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Safety@Sea Conference - “Building a resilient safety@sea culture”, Singapore


Keynote address for Safety@Sea Conference - “Building a resilient safety@sea culture”
By Kitack Lim, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization

Honourable Minister, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be with you today and I am grateful to the organizers of this conference for the opportunity to speak about a subject that is very close to my heart – namely, safety at sea.

I have lived and worked in the maritime sector for the best part of four decades. From being a seafarer, to working in maritime safety policy, and as President of the Busan Port Authority, safe shipping has always been important for me. And today I am pleased to be able to address you as Secretary-General of IMO – the International Maritime Organization, the single, global body for maritime policy and regulation, including safety at sea.

Seafaring has always been one of the world's most dangerous occupations. The unpredictability of the weather and the vast power of the sea itself seemed so great that, for centuries, it seemed that little could be done to make shipping safer.

But, in response to major disasters such as the Titanic, and as technology developed, there was a clear move in favour of developing international standards to promote maritime safety. Eventually this led to the formation, in 1948, of what was to become IMO – a United Nations agency.

Building on its primary objective of safety at sea, IMO’s mandate has grown in breadth and scope to include measures to protect the environment, promote maritime security, address certain legal issues and make shipping more efficient.

But I am pleased to say that safety is, and will continue to be, at the core of what we do. And, although important marine environment issues will continue to grab the headlines, we are very conscious that we cannot take our eyes off safety of shipping. Recent decades have seen great advances in establishing a safety culture in shipping, and these did not come about through complacency.

IMO's first task when it came into being was to adopt a new version of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the most important of all treaties dealing with maritime safety. The Convention’s main objective is to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships.

The Convention has been amended over the years to keep it up to date. It now contains 14 chapters, covering everything from construction – to safety of navigation – to carriage of cargoes – and documentation.

IMO has also developed and adopted a wide range of measures that complement SOLAS and contribute to “building the resilient safety at sea culture” that is the key topic under discussion here at this conference. These include international collision regulations and global standards for seafarer training and education, as well as international conventions and codes relating to search and rescue, the facilitation of international maritime traffic, load lines, the carriage of dangerous goods and tonnage measurement.

Undoubtedly, these measures have played their part in the steady downward trend in maritime casualties over several decades. Between 1910 and 2009, the total losses as a percentage of the global fleet decreased from near 1 per cent to near 0.1 per cent.  And if we look at the last ten years alone, from 2006 to 2015, shipping losses at sea have decreased by a staggering 45 per cent, according to insurance statistics. I think this is a very good indication that, together, IMO and the industry have indeed been successful in working towards greater safety at sea. Clearly, ships have never been safer.

Yet IMO continues to look forward to further improvements. Current safety-related initiatives include the modernization of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, our work on e-navigation, and the implementation of the Polar Code for ships trading in the harsh environments of the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

The latter, I am pleased to say, will enter into force on 1 January 2017. With effective implementation, the Polar Code will go a long way to providing for safe ship operation and protection of the environment by addressing the unique risks present in those waters. It is the perfect example of IMO reacting to the realities of a global industry that is constantly changing and responding to new challenges.

With regards to SOLAS, we have just seen the adoption by the Maritime Safety Committee of vital amendments to make mandatory the examination, operational testing, overhaul and repair of lifeboats and rescue boats, launching appliances and release gear. This marks the culmination of a great deal of work to address the injuries and loss of life which have occurred during lifeboat operations, including testing. So the full implementation of these requirements by the entry into-force date of 1 January 2020 is a really important step I would like to see in the coming years.

We cannot talk about current and future challenges without focusing on technology. In the 21st century, more than ever, humans rely on technology in all walks of life. Shipping is no exception. Modern technology provides unprecedented opportunities to reduce the chances of human error and, thereby, help enhance maritime safety, reduce casualties still further and reduce the negative consequences of casualties on human life and the environment.

It is important that cutting-edge technology and the very latest equipment are effectively integrated into every-day ship operations, and that the potential benefits they offer are harnessed to our collective advantage.

One of the key areas in which technology is having a huge impact is safety of navigation. The overall goal of IMO’s e-navigation strategy is to improve safety of navigation and to reduce errors by equipping users, on ships and ashore, with modern, proven tools, optimized for good decision-making, to make maritime navigation and communication more reliable and user-friendly.

I do not believe you can take the human away from the ship when it comes to navigation, particularly in busy waters where the eyes of the officer of the watch are still critical. The unpredictability of the high seas will always be an issue requiring human oversight, no matter how advanced the navigational technology is.

But the future "smart ships" may help seafarers to an even greater degree when it comes to navigation, offering ever greater support for decision-making.

Ultimately, the aim is always to support the person in their decision-making, so we have to utilize technology for the benefit of the seafarers and particularly the master of the ship. When we think back to 20th century, technological advances such as radar served to enhance human capacity to navigate the ship. Now we are looking to harness more holistic and advanced e-navigation tools, but with the same objective.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is great to see so many speakers and attendees from across the maritime world here today. This is the key. If a “culture” can be generally defined as the sum of the collective attitudes and actions of a group of people – then meetings and exchanges such as this will help to provide a platform for the resilient safety at sea culture that we all desire.

And, if we can each influence the values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, patterns of behaviour in our own specialized fields, organizations, departments and jobs – we can begin to exert a beneficial influence on the safety culture as a whole.

Training, of course, is another essential component of this culture.

Whenever the causes of maritime casualties are analysed, "human error" always comes high on the list. Some even suggest as many as 80 per cent of casualties can be traced back to human error.

IMO's long and wide-ranging involvement in the human element of shipping includes the adoption of the 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, and the International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention – the ISM Code.

These are the two measures that have been designed most directly to influence the culture, both aboard ships and within shipping companies.

The STCW treaty was the first to establish basic requirements on training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers on an international level. Compliance with its standards is essential for serving on board ships. Its aim is to ensure that the industry’s vital human resource – the bedrock of any culture – has a common standard of basic training. It does not create a safety culture in itself, but it should go some way towards providing the raw material needed to create one.

The ISM Code addresses the responsibilities of the people who manage and operate ships. It establishes safety-management objectives and requires a safety-management system to be established by the shipowner or operator, which is then required to establish and implement a policy for achieving these objectives. This includes providing the necessary resources and shore-based support.
Ladies and gentlemen, to conclude:

I believe that IMO’s mission of safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans can be better achieved when all the stakeholders firmly commit to properly implementing the standards developed and adopted by IMO.
Safety at sea remains our core objective and I am sure that this conference will make a valuable contribution to the building of a resilient safety at sea culture.

I wish you very productive, fruitful and enjoyable discussions in the sessions to come.

Thank you.