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WISTA 2010 International Conference

“Celebrating the Year of the Seafarer”

September 29, 2010

WISTA 2010 International Conference
Athens, Greece, 29 September 2010
“Celebrating the Year of the Seafarer”
Speech by IMO Secretary-General Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos

President of WISTA, President of WISTA Hellas, members of WISTA chapters, distinguished guests and media representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
It is, as ever, a huge pleasure for me to be invited to WISTA’s annual International Conference and to join you in my mother country at this major event in the maritime community’s calendar, which WISTA Hellas is hosting for the third time.  The organizers of the Conference have gone to great lengths to ensure its success in all respects and, therefore, congratulations are very much in order.  May I also extend warm congratulations to the WISTA Personality of the Year, Suzanne Williams, who has just been presented to us, on her Award.
Your Association’s aims and your mission are close to my heart and they chime perfectly with objectives being actively pursued both by IMO and within the United Nations system as a whole. Indeed, gender equality should, today, be thought of as a basic human right; yet, as you may know better than most, there are still many battles to be fought and won in this regard. And they are all important, whether they be in the realm of poverty alleviation, in education or employment or anywhere else for that matter.
There is, as I am sure you will be aware, a UN system-wide commitment to gender equality, and I am proud of the fact that IMO has actively and demonstrably worked to promote gender considerations in the shipping world. The objective is reflected in our Strategic Plan, which requires the Organization to “strengthen the role of women in the maritime sector”, particularly through our capacity-building activities. 
Accordingly, our global programme on the Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector has been designed as the primary vehicle for articulating this commitment and for embodying our support for the third Millennium Development Goal, which is to “Promote gender equality and empower women”.
So, we do not just support your aims and objectives in principle; we also support them with work of real substance and, in so doing, we are very glad to be able to make a tangible contribution to the MDGs, which are the world’s blueprint for addressing extreme poverty in its many manifestations – income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion – while promoting gender equality, education and environmental sustainability.
And, sustainability being the theme of this Conference, your deliberations, today and tomorrow, will, I understand, focus on “how sustainable progress can be achieved and shipping excellence reached by promoting and strengthening social, economical as well as environmental balance and stability” – in the words of our host, the President of WISTA Hellas, Anna Maria Monogioudi.
And as to “Paving the way to shipping excellence” – how can you achieve excellence without the contribution of women, whose ingenuity and inventiveness are second to none? 
To attain such excellence and serve effectively maritime trade, while also addressing adequately safety, security and environmental concerns, requires a fine balance. IMO, in partnership with the shipping industry and in consultation with environmental groups, is charged with developing and maintaining an international regulatory framework that allows just such a balance to be achieved and maintained – a framework within which efficient, clean, competitive and commercially successful shipping operations can take place.
I do not propose to rehearse here the long and, I would suggest, successful history of IMO’s regulatory work in the environmental field. As senior managers within the industry, you will, I am certain, be fully aware of how MARPOL and the rest of IMO’s environmental conventions have helped reduce pollution and shape the industry from so many perspectives.
I would, however, like to give specific mention to our work to address what is perhaps the most significant challenge to our environment today, namely 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 maritime community at large are, nevertheless, continuing to work towards further reductions.
Our efforts to regulate and reduce emissions from ships are being conducted on two fronts – combating atmospheric pollution, and limiting or reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, or GHGs.
Atmospheric pollution is addressed in Annex VI of the MARPOL Convention, which was adopted in 1997 and amended in 2008 to provide progressive reductions on emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides from ships’ exhausts and the use of marine engines.
With regard to greenhouse gas emission reductions, we are in the final stages of developing a robust regime to regulate shipping at the global level – a regime, which consists of three pillars: technical, operational and market-based measures. Good progress has been made on all three and, this very week, the topic is, once again and rightly so, a major focus for IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee, the 61st session of which I opened in London on Monday.  I am optimistic that the outcome of our efforts will be duly recognized by the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico, in December, as a positive contribution of IMO and the industry to the worldwide efforts to stem climate change and global warming, which Conference should, in turn, continue entrusting IMO with the regulation of shipping in the respective fields.
And I know I will greatly please you in this context if I mention that the three main actors at the forthcoming sessions of the UN Climate Change Conference in Mexico this year and South Africa the next are all women.  I refer, of course, to Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, the Executive Secretary of UNFCC; Patricia Espinosa, Mexico’s Foreign Minister, who will preside over the Cancún Conference; and Buyelwa Sonjica, Environment Minister in the Government of South Africa, the hosts in 2011.
Of course, maritime safety and security and the protection of the marine environment are very much two sides of the same coin. Every time a ship is involved in an accident, whether it be a grounding, a collision, a fire or anything else, there is the potential for pollution. So, when we work towards the improvement and enhancement of maritime safety or security we are, at the same time, also taking steps to safeguard the marine environment.
In the business world as a whole, most major companies, having apparently been convinced that good environmental and social stewardship actually makes good business sense, have espoused new and more enlightened approaches to the environmental and social issues related to their operations.
The fair treatment of workers and gender equality in matters of recruitment and promotion are integral parts of this modern philosophy. The shipping industry, like others, has both leaders and laggards in this respect. Although there is no intrinsic reason why women should not find the shipping industry fertile ground for employment opportunities, it could, nevertheless, be argued that shipping has, historically, been regarded as a male preserve.
I know that, at WISTA, you are particularly concerned with promoting and supporting women in management positions within the maritime industries. But I am sure that you would also share my contention that the more women can be encouraged to look at seafaring as a legitimate career option, the better for all concerned – not least because of the clear relevance of sea-going experience to many shore-based jobs within the industry. Increasing the number of women, who serve at sea, will inevitably serve to increase the pool of women with appropriate skills and, thereby, the representation of women in the maritime sector as a whole.
With the World Trade Organization predicting a 13.5 per cent growth in world trade this year, shipping, as the carrier of more than 90 per cent of it, should reasonably stand to benefit accordingly.  This should be followed by considerable new job opportunities in the sector and I do hope women will have their fair share in any such positive development. 
This should apply, in particular, to regions where most progress has been made in eradicating poverty as they are those that trade most.  WTO has concluded that there is a direct correlation between integration into the multilateral trading system and economic growth, between growth and poverty eradication.
Moreover, in the context of the labour force shortage that has been looming over the industry for some time now, it is also my contention that shipping itself simply cannot afford any longer to ignore the huge workforce potential that women provide, in all sectors – from high-level management to the humble but all-important seafarer at the “sharp end.”
Of course, life for seafarers today has become more pressurized in almost every way than once it was.  But the stresses they encounter these days are more of a cerebral and, indeed, of a social nature than physical. With crew numbers pared down to perhaps twelve or fifteen persons, the sheer demands of work are immense. And, with so few people on board, a ship can be a lonely place during the off-duty hours. There is absolutely no reason why women should be any less equipped to deal with these stresses than men; indeed, many women may find they possess coping mechanisms that their male counterparts find it harder to tap into.
On the positive side, seafaring is not only a satisfying and worthwhile career choice in itself, it is also, as I alluded earlier, a passport to a huge variety of related jobs ashore for which experience at sea will make one eminently qualified – regardless of gender. Indeed, 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. This is something the industry and its supporters need to stress to all potential candidates.
The many dedicated professional seafarers who, having served their early years at sea, now hold positions as managers and superintendents in shipping companies, maritime pilots, vessel traffic service and rescue coordination centre operators, advisers to Ministers and executives in shipping-related activities (such as insurance companies and classification societies), or as professors and teachers at maritime academies and colleges, scattered throughout all parts of the industry, are shining examples of what can be achieved – not to mention those shipmasters and engineers who have become shipowners themselves. All of these opportunities should be – and increasingly are – available equally to men and to women.
There is no question that the traditional perceptions that shipping is a man’s world are being challenged and that barriers are falling. WISTA has acted as a rallying point for efforts to attract more women to the industry and it deserves great credit for doing so.
Against this background of opportunities and changes in perceptions, IMO decided that “2010: Year of the Seafarer” should be the theme for this year’s World Maritime Day.  We celebrated the occasion in London last week and will do so again in Buenos Aires next week, when Argentina hosts the now well-established World Maritime Day Parallel Event.
In choosing the theme, we were envisaging it to constitute the focal point around which the maritime community as a whole would rally to seek ways to recognize and pay tribute to seafarers for their unique contribution to society and the vital part they play in the facilitation of global trade.
In the regulatory arena, the pinnacle of our seafarer-related work this year has been the adoption of major revisions to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers and its associated Code.  This was achieved at a Diplomatic Conference we convened in Manila in June aiming at laying down the foundation for global standards to effectively train and certify seafarers to operate technologically advanced ships for some time to come.
The Manila Conference also adopted a number of resolutions, among them one on the Promotion of the Participation of Women in the Maritime Industry.  Considering highly desirable that men and women should have equal access opportunities to maritime training and to employment on board ship, the Conference invited Governments to give special consideration to securing equal access by men and women in all sectors of the maritime industry; to highlight the role of women in the seafaring profession; and to promote their greater participation in maritime training and at all levels in the industry.
Furthermore, the Conference invited Governments and the shipping industry to consider ways to identify and overcome existing constraints, such as the lack of facilities for women aboard training vessels, that are currently hindering their full participation in seafaring activities; and to support the provision of on-the-job-training opportunities so that women may acquire the appropriate level of practical experience required to enhance their professional maritime skills.
These, to me, sound like a very strong, albeit tacit, endorsement of WISTA and its objectives, and provide further evidence of how both the potential, and the importance, of women in shipping is being understood and recognized at the highest levels.
In my message on the occasion of this year’s World Maritime Day, I asked:
- members of the shipping industry, to maintain high standards; enshrine best practices; embrace corporate social responsibility; provide a clean, safe and comforting workplace; and recognize and reward those on whose labours their profits depend;
- politicians, to work towards the ratification, entry into force and implementation of all the international measures that have a bearing on seafarers’ safety and security and living and working conditions and thus show that they really are in touch with the people at the sharp end;
- legislators and law enforcers, to aim at striking a fair balance in all of their actions concerning seafarers so that they do not become scapegoats caught up in the aftermath of accidents and incidents;
- educators, to tell the younger generations about seafaring, the debt we owe to shipping and the attractions of the maritime professions while stirring maritime ingredients into the pot of learning through history, geography, biology, business and environmental studies, economics, and many others; and
- those in a position to shape and influence public opinion, particularly newspaper and TV journalists, to take the time and trouble to seek out both sides of the story next time they report on an accident involving a ship; and to place the accident in its proper context, that of millions upon millions of tonnes of cargo safely delivered over billions of miles to all four corners of the earth by a talented, highly trained, highly specialized and highly dedicated workforce. 
Let me conclude with a final word about the lasting legacy of this year’s World Maritime Day theme, and a brief word about the theme that has been chosen for 2011. Much has already been done to raise the profile of seafarers and to draw attention to the difficulties they face and the debt that society as a whole owes to them.
Looking to the future and in order to ensure that the impetus created is maintained, the Manila conference decided that, from now on, the 25th of June should, each year, be celebrated as the “Day of the Seafarer” – to mark the date on which the Manila Amendments to the STCW Convention and the associated Conference resolutions were formally adopted.  I urge you to ink this date into your diaries, and to start planning straight away how you, as a significant community within the maritime world, might acknowledge and celebrate what are, collectively, shipping’s most important assets – whether male or female!
Commemorating the “Day of the Seafarer” each year will help to ensure that the role played by them and the need to continually replenish their ranks remain uppermost in the consciousness of Governments, shipping organizations, companies, owners, operators and managers. And it was also with the seafarers in our minds that we decided that next year’s World Maritime Day theme should be “Piracy: orchestrating the response”, which will give us an excellent opportunity to focus on how to rid the world of this modern scourge and, thereby, how to provide a collective and effective response to an insidious challenge that faces seafarers and shipping even nowadays.
Ladies and gentlemen, you have, as usual, a busy, stimulating and thought-provoking agenda ahead of you, so I will detain you no longer. Suffice it to say that IMO, and I personally, support, fully and wholeheartedly, the causes you espouse and are proud to be associated with them; we share your aims and objectives, and I am delighted, once again, to have been asked to join you at your annual conference, which I am certain will be as rewarding and fulfilling as ever.
Thank you.