse gas emission issues pertaining to the transport sector will, among others, be considered.
 
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Minister, Ladies and gentlemen, I am aware that our time is limited and that there is so much more on IMO’s agenda that I could speak to you about. Each of our Committees and sub-committees has an overflowing work programme and it is a testimony to their collective diligence that the work continues to be completed within the agreed timescales. So allow me, in conclusion, to return to the theme of this year’s World Maritime Day, which, perhaps more than any other, is one that needs to be kept constantly in the forefront of IMO’s thoughts and actions. That is why I am particularly pleased that the Manila Conference which, earlier this year, adopted major amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers and its associated Code, decided to designate the 25th of June as the “Day of the Seafarer”, to be celebrated each year henceforth. I call on all of you to mark this day in your diaries, and start planning now how you will promote and celebrate it in the years to come in order to pay the tribute that is so richly-deserved by seafarers the world over for their contribution to the wellbeing of society as a whole and each and every one of us individually.  I am more than confident that Argentina, a truly maritime nation, will celebrate the Day in 2011 and beyond with the passion and enthusiasm that should characterize all our activities with a bearing on seafarers and fishers. 
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you.
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