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World Maritime Day Parallel Event 2010

Keynote speech by Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization

October 7, 2010

World Maritime Day Parallel Event 2010
Buenos Aires, Argentine Republic
7 October 2010
Keynote speech by Efthimios E. Mitropoulos
Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization

Ministers, Excellencies, Chief of the Argentine Navy, Commandant of the Argentine Coast Guard, Legal Councillor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Justice, Security and Human Rights, Admirals, Chairmen of the IMO Maritime Safety and Technical Co-operation Committees and the Sub-Committee on Standards of Training and Watchkeeping, Chairman of IACS, Secretary General of Intercargo and Director General of IMSO, distinguished representatives of IMO Member States and members of the Argentine maritime community, distinguished guests and media representatives, Ladies and gentlemen,
 
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this year’s World Maritime Day Parallel Event here in Buenos Aires.  What makes this celebration very special is that it takes place in a year when Argentina celebrates its bicentennial anniversary and coincides with the foundation, also two hundred years ago, of the Argentine Prefectura Naval, which, together with the Argentine Navy, make a most valuable contribution to the work of IMO and the maritime community at large. 
 
On behalf of the Organization’s membership and Secretariat, and of all of us here today, I congratulate and thank them for that and, in particular, for the Government of Argentina’s invitation to IMO to host this event here in one of the world’s most beautiful capital cities and for their generosity and excellent arrangements made to celebrate it.
Being a maritime nation par excellence, Argentina, having a large coastline and a vast search and rescue region extending to the Antarctica, in which she conducts rescue operations with great success, has all the ingredients, maritime skills and experience to benefit IMO in the execution of its duties – a task she performs with great efficiency thus promoting our deep gratitude. 
 
When it was conceived, some 30 years ago, World Maritime Day was intended to provide an opportunity for IMO Member Governments, and the maritime community as a whole, to become aware of, and promote the Organization’s work – its achievements and the objectives it was pursuing in the short, medium and long terms. It was also intended to stimulate Member Governments and the maritime community to organize, at cities and maritime centres all over the world, similar events focusing on a specific theme specifically chosen every year by the IMO Council.
 
Although this has been happening at national level in many countries since the inauguration, in 1978, of World Maritime Day, the only official international celebration had, until recently, been that held annually at the London Headquarters of the Organization. 
 
To avoid the event becoming a routine function; to revitalize the Day itself; and to raise the profile of shipping in as many regions of the world as possible, the Council of IMO decided, in 2005, to launch what is now known as the World Maritime Day Parallel Event, which is held, every year, in a different country. 
 
Since the Parallel Event went “on the road”, we have held celebrations in Lisbon in 2005; Singapore in 2006; Salvador in Brazil, in 2007; Athens in 2008; and New York last year.
 
This year, fair winds have brought us to the City of Good Winds and we are delighted to be here to celebrate the “Year of the Seafarer”, the 2010 World Maritime Day theme – a theme, which we selected in order to reassure the seafaring community that labours at the “sharp end” of the industry that those of us (who work in other areas of the maritime cluster, and yet whose actions have a direct bearing on seafarers’ everyday lives) understand the extreme pressures they face and approach our tasks with genuine interest and concern for them and their families. 
The symposium we are about to open will examine several of the issues that confront seafarers today and will, I am sure, help draw attention to the unique conditions and circumstances under which seafarers perform their duties at sea, and make a palpable and beneficial contribution to society.
 
In today’s global economy, hundreds of millions of people all over the world rely on ships to transport the great multitude of commodities, fuel, foodstuffs, goods and products on which we all depend. Yet, for most of them, shipping, not to mention the huge range of related maritime activities that, together, go to make up what is loosely termed “the shipping industry”, 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 fleet, despite the fact that international trade and the global economy depend utterly on their services. Seafarers are, in effect, the lubricant without which the engine of trade would simply grind to a halt – and for that, we owe them recognition, appreciation and, above all, respect.
 
For seafaring is a difficult and demanding job, with its own set of unique pressures and risks. At the end of a long and stressful day, there is no return home to the family; no evening with friends at the local taverna or pub; no change of scenery; no chance to properly relax, unwind or de-stress.  Just the relentless drone of the diesels and the never-ending movement of the vessel that is not only the seafarers’ place of work but also their home, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for weeks and often for months on end; and, ever-present in the back of their mind, the possibility of natural and other, invidious hazards that characterize life at sea nowadays, such as pirate attacks, unwarranted detention and abandonment in foreign ports.
 
***
 
From the regulatory standpoint, the most significant achievement of this, the Year of the Seafarer, undoubtedly came in June, with the adoption, by a Diplomatic Conference in Manila, of major revisions to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers and its associated Code. Scheduled to enter into force on 1 January 2012, these revisions will ensure that the necessary global standards will be in place to train and certify seafarers to operate the technologically advanced ships, designed, built and delivered nowadays, for some time to come.
 
The Manila Conference (whose President, Mr. Neil Ferrer, Chairman of the Committee of the Whole, Admiral Brady and Executive Secretary Koji Sekimizu are with us today) also agreed a series of new provisions on the issue of “fitness for duty - hours of rest”, to provide watchkeepers aboard ships with sufficient rest periods. This important new provision will create better conditions for seafarers and help ensure they are adequately rested before they undertake their duties. Fatigue has been found to be a contributory factor to several accidents at sea and to ensure that seafarers are adequately rested, before they take over their watch, will certainly play an important role in safe sailing and the prevention of casualties. I am particularly pleased that the new STCW requirements on this crucial issue are consistent with the corresponding provisions of the International Labour Organization’s 2006 Maritime Labour Convention, which I hope will come into force soon.
 
You will be hearing more on the Manila amendments later this morning, from none other than one of their principal architects, Admiral Peter Brady, the Chairman of IMO’s Sub-Committee on Standards of Training and Watchkeeping.
 
***
 
When IMO first mooted the idea that our theme for 2010 should focus on “the seafarer”, we wanted to do two things; first, we wanted to draw attention to a workforce that is largely unheralded and unacknowledged, often even within the industry it serves: and, second, we wanted to extend the theme beyond the regular World Maritime Day celebrations and to galvanize a momentum that would last for the whole year and, indeed, beyond. We wanted 2010 to be the start of this momentum; but we certainly do not want the end of 2010 to be the end of the initiative.
To that effect, I welcomed and embraced enthusiastically the decision of the Manila Conference that the unique contribution made by seafarers from all over the world to international seaborne trade, the world economy and civil society as a whole, should, from now on, be marked annually with a “Day of the Seafarer”, to be held on the 25th of June each year. The date chosen was that on which the Conference was concluded and came as an acknowledgement of the significance of the STCW amendments then adopted for the maritime community and those who serve it on board ships. And I would warmly encourage Governments, shipping organizations, companies, owners, operators, managers and all other parties concerned to promote and celebrate, as from next year, the Day of the Seafarer in every way possible.  
 
Earlier in the year, I identified three targets that I would be happy to see achieved in conjunction with our “Year of the Seafarer” initiative. They were:
 
- one, increased awareness among the general public of the indispensable services seafarers render to civil society and in the facilitation of global trade;
- two, a clear message to seafarers that we recognize and appreciate their services; that we do care about them; and that we do all that we can to look after and protect them when the circumstances of their life at sea so warrant; and
- three, redoubled efforts at the regulatory level to move from words to deeds to create a better world in which seafarers can offer their services.
I consider it extremely pleasing that the theme, which was selected in order to act as the focal point around which the maritime community, as a whole, would rally to seek ways to recognize and pay tribute to seafarers, has achieved, and is still achieving, its aim. This has undoubtedly been happening and there have been numerous manifestations of this from all over the world.
 
***
 
The “Year of the Seafarer” has also helped to re-focus attention on the pressing need to come to grips with the long-predicted labour-supply shortage in the maritime industry – an issue that makes it imperative for shipping to re-launch itself as a career of choice for the high-calibre, high-quality young people of today. In this context, the “Year of the Seafarer” has added valuable impetus to the “Go to Sea!” campaign, which we launched at IMO in November 2008, in association with ILO, the “Round Table” of shipping industry associations and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
 
***
 
Ladies and gentlemen, I should like to conclude by using the opportunity of this World Maritime Day Parallel event in order to communicate with a few, yet vital, segments of the community – especially those within and in the periphery of the shipping industry.  This is what I would like to tell them:
 
- to industry members: maintain high standards; enshrine best practices; embrace corporate social responsibility; provide a clean, safe and comfortable workplace for, and recognize and reward, those on whose labours your profits depend;
- to politicians: 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; show that you really are in touch with the people at the sharp end;
- to legislators and law enforcers: aim at striking a fair balance in all of your actions concerning seafarers so that they do not become scapegoats caught up in the aftermath of accidents and incidents; treat them fairly and decently – they deserve every empathy and compassion;
- to educators: tell the younger generations about seafaring, the debt we owe to shipping and the attractions of the maritime professions; it should not take too great a leap of the imagination to stir maritime ingredients into the pot of learning through history, geography, biology, environmental studies, economics, business studies and many more;
- to port and immigration authorities: treat seafarers with the respect they deserve and welcome them as visitors and guests to your countries – as professionals that are also serving the interests and development of your nations and fellow citizens;
- to those in a position to shape and influence public opinion, particularly newspaper and TV journalists: take the time and trouble to seek out both sides of the story next time you report on an accident involving a ship; and 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 globe by a talented, highly trained, highly specialized and highly dedicated workforce; 
- and, finally, to the 1.5 million seafarers of the world, I should like to convey this message: the entire maritime community appreciates you and your indispensable services; is aware of the conditions under which you operate; shows compassion for the sacrifices you make; does care for you; and works to ensure your safety and security, praying that you always have calm seas, fair winds and a safe return home – which it wishes you wholeheartedly. 
 
***
 
Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, and before we continue with what promises to be a thought-provoking programme, let me, on behalf of all IMO Members and, indeed, the maritime community as a whole, renew our thanks and appreciation to the Government of the Argentine Republic for inviting the Organization to bring this year’s World Maritime Day Parallel Event to a country with such deep and strong roots and centuries-long traditions in shipping.
 
I wish the Symposium and, indeed, the Parallel Event as a whole every success.
Thank you.
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