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2011 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea

November 21, 2011

2011 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea
21 November 2011
Opening speech
Secretary-General
 
Ministers, Her Majesty’s Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, Excellencies, President of the Assembly and Chairman of the Council, Permanent Representatives to IMO, Lord Joyce, Admirals, fellow Assessors and Judges, Heads of international shipping organizations, distinguished guests, delegates and observers, media representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the annual ceremony for the bestowal of the IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea. This is the fifth time this ceremony takes place and I hope it becomes a deeply-rooted institution, warmly embraced by the maritime community and eagerly anticipated every year.
 
We started the ceremony with a video montage, which aimed at reminding us of the forces nature so often unleashes on ships; displaying, albeit in a small scale, the fortitude and skills required of seafarers when facing them; and, central to the ceremony’s theme, the extreme bravery of individuals, who, when confronted with the unexpected, have no hesitation to risk their own lives to save fellow human beings found in distress at sea.
We are here this evening to, once again,  honour and pay tribute to a very special group of courageous men and women, who, in coming to the rescue of others under life-threatening conditions, displayed virtues of heroism, valour, devotion to duty and altruism of the highest standard.
 
This year, the number of nominations we received was the highest ever, making it difficult for the Panel of Judges to decide on the winner of the Award and, then, to determine which other acts, vividly described in the accompanying citations, also deserved special recognition for similarly meritorious actions performed under dangerous circumstances.
 
Altogether, nominations for 38 acts of bravery were received for this year’s Awards – from 14 IMO Member Governments and one non-governmental organization in consultative status.
 
In our circular letter inviting nominations, we had asked Member States and international organizations to focus, in their submissions, on such factors as the weather and attendant conditions prevailing at the time the acts were performed; the determination displayed by the nominees to conduct the rescue operation no matter how adverse the circumstances; the leadership demonstrated; the exceptional courage displayed; and the degree of risk encountered – whether to human lives, the marine environment or both.
 
The nominations were scrutinized initially by an Assessment Panel, which I chaired, made up of experts designated by the International Shipping Federation, the International Transport Workers’ Federation, the International Maritime Pilots’ Association, the International Federation of Shipmasters’ Associations, the International Salvage Union and the International Maritime Rescue Federation – all of them being international organizations closely associated with the human element and rescue operations at sea.  The panel met to assess the nominations in May and I take this opportunity to thank all its members for the diligence and meticulous attention to detail with which they approached their task.
 
When scrutinizing the nominations received, the Panel differentiated between, on the one hand, acts performed by professional or trained rescuers and, on the other, acts performed by others who, in the normal course of their duties or activities at sea, would not be expected to conduct rescue operations under circumstances that had the potential of placing their lives at considerable risk.
 
Accordingly, while professional or trained rescuers were not ruled out from being considered to receive any of the Awards, to qualify, they would need to have displayed, in the process of a rescue operation, extraordinary courage and valour, going well beyond their normal duties on board ship, under extremely difficult conditions.  It followed that, because the main Award is about the display of exceptional bravery, any display of outstanding skill, professionalism or seamanship, while assessed as important contributory factors in any nomination submitted, would not, alone, be sufficient for the nominee concerned to win the main Award.
 
The recommendations of the Assessment Panel were then put before a Panel of Judges, chaired by the Chairman of the Council and comprising the Chairmen of all the Committees of the Organization. 
 
All those nominated, and especially those we are about to honour this evening, are ordinary people, like you and me, who, when faced with tough decisions, showed no signs of hesitation in going beyond the call of duty, acting with sheer determination and fortitude even when the odds were stacked against them. In so doing, they saved lives and, in some cases, prevented serious pollution of the marine environment. They faced heavy seas, hostile weather conditions, fire and other hazards: they were not intimidated and did not give up. They succeeded in their task and survived to tell the tale.
 
Of all the reported acts of bravery, one stood out and that one has earned unanimously the highest prize. As you will hear in detail in a short while, it was committed by Captain Seog Hae-gyun, of the Republic of Korea, Master of the chemical tanker Samho Jewelry, who was confronted not by the elements that nature can throw at men and ships, but an even more insidious danger: that of pirates threatening him, his crew and his ship. In response, he acted with quick thinking, courageously, decisively and with extreme bravery to protect all those whose lives depended on him and his decisions. His selfless reaction left him with severe injuries and nearly cost him his life.
 
The fact that his act of bravery has been judged as deserving the top honour has particular resonance this year, when piracy has been at the epicentre of our activities, spurring and motivating us to orchestrate a credible response to its menace.
 
You will hear more about Captain Seog’s exceptional act of bravery later, along with details of eight other nominees or groups of nominees, who will receive Certificates of Commendation, and eleven other nominations that have been selected to receive Letters of Commendation.
 
Acts of bravery committed at sea aside, this year’s ceremony is enriched by another element of recognition of special people who render special services – for, while we honour those, who risk their lives to rescue others, we should not forget those in the background, who staff the global network of rescue coordination centres. They are the first to receive a distress call and the first to act upon it. Their responsibility is enormous and, to be able to respond effectively, they man their stations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, vigilant and alert at any time, for any kind of emergency.
 
To recognize their contribution to the overall search and rescue system and infrastructure, we will honour this year the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres of Falmouth in the United Kingdom and of Stavanger in Norway. On several occasions, these two centres have assisted in search and rescue operations unfolding in distant areas, far away from their respective countries’ search and rescue regions, displaying standards of the highest professionalism, dedication to duty and commitment to success. May they motivate others to follow their example!
 
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Ladies and gentlemen,
 
Before we proceed with the presentation of the Awards, I should like, once again, to thank the Government of Spain for its generosity in supporting the scheme by subsidizing the production of the silver medal that we will present to the winner of the main Award.
 
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And, now, to the presentation of the awards: we will invite first those judged worthy of Certificates of Commendation (or their representatives) to come forward to receive them.
 
After that, we will invite the representatives of the Falmouth and Stavanger MRCCs to proceed to receive their special Certificates.
 
And, finally, we will invite the winner of this year’s main award, Captain Seog, to join us here to receive his prize. We are delighted that he has recovered enough from his ordeal to come to London, accompanied by his wife.
 
Thank you.
 
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