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European Maritime Law Organisation

Annual conference: European Competition Law and Transport Policy

October 20, 2011

European Maritime Law Organisation
Annual conference: European Competition Law and Transport Policy
Pre-conference dinner
20 October 2011
Speech by E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO

Chairman, Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, Secretary-General, Council Members, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be with you this evening and I thank you for the kind invitation to attend this pre-conference dinner and the opportunity to address you.
I must say that walking into a room full of lawyers can be a rather daunting prospect. However, I do feel somewhat inured thanks to many years of exposure to the IMO Legal Committee and my very direct involvement with the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta. Both have given me the opportunity to encounter the ‘human’ face of the legal profession and this evening is serving to reinforce the very favourable impression that those other associations have already engendered.
When I was asked to say a few words this evening, there was also a suggestion that my remarks should not be too serious. So, I tried to search for some lawyer jokes that might be appropriate for a dinner in the company of lawyers. Sadly, I could not find any. Let me clarify that: it was not a lack of jokes about lawyers, just that none were suitable to be told to a room full of them – like being a Manchester United supporter, as I am, attending an away match and finding myself in the stand of Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea or, even worse, Liverpool fans!...
Well, I suppose I might just get away with the one about a lawyer being like a rhinoceros because both are thick-skinned and charge a lot, but I would definitely not repeat the one about the reason sharks never attack lawyers, being ‘professional courtesy’. And I was actually quite upset by the one that went “What do you have if there are four lawyers up to their necks in concrete?  Answer – not quite enough concrete!” That was far too offensive, I thought – so, I am not telling it!...
In all seriousness, though, the popular idea of lawyers being some kind of “necessary evil” completely overlooks the fact that civilized societies everywhere are united by the need to have confidence in robust legal systems that set adequate, and up-to-date, standards for their citizens to go about their peaceful and legitimate business, at the same time providing protection from those, who would seek to act outside the law.
This principle applies just as strongly in the industrial milieu, where a properly developed and effectively implemented and enforced legal framework can establish universal technical standards and provide a level playing-field on which law-abiding operators can compete fairly.
For the shipping world, this legal framework of technical standards is provided principally by the International Maritime Organization, the Member Governments of which collectively develop and adopt rules and regulations concerning the safety, security, efficiency of navigation and environmental performance of international shipping – standards that should apply to all ships, regardless of which flag they fly. It is this that underpins a diverse and eclectic international industry and provides the solid foundation it needs to operate smoothly, efficiently and effectively.
But such an international framework can only work if it is comprehensively implemented at the national level – an area in which maritime lawyers, such as yourselves, play an important role.
This is particularly so in the European context, where shipping and the maritime world, as a whole, constitute an integral part of the region’s identity and prosperity. Consider, for a moment, that, in terms of volume, some 90 per cent of trade between Europe and the rest of the world is carried by sea. Among several EU Member States, short-sea shipping has become a key element in reducing congestion, ensuring territorial cohesion and promoting sustainable development throughout the continent. Passenger ships and ferry services have a direct impact on the quality of life of citizens in islands and peripheral regions, as shown by the more than 400 million passengers that travel through European ports each year.
Europe plays a major role in today’s shipping world – not least in the shaping of IMO’s objectives, policies and strategies.  European owners and shipping companies own more than 40 per cent of the world’s total fleet by deadweight tonnage, while, in Europe today, 1.5 million people find employment in maritime transport and related activities – and some 70 per cent of shipping-related jobs are onshore, in areas such as shipbuilding, science, naval architecture, engineering, electronics, marine equipment manufacturing, cargo-handling and logistics.
The members of the European Union are all Members of IMO and many of them – most of them, I should say – are active and influential participants in the work of the Organization. While there can be no denying the gradual eastward shift in shipping’s overall centre of gravity, it is equally true that some of the finest shipping minds are still European. Drawing on the accumulated experience and know-how of many generations, they bring insight and authority to the IMO debate, from which shipping’s international regulatory framework emerges.
One can, of course, observe increasing efforts to reach consensus among the countries of Europe on many of the issues discussed at IMO. But there is no doubt that the participation of European nations individually in the Organization’s work adds intellectual rigour to the process, and does much to ensure that the outputs are technically sound, well balanced and workable. The highly-respected, yet often different, views of the European countries are of enormous value to us and our regulatory framework.
The European Commission, on the other hand, having observer status at IMO, makes a positive contribution to the work of the Organization. In my tenure as Secretary-General, I have made a point of regularly meeting the European Commissioners for Transport, Environment, Climate Action and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries to ensure that there is a good channel of communication between our organizations, and that areas of mutual concern can be discussed and addressed. The result is a good working relationship, which operates to the benefit, not only of the organizations themselves, but also of the stakeholders whose interests we serve and the public at large.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you prepare for tomorrow’s conference (in which detailed aspects of international maritime law will be discussed and examined), it is perhaps worth considering for a moment that the sea was once a largely unregulated space – a place in which explorers and warriors, traders and carriers, honest men and thieves (they still call them “pirates”) could all be found. And you could argue that, today, not much has changed in that respect.
In the 17th century, Hugo Grotius’s seminal treatise Mare Liberum set out to establish formally the principle that the sea should be free for all. However, its real effect was to begin, in earnest, the process of bringing the seas within a framework of control and regulation – a process that has continued, unabated, to the present day.
I am not suggesting that is a bad thing. On the contrary, I am glad to say that we have come a long way since the time when the distance you could fire a cannon from shore dictated the extent of a country’s maritime domain. In the modern era, legal measures, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the comprehensive array of IMO treaty instruments, do an excellent job in defining the rights and privileges and, at the same time, the duties, obligations and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's seas and oceans.
The legal aspects of the current fight against maritime piracy, which will form part of your agenda tomorrow, make an excellent case in point. The crime of piracy is defined in UNCLOS. Not only that, UNCLOS also establishes the right of any State to seize pirate ships and pirates and determine the penalties to be imposed on them and the action to be taken with regard to the seized property, while also providing universal jurisdiction for States to prosecute cases of piracy.
But, for UNCLOS to be effective, States must enact appropriate domestic legislation to reflect its provisions concerning piracy. To help the Organization to understand to what extent the piracy provisions of UNCLOS, and other relevant instruments, have been implemented nationally by IMO Member States – and to assist States in the uniform and consistent application of the provisions of those instruments – we have requested them to provide samples of their existing national legislation to prevent, combat and punish acts of piracy – an initiative that helps us a lot in the pursuit of our anti-piracy campaign.
Because the crisis in Somalia has been caused, in the first place, by the political situation that has destabilized the country since the outbreak of a civil war in 1991, rather than by the absence of viable legal mechanisms to fight piracy, I would suggest that the first priority should be the establishment in the country of a strong Government with the ability to exercise power and authority all over its territory – which will, of course, take time.
The 2010 report on Somalia of the UN Secretary-General to the Security Council contains a number of possible options for prosecuting and imprisoning persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, including the creation of special domestic chambers in the region or the establishment of a regional or international tribunal, with corresponding imprisonment facilities.
Those options were narrowed down by the report of Jack Lang, Special Adviser to UN Secretary-General, who has suggested strengthening the rule of law in Somalia, at the same time backing the concept of “Somalization” of prosecution, by establishing a court system comprising specialized courts in Puntland and Somaliland, as well as an extra-territorial Somali specialized court. Whilst IMO has given some support to these proposals, the matter is still in the hands of the Security Council.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have no doubt that piracy, and the many other issues on your agenda, will guarantee a stimulating and thought-provoking discussion during your Conference. So, with that in mind, let me thank you, once again, for your hospitality this evening and wish you every success in your work.
Thank you.