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Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology / Law of the Sea 2016 Conference, Singapore


Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology / Law of the Sea 2016 Conference,

Singapore, 30 August 2016

“The role of IMO for the development of the ocean regime”

By Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me begin by expressing my thanks to the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology for the invitation to address this important conference.

KIOST was founded more than 40 years ago with a mission to discover new scientific knowledge about the oceans on which so many of the world’s people depend. Since then, the range and scope of its activities has been varied and impressive. From the study of marine life, through the discovery of ocean-based minerals and energy sources to defining a vision of modern port city infrastructure, KIOST has been founded on a clear understanding of the fundamental importance the seas and oceans to people everywhere, not just in the Republic of Korea but also in a wider global context.

This understanding is something I share passionately with you, and which is particularly important to me in my role as Secretary-General of IMO. My own firm belief is that the oceans, shipping and maritime activity are essential to the sustainable development which the world is now seeking. Through shipping, the oceans underpin the global economy. But they also hold the key to so much more that can affect the quality of our life on this planet.

But let me begin by focusing on shipping and, in particular, on IMO’s role in ensuring this vital industry continues to serve the global population in an efficient and environment-friendly way.

Shipping today transports more than 80 per cent of global trade to peoples and communities all over the world. It provides a dependable, low-cost means of transporting goods globally, facilitating commerce and helping to create prosperity among nations and peoples.

A safe, secure and efficient international shipping industry is indispensable to the modern world – and this is provided by the measures and standards developed and maintained by IMO.

As a specialized agency of the United Nations, IMO’s main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry; a framework that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.

This enables shipping to operate safely, securely, cleanly and efficiently; and, because it applies equally to all participants, it does not allow anyone to gain an advantage either by cutting corners or by imposing unilateral requirements.

This is an important principle. Everybody suffers if it is undermined, not just the shipping industry but the billions of people all over the world who depend on it.

IMO’s mandate was originally limited to safety-related issues. But subsequently this has expanded to include environmental considerations, legal matters, technical cooperation, security and maritime crime, as well as issues that affect the overall efficiency of shipping.

Today IMO measures cover all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, operation and disposal – to ensure that this vital industry remains safe, environmentally sound, energy-efficient and secure.

Enhancing maritime safety and security and protecting the environment remain at the core of IMO's objectives and they dictate the broad direction of the Organization's activities. Some of the key areas that we are currently addressing, for example, include:

• reducing harmful emissions from ships;
• developing goal-based standards for vessel construction;
• passenger vessel safety – both the giant modern cruise ships of today and the domestic ferries that are so important in this region of the world;
• implementing the Ballast Water Management Convention;
• the application of the Polar Code, which becomes mandatory from the beginning of next year;
• the development of e-navigation; and
• the continuing efforts to address security, piracy and other maritime crime.

As these clearly demonstrate, IMO is as relevant today as when it began operations all those years ago. And today, most of our work has a firm connection with science and technology – another reason why I am keen to acknowledge and commend the work done by institutions such as KIOST.

But today I also want to look beyond IMO’s day-to-day functions and talk to you about what the future might hold for the Organization – in particular, about its place in a more cohesive and connected scheme of global ocean governance.

Today, we live in a global society which is supported by a global economy. The potential benefits are clear: growth can be accelerated and prosperity more widespread; skills and technology can be more evenly dispersed, and both individuals and countries can take advantage of previously unimagined economic opportunities. 

The broader challenge we all face is how to ensure future growth can be achieved sustainably; how to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people, and not for just a privileged few.

So, beyond its traditional regulatory function, how does IMO fit into this broader picture? As part of the United Nations family, IMO is actively supporting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that world leaders pledged to support in 2015. Most of the elements of that agenda will only be realized with a sustainable transport sector supporting world trade and facilitating the global economy.

Quite apart from the key role shipping plays as the carrier of global trade, maritime activities also provide an important source of income to many developing countries. Indeed, developing countries now lead the world in some of shipping’s most important ancillary businesses, including the registration of ships, the supply of sea-going manpower and ship recycling. They also play a significant part in shipowning and operating, shipbuilding and repair and port services, among others – and their presence in IMO is appropriately strong. 

I believe maritime activity can both drive and support a healthy economy and that is why investment, growth and improvement in the shipping and port sectors are so important. It facilitates global commerce and the creation of wealth and prosperity among nations and peoples, creating a wide variety of jobs aboard ships and ashore, with beneficial impacts, both direct and indirect, on the livelihoods of others.

IMO has a strong mandate to help Member States and the industry ensure that the regulatory framework and its provisions are effectively and uniformly implemented. And, by so doing, IMO helps ensure that the ability to participate effectively in maritime activities is not just confined to the traditional shipping countries that can tap into rich seams of maritime experience and expertise. In this, I see a much wider benefit that gives IMO a broader significance than ever before – something that is very important for us, as an agency of the United Nations. 

To help developing countries build their maritime capacity, IMO has a pro-active programme of technical assistance, focusing especially on developing human resources and building institutional capacity. Given that the regulatory framework developed by IMO is now very comprehensive, the Organization’s emphasis in the coming years will be increasingly on the closely related areas of implementation and capacity building.

If the benefits of globalization are to be evenly spread, all countries must be able to play a full and active part in the distribution system and build strong transport infrastructures. IMO’s contribution towards this goal will be founded on our work surrounding implementation and capacity building.


Ladies and gentlemen, around 70 per cent of our planet’s surface is covered by water. Many countries and regions around the world are historically and geographically defined by the sea and the oceans.

As KIOST and its many varied activities so clearly demonstrate, the oceans support our society in so many different ways. They provide raw materials, energy, food, employment, a place to live, a place to relax and the means to transport the vast majority of global trade.

Many industries rely entirely on access to ocean resources, services and space – maritime transport, offshore oil and gas, ports, fisheries, aquaculture, marine tourism, seabed mining. These, in turn, generate other industries that are also dependent on maritime activities – for example, shipbuilding and repair, ship design, ship broking and chartering, vessel traffic management, pilotage and many, many more.

We call all of this ‘the blue economy’ and it amounts to a very sizeable industrial sector – and it is growing, too. Ocean-based industries are already large and they are expanding rapidly.

But there is a problem: the success and growth of these industries is actually threatening the integrity of the element that sustains and supports them – the sea.

The global marine environment and its resources are being degraded and over-exploited at an ever-increasing rate and scale. Species, critical habitats and the health of the marine ecosystem are all becoming endangered, to the extent where this is adversely affecting people who live in coastal regions and communities, worldwide, that depend on marine areas for food and livelihood.

Furthermore, conflicts in the use of ocean space and resources among the various stakeholders are increasing. Although the oceans cover such a large percentage of the earth's surface, they are becoming increasingly crowded.

So the search for growth in this sector – blue growth – is a balancing act. The varied and sometimes conflicting stakeholders all have a legitimate interest in the process, while the overall health of the seas themselves is a common concern. Today, collaboration is needed, within and across different sectors, to address impacts and reduce conflicts.

This clearly suggests an integrated approach, with a long-term focus: an approach that responds to the world’s resource, climate and environmental challenges. As a maritime community, we need to ensure that growth is coordinated and planned, with input from all relevant stakeholders, and that opportunities for synergies are identified and taken.

I believe that a major challenge for IMO and the maritime community in the years ahead will be to assess and define their roles, and those of all the various stakeholders, in the establishment of cohesive and all-embracing ocean governance structures. IMO has its mandate and I believe is ready to do more, within the UN system, to help integrate maritime policies on a global scale.

In this context, it should be mentioned that a process is now well underway at IMO to develop the Organization’s strategic framework for the coming years for the 2018-2023 period.

We need to consider the big picture and global trends if IMO is to help create a better future for the maritime world and the people who depend on it. If we are to make a real and beneficial impact, we need to focus on key areas and ensure we make progress in these areas in the years ahead.

It is essential that IMO should have a forward-looking strategy to prepare shipping and, indeed, the larger maritime community for the challenges they will face in the future; and it is my intention to ensure the Organization is properly equipped to deliver effectively the objectives that its Member States set for it, and which global society demands from it.

Thank you.