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Seoul International Maritime Forum

Dinner speech

October 14, 2010

Seoul International Maritime Forum
14 October 2010
Dinner speech
by Efthimios E. Mitropoulos
Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization

Minister, Vice-Ministers for Foreign Affairs and for Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, Excellencies, Chairmen of the IMO Council and the Legal Committee, Distinguished guests and participants to the 4th Seoul International Maritime Forum, media representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
 
What a splendid occasion this is and how grateful I am, as ever, for the opportunity to be invited to come back to one of the global powerhouses of today’s maritime world. All too often I have bemoaned the fact that shipping is something of a background industry, one that hides its light under a bushel and whose huge achievements are rarely given the credit they deserve. But here in the Republic of Korea, I am glad to say, shipping enjoys a much more favourable profile. The industry and, in particular, certain sectors of it, such as shipbuilding and marine equipment manufacturing, has been an important component of the country’s growth and one can sense an enthusiasm and an optimism for shipping and many of its ancillary industries that is a pleasure to experience and to share.
 
The development of the Republic of Korea as a major shipping and shipbuilding nation in the second half of the 20th century, and now into the 21st, has been nothing short of phenomenal.
 
Geography itself has determined that the sea and shipping should figure prominently in your national identity. The Republic of Korea is a peninsular State, and peninsular, literally translated, means “almost an island”.  And, like any island, the Republic of Korea knows that maritime activities play a vital role in its growth and prosperity.
 
The country that hosts us these days has shown, from an early stage, an ever higher profile on the shipping industry’s international stage. It was as long ago as 1962 that it became a Member of IMO. Since then, it has played an important and active role in helping the Organization achieve its objectives of safe, secure and efficient shipping and reducing the negative impact of shipping on the global environment.
 
In 2001, the Republic of Korea’s contribution to IMO was duly recognized when the Assembly of the Organization voted her into Category A of Council Members – the category for the ten States with the largest interest in providing international shipping services – and in which category your country maintains her position ever since. There can be no doubt that the Republic of Korea, as a leading shipbuilding country in the world and owning large merchant and fishing vessel fleets, has a legitimate claim to belong in this category.
 
The Republic of Korea Government, supported by a strong maritime cluster, has clearly demonstrated its capacity to undertake the very real leadership responsibilities, which its role as a Category A Council Member carries in many aspects of IMO’s activities. Participating in IMO business through well prepared national delegations and making available prominent members of your community to chair IMO bodies is very much appreciated by the entire membership, as evidenced by our Legal Committee voting your Professor Lee sik Chai to chair its meetings.
 
The Republic of Korea has also demonstrated a keen willingness to make a positive contribution to the Organization’s technical co-operation work, with generous financial donations provided over the years in support of a wide variety of IMO initiatives. To help formalize these contributions, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed, in June 2003, between the Korean Government and IMO to financially support our Integrated Technical Co operation Programme, as well as the World Maritime University fellowship programme. Since then, it has donated a total of some three and a half million US dollars, making it one of the largest national donors to the ITCP.  And this total will soon rise to 4.1 million dollars following this morning’s pledge by H.E. the Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs of another US$600,000 for our technical co-operation activities.  Thank you, Minister.
 
Since 2004, the Republic of Korea Fund has sponsored a total of 30 WMU students in fellowship support, which amounts to some US$200,000 per year. Of the 30 fellows, 13 were Republic of Korea nationals and the rest have come from various developing countries. If that was not enough, it also organizes and provides financial support, for field studies to this country each year, for WMU students enrolled in the Maritime Safety and Environmental Administration courses.
 
In the same context, I should also like to mention the Republic of Korea’s generous support for the Marine Electronic Highway project – the MEH – for which the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs has already provided US$850,000 for the project’s Data Centre in Indonesia.
 
Against the background of such generosity, I feel extremely pleased of being provided with this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to the Republic of Korea for all it does for IMO, thus enabling the Organization, along with other kind donors, to provide valuable technical assistance services to developing countries, including in the area of marine environmental protection.
 
Our host country’s support goes not only towards training and education and forward-looking initiatives, such as the MEH. It also extends to some of the very real problems facing shipping today.  To be more specific, the Republic of Korea has been a very active supporter of international efforts to suppress piracy and armed robbery against ships in hot spots around the world and, in particular, in areas of strategic importance and significance. 
 
The Republic of Korea is, for example, a member of the highly successful Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, which, apart from the role it effectively plays in its main area of concern, provides valuable lessons for the fight against piracy in other parts of the world.  In this respect, the Korean Government has contributed towards the cost of the Sub-regional meeting on piracy and armed robbery against ships in the western Indian Ocean, which we held in Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, in April 2008, which prepared what eventually became the Djibouti Code of Conduct; and participated in the Sub-regional meeting in Djibouti, in January 2009, to conclude that same instrument. Subsequently, the Republic of Korea contributed US$50,000 to the Organization’s Djibouti Code Trust Fund.
 
In July 2009, the Republic of Korea hosted the Seoul High-level Meeting on Piracy off the coast of Somalia alongside the 3rd Seoul International Maritime Forum, and its Navy has played an active role in counter-piracy operations off Somalia, including sending five warships to the region and holding command of Combined Task Force 151.
 
As we speak, men and women of the Republic of Korea’s Navy, serving aboard the destroyer Wang Geon, are continuing this vital mission in the area, and I think I can safely speak for the entire maritime community, when I offer my most sincere gratitude to all those from this valiant country, who are participating in this remarkable international effort. I thank them for their dedication, their courage, their commitment and for the sacrifices they make, while, at the same time, acknowledging the considerable cost borne by your Government in sustaining this important presence.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, the Republic of Korea has earned its position as one of the global leaders in international shipping – an enviable and much deserved place. This is a privilege, which carries with it heavy responsibilities and I congratulate you, Minister, Vice-Ministers, for the thorough and diligent manner in which your country continues to discharge them.  I look forward with great confidence to your continuing contribution to the cause of global shipping and to the continuing excellence in the performance of the industry’s global regulator – the Organization I have the great honour to represent here this evening.
 
Minister, on behalf of all your guests to this dinner, I thank you warmly for your exquisite hospitality and the warmth of your friendship.
 
Join me in a toast.
Thank you.