Meeting of Senior Arctic Officials
26 to 27 March 2014
Speech by Koji Sekimizu, Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization
Excellencies, Ambassadors, Senior Arctic Officials, Director of the Arctic Council Secretariat, ladies and gentlemen,
In May last year, the Arctic Council adopted the Kiruna Declaration, a comprehensive and far-reaching document that covered a range of important issues vital for the peaceful, secure and sustainable development of this unique region of the world. It included the improvement of economic and social conditions, climate change, protecting the arctic environment and strengthening the Arctic Council.
I was greatly encouraged to note that the Kiruna Declaration also explicitly recognized the important, ongoing work in the International Maritime Organization to develop a mandatory polar code on shipping, and that the Arctic Council took a firm and positive decision to strengthen its collaboration in that work, toward its expeditious completion.
Your invitation for me to attend this meeting and speak to you here today is a clear indication that you intend to actively pursue that decision; and, for my part, I am not only delighted to accept the invitation, but also for the opportunity to demonstrate my own strong desire to boost collaboration between our organizations.
Ladies and gentlemen, the economic development and increase of commercial activity in the Arctic region is a contentious subject. We have to face facts and deal with realities; and the reality of today is that commercial activity and economic development in the Arctic is increasing, and increasing rapidly.
Indeed, the Kiruna Declaration clearly recognizes the central role of commerce in the development of the Arctic and highlights the need for cooperation between Arctic communities to advance sustainable economic development of the region.
The real issue is not whether economic development is a good thing or not. The real issue is how we manage it so that commercial advantage is not gained at the expense of the life of the indigenous people or environmental destruction. Again, this is echoed in the Kiruna Declaration, which stresses the importance of the sustainable use of resources and environmental protection and commits to strengthen efforts to diminish the negative effects of climate change on the fragile Arctic environment.
The opening up of the Arctic to greater maritime activity, thanks to the receding sea ice, provides both an unusual challenge and a unique opportunity. The nature of the challenge is clear, stemming from the remoteness and harshness of the region.
Last year, I was lucky enough to experience at first hand the realities of navigation in this harsh, remote and environmentally-sensitive region when I undertook a 1,700-mile voyage from the Kara Sea to the East Siberian Sea aboard the nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy. During the voyage, I was able to observe closely the operation of the vessel, communication systems, charts and other navigational aids, and to assess the development of the search and rescue coordination centres at Dikson in the Kara Sea and Pevek in the East Siberian Sea.
I am most grateful to the Government of the Russian Federation for giving me that opportunity to experience the challenges that shipping in the region faces. It reinforced for me how vital it is that regulators, governments, policy makers and administrators work together to create the conditions in which Arctic development can be safe, environmentally sound and sustainable.
A universally accepted regulatory framework is a prerequisite for sustainable development in shipping – and the world looks to IMO to provide that framework. IMO measures are designed, among other things, to promote safety, protect the environment, improve efficiency and ensure a properly trained workforce. In doing so, they contribute to the three pillars of sustainability – environmental, economic and societal.
The safety of ships operating in the harsh, remote and vulnerable polar areas and the protection of the pristine environments around the two poles have always been a matter of concern for IMO and there are already a number of measures in place or under development that specifically address operations in polar regions. In March 2012, for example, a timetable for bringing the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System up to date was agreed by the COMSAR Sub-Committee. The review of the GMDSS will look specifically into the communication requirements for the polar regions, including the use of more modern communication technologies, in recognition of the unique challenges of search and rescue in remote areas.
And, to better reflect the need for navigational and meteorological information and to identify the responsibilities of coastal State providers in the region, the provision of Maritime Safety Information has been updated for the Arctic, including the creation of new NAVAREAs and METAREAs up to 90 degrees north.
IMO has also adopted important guidelines for ships operating in remote areas, such as the 2006 Guide for Cold Water Survival and the 2007 Guidelines on Voyage Planning for Passenger Ships Operating in Remote Areas. Moreover, the 2010 Manila Amendments to the Convention on Standards for Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) provide for new training guidance for personnel serving on board ships operating in polar waters.
But, as the Kiruna Declaration acknowledges, the most important initiative for the development of appropriate safety and environmental regulation for Arctic shipping is the development of the mandatory polar code. The move to develop the Polar Code followed the adoption, in 2009, of Guidelines for ships operating in polar waters, which sets out additional provisions deemed necessary for the polar areas beyond the requirements of existing conventions.
But, whereas the guidelines are recommendatory, the IMO membership has agreed that the polar code would be a mandatory instrument, setting out internationally binding requirements appropriate for the severe environmental conditions of the polar areas, over and above those already contained in existing instruments, such as the SOLAS and MARPOL Conventions.
Work to finalize the code at the end of this year is well underway, with IMO’s committees and sub-committees making special efforts to ensure the completion date is adhered to. The Marine Environment Protection Committee and the Maritime Safety Committee, meeting during next week and May, respectively, will make maximum resources available to resolve the remaining issues, based on the contributions of the Sub-Committees on Ship Design and Construction; on the Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping; and on Ship Systems and Equipment, all of which have been tasked with the completion of relevant parts of the code falling under their remit.
Ladies and gentlemen, the polar code will provide a framework of international regulations for the safety of shipping and the protection of the environment from shipping activities in the polar regions. If, as expected, it is adopted this year, it should enter into force at the end of 2016 or beginning of 2017.
But we should not see that as the end of the process. There is a need for further cooperation and collaboration in a number of areas. The maritime infrastructure must be developed and strengthened. The provision of navigational charts, the establishment of search and rescue facilities under the GMDSS, a comprehensive network of icebreaker support and the provision of Maritime Safety Information all need to be addressed in parallel with the implementation of the polar code by the shipping community.
The polar regions also constitute a unique working environment, which means we need to develop further specific operational guidelines for seafarers, beyond those already included in the STCW Convention.
We must also be ready to develop recommendations for new technology, and the shipbuilding and machinery sectors will need to invest in research and development to tailor new designs for harsh operating environments.
Specific operational procedures for passenger ships operating in the region may need to be looked at further and the only effective mechanism to implement any new operational measures is through discussion, consultation, adoption of measures and implementation under the IMO mechanism to ensure universal application over thousands of ships registered in various IMO Member Governments.
An effective response to emergencies, such as oil spills, requires preparation in advance, and this, too, implies coordination and collaboration; and we will need to find ways to monitor the environment and properly assess the effects of increased commercial activity.
IMO can offer the global forum for cooperation and the development of international measures. It already provides a tried and tested mechanism for such discussion and development, with a series of highly specialized technical sub-committees reporting to the Marine Environment Protection Committee and the Maritime Safety Committee. It also has an effective enforcement mechanism, embracing the flag States enforcement and port State control. All stakeholders participate in the regulatory process at IMO – not just the Member States themselves but also non-governmental bodies in consultative status with IMO, representing the shipping industry, environmental interests, equipment manufacturers and those which make up the maritime infrastructure, such as ports and harbours, pilots, hydrographers and the seafarers themselves.
Just as the Arctic Council has recognized and acknowledged the work of IMO in striving to ensure that developments in the polar regions are safe, secure and sustainable, IMO respects the responsible and entirely appropriate stance taken by the Arctic Council in these matters. I note with appreciation that the Arctic Council has already moved to include non-Arctic states in its discussions, through the conferring of observer status – clear recognition that there is a wider, international dimension at play here, at least in matters such as safety and environmental protection surrounding shipping in and through Arctic waterways.
Ladies and gentlemen, my presence here today is not about seeking to establish any formal relationship between IMO and the Arctic Council. But, in the spirit of the Kiruna Declaration, I too believe we should strengthen our collaboration and work more closely together. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today, and I hope this will give us a wonderful opportunity to explore possible ways of cooperation and collaboration in future. I am hopeful, as a first step, we can establish a good, informal channel of communication, for future cooperation, between the secretariats of our two organizations.
My collaborative work with your Director of the Arctic Council Secretariat, Magnús Jóhannesson, goes back to the beginning of this century, more than a decade ago, when I was serving as the Administrative Secretary of GESAMP. I know him personally and I cannot think of a better time for us, IMO and the Arctic Council, to explore the future of our cooperation.