Meeting on the Straits of Malacca and Singapore


Enhancing safety, security and environmental protection


Opening address by Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization, Singapore, 4 September 2007



Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers, Excellencies, IALA Secretary-General, distinguished participants, media representatives, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be with you here today to address this meeting, which has been convened as a follow-up to those held by IMO, in co-operation with the Governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, in Jakarta, two years ago, and Kuala Lumpur, last year. My special thanks go to our hosts, the Government of Singapore, for their support, co operation and hospitality.

In this era of globalization, inter-dependency and inter-connectivity, the establishment and maintenance of safe and secure conditions worldwide, for the transport of goods and for the movement of people, is a key factor in social development and a necessity for economic growth, being, at the same time, essential for the attainment of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. If this is true for all modes of transport, it is imperative for shipping, which is credited with the carriage of more than 90 per cent of world trade. It follows that safety and security in maritime operations in general and, more particularly, in straits used for international navigation and shipping lanes of strategic importance and significance, are so crucial and far reaching that they go beyond the immediate concerns of the shipping industry alone.

The 2005 Jakarta Meeting was held in direct response to the wishes of the IMO Council that, through co-operation among all stakeholders and, in particular, with the consent, co-operation and support of the littoral States, appropriate action, in accordance with international law, was taken at all levels to ensure that the Straits of Malacca and Singapore remained open to international navigation under all circumstances.

To that end, both the Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur Meetings were assessed as having successfully achieved their objectives in that they provided a forum for discussion among interested parties to promote and advance the establishment of a framework of co-operation aimed at enhancing safety of navigation, environmental protection and security in the Straits.

The importance of this meeting lies in the fact that it launches a new framework for co-operation in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. It is envisaged that this new framework will enable all stakeholders - industry and user States and, above all, the Straits' littoral States - to confer and continue exchanging experiences and pursuing innovative initiatives on all safety, security and environmental protection-related matters: from the provision, maintenance and replacement of aids to navigation, the removal of hazardous wrecks and the environmental and economic impact of the projected increase of vessel traffic through them, to the role that each of these stakeholders can play in contributing to the attainment of the objectives we have gathered here in Singapore to pursue, building on the successful outcome of the two previous meetings.

In this respect, details on the new Co-operative Mechanism the littoral States have established to enhance safety of navigation and environmental protection in the Straits are eagerly anticipated. I view the Mechanism as an historic breakthrough of great significance in the concerted efforts undertaken by all the parties concerned, as it constitutes the first attempt to put in place a formal framework to promote implementation of both the spirit and intent underlying article 43 of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention - which aims at achieving co-operation in the establishment and maintenance of navigational and safety aids in, and in the prevention, reduction and control of pollution from ships sailing through, straits used for international navigation. The Co operative Mechanism is also significant as it represents a commitment to continuous dialogue and co-operation among the littoral States and stakeholders on issues of relevance to the Straits. It will enable user States, the shipping industry and other stakeholders each to play their respective roles, while engaging, consulting and co-operating with the littoral States on issues relating to the enhancement of safe navigation and the protection of the marine environment in the Straits. It also offers practical avenues for user States, and users of the Straits, to make voluntary contributions towards ensuring the uninterrupted flow of traffic therethrough. Seen from all possible aspects, the Co-operative Mechanism should be heralded as a much welcomed step in the direction of providing a sound basis for henceforth considering, and moving forward, issues relating to the Straits. Thanks to the genuine spirit of co-operation displayed so far by all parties concerned, it is only natural to anticipate that, through goodwill and building on experience gained in its implementation, it will be refined and improved further in the years to come. The key issue here is that it has been established; and it is now up to user States and users of the Straits to engage in, and sustain, the process.

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From our collective efforts to ensure safe navigation worldwide, it is evident that, for a number of countries, the establishment and maintenance of adequate aids to navigation along coasts adjacent to shipping routes presents significant difficulties. In some cases, the limited resources available can only be channeled towards the establishment, maintenance, repair and replacement of aids to navigation only in the vicinity of ports. And if this is the case today, coastal States will certainly face increased and more complicated difficulties in the future when confronted with the need to provide state-of-the-art aids to navigation to meet the anticipated challenges of a steadily expanding volume of maritime traffic, justified by the demands of an ever-increasing population and those anticipated by the next generations of ships.

Although there are a variety of provisions in international law compelling States to provide adequate aids to navigation along their coasts, one wonders whether, with the traffic projections I just mentioned, this obligation should continue to be the responsibility of coastal States alone, in particular when assessed vis-à-vis ships which merely sail off their coasts. Such an assessment becomes more relevant in the case of coastal States which lack the resources, experience and expertise to honour to the full their obligations under the requirements of respective Conventions to which they are party. The time may, therefore, have come for all parties who benefit from the existence of a safe infrastructure in the Straits to reflect seriously on their collective social responsibilities and to find ways and means, possibly through voluntary contributions, to discharge their relevant social obligations.

Whilst the concept of voluntary contributions and the sharing of social responsibility may sound new to some, many will recall that these were amongst the first issues to confront the Maritime Safety Committee of IMO, when, in April 1961 (that is, only three years after IMO came into being), the United Kingdom brought the question of the repair and maintenance of certain lights in the Red Sea to the attention of the Organization seeking a collaborative solution to the problem - one, similar to that successfully addressed by the Middle East Navigational Aids Service in the Persian Gulf. And the adoption of Rules for the management, operation and financing of the North Atlantic Ice Patrol, as institutionalized in chapter V of the 1974 SOLAS Convention in May 2000, is yet another example of a service providing vital information for the safety of navigation, the maintenance of which is duly shared by States benefiting from its existence - not to mention IMO's efforts to implement the global SAR Plan, through a relevant ad hoc Fund, by assisting coastal States to put in place the necessary infrastructure to respond to calls for help by shipping using their waters.

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Those who attended last year's meeting in Kuala Lumpur will recall that the littoral States, in response to the decisions of the earlier Jakarta Meeting, presented a set of six proposals for projects aimed at enhancing the safety of navigation and environmental protection in the Straits. Since then, China has actively pursued the implementation of the project concerning the replacement of aids to navigation damaged by the tsunami disaster of December 2004. And, only last month, together with the United States, it undertook a needs' assessment exercise to refine the project proposal on the establishment of adequate capacity in the Straits for preparedness and response to pollution incidents from hazardous and noxious substances, so that the project may be implemented in stages and in a modular manner by multiple sponsors. In addition, the littoral States have undertaken to review and fine-tune the remaining four projects to attract sponsors.

The involvement of China and the United States is significant as it reflects the willingness and commitment of countries, other than the littoral States, to step up and support the principle of collective responsibily in the Straits. It is my hope that their contribution will have a positive effect on other stakeholders.

And, while it gives me pleasure to acknowledge the contribution the Nippon Foundation has been making, over many years, towards enhancing safety and environmental protection in the Straits, I find it disappointing that, so far, no voluntary contributions have been announced towards meeting the expenditure associated with the identified needs. It is true that the size and duration of the projects, especially those that concern the removal of wrecks, and the maintenance, repair and replacement of a number of aids to navigation within the established traffic separation schemes, are such that it would be impossible for individual sponsors to underwrite alone. Projects of that magnitude can only be brought to a successful completion if several sponsors come forward with generous voluntary donations, either as a one-off contribution or over a number of years. Thus, it seems to me that the main challenge we face, and are asked to respond to, today is how to sensitize interested parties to kick-start the required process; and, also, identify those who will be valiant enough to take the first step. I am, personally, determined to work, as hard as possible, to achieve this aim. In this, I know that I am not alone and that, as long as the spirit is willing, Governments, the industry and international organizations (such as IALA and IHO) will be eager to join forces to provide the Straits with the features of safety, security and environmental protection they deserve. The fact that, in spite of the serious difficulties we have had to face and overcome in the process, we are where we are today, makes me optimistic that, together, we can ride the waves and reach the safety of our port of destination soon. The omens are good - and we should keep trying!

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Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

For a second year running, the efforts of the littoral States to prevent, combat and suppress acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships sailing through the Straits have brought good results. Their commendable collective initiatives, both at sea and in the air, which have seen several stages of capacity- and confidence-building entailing considerable coordination at national level among civil, law enforcement and military authorities, including coast guards, deserve special mention here. The main challenge faced now is to sustain, even develop further, the Malacca Straits Security Initiatives for many years to come. For it was security or, to put it in a different way, the fear of a terrorist attack succeeding in blocking the Straits, with all the negative repercussions such a criminal act may entail on human life, property and the marine environment (not to mention its very serious repercussions on the economies of the littoral States, in the first place, and those of countries in the wider Far East region, in the second), that prompted, almost three years ago, the IMO Council to act to ensure that shipping lanes of strategic importance and significance are kept open to international shipping - a decision that triggered the Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore Meetings with fruitful results for everyone to see.

It is in the light of such encouraging developments that I take this opportunity to add my own voice of appreciation to that expressed by others for the continuing efforts being made by the littoral States in areas associated with the unimpeded flow of traffic through the Straits, in particular in their counter-piracy activities, which I sincerely hope will bear the same good fruit in other piracy-infested areas of the world - notably, off the coast of Somalia.

Mr. Chairman,

I welcome warmly the presence here today of so many high level dignitaries from Governments and the industry alike - a presence, which demonstrates, quite clearly, how high a priority the Straits issue is, both for South and East Asia and, indeed, for the whole world. I am confident that, through the contribution of all, we will be able, further to the commendable regional efforts made thus far, to maintain the established channel of communication and consultation for a meaningful and fruitful dialogue among all parties concerned; and, together, take all other necessary steps to ensure the safe, secure and clean passage of ships through the Straits. For I am, more than ever, convinced that it is only through working together that we will be able to address, efficiently and effectively, the multi-faceted and interconnected challenges and threats confronting the world nowadays, including those that brought us here.

I have every confidence that the spirit of co-operation and determination to succeed that pervaded the predecessor Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur Meetings and which has, so far, borne rich fruit in a wider context will, once again, prevail here as well; and that this meeting - in the course of which, you will receive an IMO report on recent developments in the implementation of the MEH demonstration project in the Straits, which is funded by the Global Environment Facility of the World Bank and only recently received a generous financial contribution from the Republic of Korea - will prove to be another decisive step towards the overall enhancement of safety, security and environmental protection in the Straits, a regional issue with global implications. I am convinced that, building on the success of those two previous Meetings and continuing to work together, with due respect to the sensitivities of the littoral States, their territorial integrity, sovereign rights, rules and regulations and in conformity with international law, in particular the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, we will be able to add our contribution to the global efforts spearheaded by IMO to create a safer, more secure and cleaner marine environment in which ships can sail freely in pursuit of their peaceful objectives in the service of mankind.

In closing, I would like to reiterate my thanks to the Government of Singapore, personally and on behalf of the entire IMO Membership and Secretariat, for offering to host this Meeting and for their generous hospitality. I also thank the Governments of Indonesia and Malaysia for their co-operation with Singapore and IMO in preparing for the meeting; as well as all the moderators and speakers; and my associates in our Maritime Safety Division, who have pursued the convening of this event with zeal, enthusiasm, passion, patience and commitment and have worked relentlessly to ensure its success.

Thank you.