Environmental concerns on agenda as IMO and UNEP heads meet


IMO Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Topfer met in London today (6 January 2005) to discuss items of common interest between the two UN bodies.

The two Executive Heads took the opportunity of the launch at IMO Headquarters of a series of reports by UNEP, released in advance of an international meeting on small island developing states (SIDS) to be held in Mauritius next week, to talk over some of the issues contained in the reports and to discuss the on-going relief and recovery operations in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.

The UNEP reports draw attention to the vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters of the world's small island developing states and highlight this among a range of emerging issues challenging their health and wealth.

The sustainability of the maritime and coastal environment is seen as crucial to the development of small island states, many of which have economies that depend disproportionately on fishing and tourism.

Among a number of key issues relevant to the work of IMO specifically highlighted in the UNEP reports is the threat to the health and well-being of the islands and low-lying countries of the Caribbean region from pollution generated by cruise ships and other vessels. IMO has already agreed that, in light of the high level of cruise ship and pleasure craft activity in the area, the wider Caribbean region should benefit from the Special Area status accorded to it under MARPOL annex V - regulations for the prevention of pollution by garbage from ships. Despite the importance of such a step, so far, insufficient countries in the region have declared or put in place the required reception facilities for the Special Area to enter into force. The need to ensure the early ratification and entry-into-force of the 2004 International Convention on Ballast Water Management was discussed and supported.

Mr. Topfer and Mr. Mitropoulos also discussed short and long-term responses to the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster and its aftermath. In response to a request for co-operation and the sharing of expertise and in recognition of the long and successful history of co-operation between UNEP and IMO in connection with the protection of the marine environment, IMO has agreed to the secondment of two IMO staff to set up an environmental crisis centre in Indonesia to undertake work leading to the provision of relief and support for the stricken areas. In discussions on a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean, Mr. Mitropoulos drew attention to the existing international maritime safety information promulgation network and pledged IMO's support for this initiative, assuring Mr. Topfer of the Organization's further help wherever practical and appropriate.

6 January 2005

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