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World Maritime Day Parallel Event

Opening remarks

October 13, 2011

​World Maritime Day Parallel Event
Rome, Italy, 13 October 2011
Opening remarks by E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO

Ministers, Excellencies, Chief of the Italian Navy, Commandant of the Italian Coast Guard, Admirals, Dr. D’Amico, Heads of international shipping organizations and RINA, Veteran representatives of Italy to IMO, media representatives, ladies and gentlemen,

Buongiorno and happy maritime day!
I am delighted to be with you today and, together with our hosts, to welcome participants to this seminar, which constitutes the focal point of several activities forming this year’s World Maritime Day Parallel Event. Let me, therefore, begin by expressing IMO’s, and my, sincere thanks and gratitude to the Government of Italy – in particular, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, the Italian Navy and the Italian Coast Guard – as well as the Italian Shipowners’ Confederation, Confitarma, in whose magnificent headquarters we are meeting today, for inviting us here to celebrate the Event.

When it was conceived, 33 years ago, World Maritime Day was intended to provide an opportunity for IMO Member Governments, international shipping organizations and other competent maritime entities to promote the Organization’s work by focusing on a particular theme chosen specifically every year by the IMO Council.  It was also intended to stimulate Member Governments and the maritime community at large to organize, at cities and maritime centres all over the world, similar events to promulgate information about the aims and the specific objectives the Organization was pursuing in the short, medium and long terms. 

Although this had been happening at national level in many countries since the inauguration of the scheme in 1978, the only official international celebration was, until relatively recently, the one held annually at the IMO Headquarters in London. It was partly to revitalize the Day itself and partly to raise the profile of shipping in as many regions of the world as possible, that the IMO Council decided, in 2005, to launch what is now known as the World Maritime Day Parallel Event, by agreeing to an additional celebration in a city other than London.
Since then they have been held in Lisbon, Singapore, Salvador da Bahia, Athens, New York and Buenos Aires and I consider it my good fortune to have been associated with all of them.

This year, in what has now become a firmly-established tradition, World Maritime Day goes “on the road” once again bringing us to Rome, the ‘città eterna’, the capital city of this most beautiful, great country – a city that has seen history being made over the centuries and has influenced, contributed and participated in the making of history.  We do understand and appreciate in full the honour of being invited to come to Italy and work in Rome.
For its part, Italy has been among the strongest supporters of, and participants in, the work of IMO having become a Member of the Organization way back in 1957, which, given that the Organization did not become operational until 1959, means that Italy has, in effect, been there from the start.
Notwithstanding its outstanding contribution to the work of IMO and to the Organization’s decision-making process, Italy has shown its commitment, dedication and loyalty to IMO in many other ways. It has shouldered, on the Organization’s behalf, the burden of hosting international conferences (such as the 1988 SUA Conference in Rome and the 2000 SAR Conference in Florence) and has held several meetings of IMO, such as seminars, workshops and working groups; has fielded some outstanding individuals in its service (including some of
the finest chairmen of the MSC, such as Luigi Spinelli and, of course, the unforgettable Giuliano Pattofatto, not forgetting Giancarlo Olimbo); and has made an important contribution to the education and training of maritime professionals from all over the world, first through the Trieste Maritime Academy and now through the International Maritime Safety, Security and Environment Academy in Genoa, at the same time contributing substantially to our technical co-operation efforts through our bilateral agreement. So, thank you, Italy, for all these.

Today, tomorrow, and indeed for the whole of 2011, this year’s topic is a troubling and difficult one – piracy. Its dramatic escalation in recent years, coupled with the deep suffering it causes to its victims, has been a matter of grave concern globally, prompting IMO to make combating it a central theme of our work this year.
It may sound a bit of a paradox to “celebrate” the day, when, in fact, we seem to be setting our sights on combating a crime. Paradox or not, we celebrate shipping in the sense that we use the day in order to pay tribute to it carrying more than 90% of goods around the world – while, we also use the day as an opportunity to strengthen our determination to redouble our efforts to rid the world of the scourge of piracy.
From the early 1980s and until recently, the anti-piracy campaign of IMO was focused on the traditional hot spots of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and the South China Sea. Through a series of measures, developed and implemented with the strong and much appreciated co-operation of the littoral States and the unreserved support of the shipping industry, the scourge of piracy in those waters has significantly reduced nowadays.

However, this thorny issue has lately manifested itself in other parts of the world, most notably – but not exclusively – in the waters off the coast of Somalia, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean.  Ships carrying oil out of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman are now firmly within the sights of pirates, who have become bolder, more audacious, more aggressive and violent and seem to be better organized than ever before.
All these disconcerting and worrying developments have, if anything, strengthened our determination to meet the challenge, as we believe that we can use the experience gained and the successes achieved in reducing piracy elsewhere in the world to good effect in the current arena too.

Piracy, as it presents itself off Somalia nowadays, has become too complex and too entrenched for any one entity to deal with it effectively. The United Nations, Governments acting collectively or individually, political and defence alliances, shipping companies, ship operators, ships’ crews, among others, all have a crucial part to play if shipping is to be rid of this crime and the integrity of strategically important shipping lanes maintained. What is needed is a collective effort, and that is why we chose “Piracy: Orchestrating the response” as the theme for World Maritime Day 2011 and to underpin the work of the Organization in this area during this year and beyond.

Even before the year started, we devised, in collaboration with industry and seafarer representative organizations, a multi-faceted action plan, designed to address the problem at several levels. It has since received backing at the highest level, indeed it was launched at IMO, in February, in the presence of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Executive Heads of both the World Food Programme and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, with which IMO has established partnerships to ensure delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia, and to establish and strengthen anti-piracy legislation in the region. The diplomatic community in London and senior officials from the shipping industry and seafarers’ organizations were also present, thus demonstrating the seriousness with which the problem is being addressed at the global level.  And, only two weeks ago, in his own message on World Maritime Day,

Mr. Ban once again stressed his concern over the situation, when he said “ The international community must do more to combat this lawlessness, not only off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and in the western Indian Ocean, but anywhere in the world.”

A recent report has put the annual cost of piracy to the world economy at between 7 and 12 billion US dollars. Shocking though this is, it is the human cost that is far worse and should concern us above all else. Many seafarers today go about their daily business in ships sheathed in razor wire, in a state of constant wariness as they run the gauntlet of pirate gangs. Most, thankfully, sail undisturbed by pirates into more hospitable waters, but others are far less fortunate. A single seafarer captured and held against his or her will is a seafarer too many. This is a tragic situation for them and their families, and one from which we can take no comfort whatsoever.  Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
If, however, there is some comfort in the most disconcerting incidence of modern-day piracy off Somalia, it is in the reduction of numbers of ships and seafarers in the hands of pirates since the beginning of this year – a welcome development, which might give rise to some cautious optimism.  The percentage of successfully concluded attacks, meaning that the ships attacked have fallen in the hands of pirates, has dropped, from more than 40 per cent historically, to less than 20 per cent this year – testimony, no doubt, to the effectiveness both of the naval presence in the region and the application of best management practices developed by the industry itself.  From a peak of 31 ships with a total of 714 seafarers in the hands of pirates in February of this year, the number of those held hostage at present has reduced to less than half: 316 seafarers on 15 ships – although even one seafarer in captivity is one too many!  And, of course, this relatively good news should not allow any room for complacency, especially now that the monsoon period that has kept the pirates at bay for some time has come to an end – on the contrary, we should intensify our efforts to stem the unacceptable phenomenon that piracy presents today.
And we were all delighted to hear that, thanks to a well planned and executed operation, undertaken by Royal Mariners from the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy, the crew of the Italian flag ship “Montecristo”, which had fallen in the hands of pirates, was liberated and the culprits were apprehended a few days ago.
It is crucial that the political will among those Governments that have the potential to make a difference is translated into their acting in a manner that matches their political ambition and the severity of the issue demands. Resources (in the form of naval vessels and military aircraft) being made available; legislation to ensure that pirates do not escape prosecution being expeditiously adopted and rigorously enacted; and strongly recommending that ships flying their flag comply, while sailing through piracy-infested areas, with the best management practices devised by IMO and the industry and, when transiting the Gulf of Aden, keep within the internationally recommended corridor – all these should be high on the agenda of, and acted upon by, Governments and all other entities affected by piracy as it presents itself in particular in the western Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Guinea nowadays.
Of course, much has already been done to counter the threat, as you will hear over these two days. The capture, prosecution and punishment of all those involved in piracy; the tracing of ransom money; and the confiscation of proceeds of crime derived from hijacked ships all need to be further addressed if the ultimate goal of consigning piracy to the realms of history is to be achieved.
We hope that our choice of the theme for 2011 will provide an appropriate rallying point around which all those who can make a difference can focus their efforts – both this year and into the future. And this seminar will do a great deal to help identify the future strategies and levels of commitment that will be needed to stem this unacceptable tide.
Ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude by, once again, thanking Italy for inviting us here and hosting this year’s Parallel Event; and by wishing the participants every success in this seminar.  Let us all, during these two days, consciously undertake to strengthen our collective resolve to eradicate this appalling and costly crime-wave.
Thank you.