International Maritime Safety, Security and Environment Academy

Speech by Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization, Genoa, 28 November 2008

Presidente della Previncia di Genova, Commandant of the Italian Coast Guard, Representative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Representatives of the Italian Armed Forces, Presidents of IMSSEA/WISTA/Intercargo, Director of IMLI, President and CEO of RINA, Distinguished representatives of the Italian maritime community, Distinguished guests, Media representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today as we mark two important and related occasions in an area of crucial significance to shipping.

As you may know, since March 1988, there has been in place a bilateral agreement for co-operation, between the Italian Government and IMO, in the field of education and training. It covers the delivery of courses, on subjects of interest to several sectors of the shipping industry, to the benefit primarily of maritime professionals from developing countries.

The focus for this activity had, for many years, been the International Maritime Academy in Trieste. However, the Trieste facility ceased operations in 2005 and, although the bilateral agreement remained in place, that left a vacuum.

It was, therefore, with feelings of joy and deep appreciation that we received the news of the Italian Government's decision to establish the International Maritime Safety, Security and Environment Academy, here in Genoa, as the facility to continue the Trieste Academy training and education programme, within the framework of the bilateral IMO/Italy agreement and, thereby, to fill that vacuum. In due course, we will sign a new agreement in London, to cement the status of I.M.S.S.E.A. and confirm its position as a valuable institution established to provide advanced education, training and technical advice in furtherance of the objectives and goals of IMO in the areas the programme of the Academy is designed to cover.

We are also here to inaugurate the first I.M.S.S.E.A. courses, on Flag State Implementation and Port State Control, two vital areas, both of which form an integral part of the "safety" and "environmental protection net" that helps international shipping maintain its hard-earned position as a modern, efficient, safe and environmentally-friendly industry.

Proper training and education underpin the specialist expertise found at every level of the maritime industry. Employers (be they Governments or the private sector) simply cannot afford to hire staff who lack a proper understanding of the intricacies of the complex and demanding maritime environment. Without that knowledge base, whether it is founded on academic qualifications, on-site experience, continuous professional development or a combination of these, the shipping industry would not be the success story that it undoubtedly is.

The topics covered by the two inaugural courses are excellent examples of how wider, ancillary maritime activities serve to support and improve the central, core business and, in this case, the main objectives of IMO. For, while IMO was established to develop and adopt legislation, it is Governments that are responsible for its implementation and enforcement. When a Government accepts an IMO Convention, it agrees to make it part of its own national law, and to enforce it just like any other law. The problem is that some countries lack the expertise, experience and resources necessary to do this properly. Others, perhaps, put enforcement fairly low down their list of priorities.

With a membership of 168 Governments and 3 Associate Members, IMO has plenty of teeth but some seem to be unable to bite. The result is that casualty rates - probably the best way of gauging how effective Governments are at implementing legislation - vary enormously from flag to flag. Some fleets have casualty rates that are many times higher than others - although the gap is closing recently.

IMO has been concerned about this problem and, in 1992, we set up a specialist body, the Sub-Committee on Flag State Implementation, to help Governments improve their performance. Another way of raising standards is through port State control. The most important IMO conventions contain provisions authorizing Governments to inspect foreign ships that visit their ports to ensure that they comply with the standards enshrined in IMO conventions to which they are party. If they do not, various measures, including detention, can be taken to ensure deficiencies are rectified. Both flag State implementation and port State control are, therefore, essential tools for maintaining and improving quality in the world merchant fleet and courses, such as the two that will be inaugurated here today, have a vital role to play.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the interwoven global society that we live in today, the shipping industry is one about which few outsiders have much knowledge and even fewer understand just how much they have come to depend on it.

The fact, however, is that shipping underpins international trade by carrying, all around the world, the vast majority of the essentials and luxuries that many of us have come to take for granted. Indeed, the demand for raw materials, finished products, foodstuffs, energy and luxuries has grown, year-on-year, in line with the requirements of global trade - and I do not expect the current financial crisis to have a very serious impact on the volume of, at least, the basic commodities transported by sea. That demand has been, from time immemorial, satisfied by the international shipping industry, which, today, transports over 90 per cent of the world trade safely, securely, efficiently and at a fraction of the environmental impact and cost of any other form of bulk transportation.

In a complex and highly developed industry such as shipping, the importance of education and training cannot be overstressed. IMO has long afforded them a high priority, since the quality and ability of individuals - the human factor - in all facets of the industry, is central to IMO's objectives of safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans.

And it is for that reason that we have recently turned our attention to the question of recruitment and retention of seafarers, something in which quality education and training, such as that which will be provided here at I.M.S.S.E.A., is a critical component. As members of the shipping community, you will, I am sure, be aware of the problem. You will have seen the surveys and read the reports predicting a severe shortage of seafarers, particularly officers, in the years to come. The current global financial crisis may have triggered a downturn in trade and, therefore, in demand for shipping which may, or may not, last for a number of years. But this will not address the underlying shortage, which is endemic in an industry characterized by an ageing demographic profile and a less-than-favourable public image but which, nevertheless, continually demands manpower of higher quality and with a greater degree of technical expertise.

It boils down to this: if the global pool of competent, properly qualified, certified and efficient seafarers is to meet the predicted future demand, then seafaring must be seen as a viable career choice for people of the right calibre. The employment conditions for seafarers must, at the very least, be comparable to those found in other industries.

By paying attention to details of seafarers' training, welfare, pay, living conditions, job security, job satisfaction and prospects for career advancement, the attractiveness of seafaring as a profession, in what today has become a very competitive and international employment market, can and must be improved.

Shipping needs to be seen as an interesting, appealing and practicable option for school and college leavers. It must be able to provide a career path that matches the aspirations of the ambitious and capable young people that it so urgently needs to attract and retain.

All of us connected, one way or another, to the shipping industry have a duty to stress, at every opportunity, the many advantages and attractions of a career at sea. We should focus on the fact that seafarers are generally well paid, can achieve positions of responsibility relatively early in their working lives and have good long-term career development prospects. Then there are the more familiar attractions, such as the chance to travel the world, the opportunity to meet and work with people from many different countries, the fact that it is not just another dull office job and, of course, the long periods of home leave.

All of which can add up to an enticing package for anyone attracted to a select, international profession, requiring highly skilled professionals, with the massive responsibility for moving cargo and passengers safely around the world.

The obvious impact that the quality of the shipping industry's workforce has on safety and security at sea, the protection of the marine environment and the sustainability of the global economy means that manning and employment-related issues play an important part in the work of IMO. For these very reasons, jointly with several industry bodies and in association with the International Labour Organization, we launched, only ten days ago, the "Go to Sea!" campaign: to raise awareness of the need to boost recruitment into the shipping industry, both in terms of quantity and quality and to encourage existing seafarers to continue serving the industry - and I urge you, too, ladies and gentlemen, representatives of the Italian maritime community, to place these considerations high on your own agenda over the coming years.

Ladies and gentlemen, it would be remiss of me to pass up this opportunity to say just a few words about the contribution of Italy towards the work of IMO. Italy became a Member of the Organization way back in 1957, which, given that IMO did not become operational until 1959, means that she has, in effect, been there from the start. This year, Italy has joined her fellow IMO Member States in celebrating a number of key milestones and anniversaries for the Organization: the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the IMO Convention by a conference held in Geneva in 1948 under the auspices of the United Nations; the 50th anniversary of that Convention entering into force, in 1958; and the convening of the 100th session of the IMO Council, the executive organ of IMO responsible for supervising the work of the Organization in between sessions of the Assembly. And, of course, Italy participated, at the highest level, in the celebrations of the WMD Parallel Event in Greece - my thanks to Admiral Pollastrini, who led a strong delegation.

The history of Italy's association with IMO is one of strong, consistent and active support for, and participation in, the Organization's work. Moreover, as a "Category A" member of IMO's Council, Italy has been placed in a special position of responsibility by her fellow maritime countries. As such, it is to their credit that Italian delegations have never been afraid to take a leading role in the debates at IMO.

Italy has shown its commitment, dedication and loyalty to, and belief in, IMO in so many other ways, too: Italy has shouldered the burden of hosting international conferences (such as the 1988 SUA Conference in Rome and the 2000 SAR Conference in Florence - the latter presided over by Admiral G. Olimbo) on the Organization's behalf; has fielded some outstanding individuals in its service (including, Dr. Luigi Spinelli, the unforgettable Dr. Guilliano Pattofatto, former Chairman of our Maritime Safety Committee and Dr. Antonio Basso) and, of course, as we are here to acknowledge today, made such an important contribution to the education and training of high-quality maritime professionals from all over the world. Italy's support for, and contribution to, IMO is greatly valued and I look forward to the bonds between us continuing and strengthening.

And so, let me conclude by thanking the Government of Italy for its continuing, long-standing support for maritime training and education and, in particular, for its backing of IMO's technical co-operation efforts through the bilateral agreement that it will be my honour and pleasure to see it renewed today, 20 years after the original agreement was signed, thereby reinforcing the common commitment that we share.

The stated ambition of I.M.S.S.E.A. is to provide the maritime community and, in particular, the developing countries, with a centre for specialized training and an effective tool for the transfer of knowledge and expertise from the developed to the developing maritime nations. This is indeed a laudable aim and I have every confidence that this institution will join the two other IMO educational establishments - the World Maritime University in Sweden and the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta - in successfully helping to promote the highest practicable standards in maritime safety and security, efficiency of navigation and the prevention and control of marine pollution. I wish to the Academy every success and its students a happy stay in this, one of the most prominent and beautiful maritime cities of the world, and, once they have completed their studies here, a very successful career in the service of shipping. We will always be happy to receive them at IMO.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.