Security and refugee issues to fore as Secretary-General opens 22nd IMO Assembly

IMO Secretary-General William O’Neil stressed the urgent need for the maritime community to address issues of maritime security in the light of the current global political situation in his speech to the opening of the 22nd session of the Assembly of the International Maritime Organization at its London headquarters yesterday, Monday 19 November.

Mr O’Neil told delegates, “safety and security have assumed a higher profile than ever and have been placed on the top of the priority list.  This is witnessed by the fact that the UN Security Council adopted a resolution, on September 28th, containing wide-ranging comprehensive measures and strategies to combat international terrorism.”

He added, “there is a need to expand IMO’s security measures, which at present only cover passenger vessels, to include other potentially vulnerable areas such as LNG carriers.”  Mr O’Neil has initiated steps to place a Resolution focussing on terrorism before this session of the Assembly.

Mr O’Neil also highlighted the need for the Organization to respond to another issue of growing global concern, namely the plight of refugees and asylum seekers who become rescued from the sea.  “Recent events involving survivors of distress incidents, asylum seekers, refugees and stowaways,” he told the meeting, “have caused justified concern worldwide.  The Organization’s concern”, he said, “is with safety at sea”. 

Delegates heard that Mr O’Neil had proposed that a review should be undertaken by an inter-agency group within the UN system of the existing legislation concerning the delivery of persons rescued at sea to a place of safety, regardless of their nationality and status or the circumstances in which they are found, with a view to strengthening and harmonizing the competence of the agencies involved.  The proposed review would identify any existing gaps, inconsistencies, duplications or overlaps in that legislation.  Mr O’Neil has received positive responses to this proposal from the High Commissioner of UNHCR, the Executive Director of UN Drug Control and Crime prevention and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In a wide-ranging address, Mr O’Neil went on to highlight the importance of the forthcoming implementation deadlines for the ISM Code and the revised STCW Convention, and the important work facing the Organization in the next biennium with regard to the safety of large passenger vessels and bulk carriers.

With an eye to the future, Mr O’Neil suggested that with the growth of the Organization, the scope and breadth of the issues with which it deals should be examined and expanded as necessary.  In this respect, he reiterated his concerns about continual loss of life resulting from casualties involving ships that are not covered by the Organization’s international conventions.  He also suggested that the IMO’s horizons might expand further into the realms of implementation oversight, particularly in view the role the Organization has played in verifying implementation of the revised STCW Convention.

The outgoing President of the Assembly, Mr Pertti Salolainen, Ambassador of Finland to the United Kingdom, said that the monitoring of implementation of a convention had been a new task for the Organization and that it had so far been successful.  Looking back at some of the key events during his Presidency, Mr Salolainen said,  “The Organization dealt with the aftermath of the Erika incident efficiently, responding to Member States’ calls for action. Besides the adoption of a revised phase-out schedule for single-hull tankers, the Committees and Sub-Committees have incorporated into their work programmes items relating to a list of measures aimed at enhancing safety and minimizing the risk of oil pollution, drawn up in response to the Erika incident.”

Mr David Jamieson MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport of the host country, the United Kingdom, told delegates of his country’s long-term commitment to maritime training.  “Even the newest ship,” he said, “is substandard, and a threat, if it is crewed by poorly trained, overworked crew and presided over by incompetent management.  Similarly, competent maritime Administrations must be adequately resourced with properly trained staff.”

To this end, he announced that the UK would henceforth be offering an annual subscription to the World Maritime University in Sweden of £100,000.

The 22nd Session of the IMO Assembly runs until 30 November 2001.

Election of Officers

The Assembly elected the Hon. Mr Edward Singhatey, Secretary of State for Presidential Affairs, The Gambia, as President of the Assembly.

 The Vice-Presidents are  the Hon. Mr Jose Luis Lopez-Sors Gonzalez, Director-General, Merchant Marine, Spain, and the Hon. Mr Gap-Sook Lee, Deputy Minister for Maritime Safety Management, Republic of Korea.

The Assembly elected the following to chair the two Committees of the Assembly:

Committee 1: H.E. Ambassador Orlando Allard, Permanent Representative of Panama to IMO

Committee 2: Mr J.J. Angelo, Director of Standards, United States Coast Guard,  Department of Transportation, United States of America.


The Assembly normally meets once every two years. All 160 Member States and two Associate Members are entitled to attend as are the inter-governmental organizations with which agreements on co-operation have been concluded and non-governmental organizations which have consultative status with IMO.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the United Nations agency concerned with maritime safety and the prevention of marine pollution from ships.

Full text of the IMO Secretary-General’s speech.


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