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Panama Maritime X Keynote address

February 13, 2011

Panama Maritime X
Hotel RIU Panama Plaza
13 February 2011
Keynote address by Mr. E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO

Mr. President, Mr. Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Maritime Affairs and Administrator of the Panama Maritime Authority, Excellencies, Permanent Representative of Panama to IMO, Representative of the Panama Canal Authority, President of the Steering Committee, Distinguished guests and media representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
It gives me great pleasure to be with you this evening, for the fifth time on the occasion of a Panama Maritime Conference and Exhibition – an event that was first held as long ago as 1993 and which is clearly going from strength-to-strength.
 
It seems entirely appropriate that what has become one of the shipping industry’s premier trade gatherings should be hosted here in Panama – a country that has long been a major player on the global shipping stage; and, to take the parallel a step further, it seems that, alongside the show, the nation’s maritime fortunes are also currently forging ahead. Indeed, both the twin foundations of Panama’s global maritime presence – the Canal and the ship registry – have enjoyed notable successes and passed major milestones recently.
 
In October last year, the one-millionth transit through the Canal was completed; and, in the same month, the daily tonnage record for the Canal was broken. The ambitious and extensive lock expansion project is underway and on schedule for completion in 2014, after which the Canal will be capable of accommodating more and even larger vessels; and, even now, there is already evidence that bigger containerships are returning to the Canal and that bulk carrier transits are also on the rise. So too is passenger ship traffic, providing a welcome emerging market for the waterway.
 
Success, too, has attended the ship registry, as it continues its push to achieve a reputation for “quality” – thankfully, not at the expense of “quantity” that it also cherishes. From the quality perspective, June 2010 saw the Panamanian register elevated into the Paris Port State Control Memorandum’s “Grey List”. And, last month, its status was upgraded once again, so that it now sits on the coveted “White List.”
 
Panama’s concern about safety, security and environmental protection was further manifested this afternoon with the inauguration of the national Data Centre under the Long Range ship Identification and Tracking system that will handle information from more than 8,000 Panamanian-flag ships – representing almost 25 per cent of the ships transmitting LRIT information worldwide.
 
This transformation has not happened by accident. A purge of older tonnage to the extent that some 65 per cent of the ships on Panama’s books are now less than five years old, coupled with the training and retraining of authorized surveyors deployed all over the world, has clearly paid dividends.  And yet the registry, with more than 200m gross tons of ships flying the national flag, still remains the largest and, therefore, most attractive to shipowners, in the whole world. This, surely, must have been the outcome of successful policies and strategies implemented over many years.
 
Panama’s maritime credentials are bolstered still further by the fact that it has also become a significant trade hub for the region, with expansion at Cristobal and Balboa a notable feature of recent years. It was, I think, quite appropriate that the one-millionth vessel to pass through the Canal was not a containership travelling from the Far East to Europe or vice versa but a bulk carrier bound for Cristobal itself, laden with 40,000 tons of steel products destined for local construction projects.  For its commitment to maritime activities, for its commitment to rendering quality services, Panama deserves praise.
 
Its universal recognition as a global power in the maritime world is, among others, reflected in its status as a Category A member of the IMO Council – which means that Panama is elected, and re-elected, as one of ten States with the largest interest in providing international shipping services.  This is a leadership role that, while bringing privileges, it also bears heavy responsibilities – which would, I consider, justify a call on Panama to continue the theme of improvement it has embarked upon throughout all aspects of shipping, including ratification of as many IMO conventions as possible and, this year in particular, in our efforts to tackle the scourge of piracy.     
 
As you may know, this year IMO is placing a special focus on measures to counter what has become a serious blight on the global shipping community and which, despite the numerous efforts from many sides that have been brought to bear so far, appears to be getting worse. It was against this disconcerting background that the IMO Council has decided that the World Maritime Day theme for 2011 should be “Piracy: orchestrating the response”.
 
To this end, we have developed an action plan designed to tackle the problem at all levels and, while time does not allow me to talk in detail about it today, you will be able to discern from the word “orchestrating” that combating piracy is not something that any single entity – be it an organization, a country, a military force – can do alone. 
It requires a concerted effort, which is what we pledged to undertake ten days ago when we launched the action plan at IMO in the presence of the UN Secretary-General. And I have no doubt that the maritime community of Panama shares the great concern we all have for seafarers from all over the world when sailing through piracy-infested waters – these days, off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the western Indian Ocean. Your joining our global anti-piracy efforts will send a strong message to seafarers that those who hold sway in shipping are supporting them and are making efforts on their behalf.
 
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Ladies and gentlemen, turning to the subject most immediately at hand, I see that, once again, the organizers of this Conference have identified almost all the key topics currently at the top of the shipping community’s agenda and have assembled an excellent team of speakers to address them. Given the success of previous similar conferences, this should not come as a surprise.  The next three days promise to be insightful, revealing, thought-provoking and, I have little doubt, instructive. The organizers of the Conference, therefore, deserve congratulations for their work; and, as for me, I cherish the opportunity to speak not only today, in this opening ceremony, but also tomorrow, at greater length, about a subject very close to my heart – the maritime industry and environmental protection.
 
It is, as ever, a pleasure to be here and I look forward with keen interest to the remainder of the proceedings. I wish the Conference every success and Panama the realization of its maritime aspirations.
 
Thank you.
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