Assembly 29th session, 23 November to 2 December (Koji Sekimizu farewell speech)



IMO Headquarters, 2 December 2015

Mr. President, distinguished delegates of the Assembly,

Whilst listening to your very kind and generous remarks, I felt humbled and I am truly very grateful for the adoption just now of the resolution expressing appreciation to my services to the Organization.

Mr. President, since this is my last speech to IMO, allow me to touch upon my personal life and my feelings today.

I have spent 26 years of my life here at IMO – a life of continuous creation, cooperation and leadership. It was a life aimed at meaningful and real actions.  I always aimed at an open, fair, efficient, creative and forward-looking IMO.

If I look back at the Scandinavian Star, Air pollution annex, the Estonia, Erica and Prestige, the Marine Electronic Highway, security measures and LRIT, the Djibouti Code of Conduct, the Polar Code, the introduction of mandatory audits, maritime migrants, or the reform of the World Maritime University... they are all examples of our continuous creative work.

Firstly, I want to express my sincere thanks to colleagues in the Secretariat, who supported me - particularly, Jane, Victoria, Grace, Tersit, Linda, Jennie, Christine and Valérie. They either assisted me as my secretaries, administrative assistants, personal assistants or the Head of the Secretary-General's Office - whatever their titles, they were the first and most immediate supporters in my life here at IMO. Alfredo Garofalo and now Antonio, have addressed a lot of situations that could not be covered by their usual lines of work.

Without the support of my colleagues in the Secretariat, I would not have been able to concentrate on my work on the rule-making process.

I also would like to thank all the staff in all Divisions for their dedicated work to maintain this Organization as a United Nations Agency. They are quiet and calm but stable and efficient and without those people, our work which is of vital importance to shipping cannot be done. I am proud of the efficient and dedicated staff of the Secretariat.


I have been, probably one of the most, outspoken Secretary-Generals. But today, I will not say anything more about the work of IMO, my initiatives as the Secretary General or my vision for the challenges ahead of IMO; I have spoken enough about this.

I would like to express my appreciation to Member Governments, the Japanese Government and the Ministry of Transport, shipping industry organizations and the staff of the Secretariat.

I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the numerous people who worked in this building towards the objectives of IMO with me during my period of 35 years since 1980, when I first attended the Maritime Safety Committee.

Pieter Bergmeijer of the Netherlands; Per Eriksson of Sweden; Emile Jansen of Norway; Joachim Jens of Germany; Juliano Patofatto of Italy and Hartmut Horman of Germany – they belong to the legends of IMO.

Also Jo Angelo of USA; Dr. Cowly of UK; Sid Wallace of USA; Bob Markle of USA;
G. Stubberud of Norway; Tom Allan of UK and Northern Ireland; Martin Böckenhauer
of Germany; Roberto Cazzulo of Italy; Marjorie Murtagh of USA; Koichi Yoshida of Japan; Charlie Piersall of USA; Norman Lemley of USA; Dan Sheehan of USA; Otto Dykeson of the Netherlands and Admiral Pereira and all Admirals who came from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – a really great number of supporters to the work of IMO.
I cannot list all of those who made significant contributions and for whom I have great respect and with whom I enjoyed truly professional work here.

Of course, I have immense appreciation for the current chairmen and vice-chairmen of the IMO organs starting with Jeff Lantz, Christian Breinholt, Arsenio Dominguez, Kofi Mbiah, Yury Melenas, Zulkurnain Ayub, Ibraheem Olugbade, and all other officers of the committees and sub-committees.

With Andreas Chrysostomou, I enjoyed good debates and discipline of the rules of procedure over twenty years and, with Ian Finley, I had so many difficult but enjoyable times responding to your well contemplated remarks raised from various angles beyond the scope of ordinary meeting participants. Sometime ago, a meeting without the duet of Ian and Janet was not an IMO meeting.

I also thank my predecessors, Dr. Srivastava, Bill O'Neil and Efthimios Mitropoulos. I have inherited many assets from them and I hope that I have contributed some to the history of IMO and now I pass our torch to generations that come and follow us.

I am not a politician. The work of IMO cannot be immune from politics but I am not a politician nor a diplomat, but a naval architect and a civil servant in the United Nations system.

I take immense pride as a professional international civil servant for international law development, serving the maritime, international community throughout my career. In this context, I cannot express enough how much I appreciate the support, cooperation and friendship of a large number of professionals in our decent work of law-making in this Organization.


I would now like to mention in particular three Japanese names.

First of all, Mr. Sasamura - the greatest of the greatest, the giant of giants, who stood as the highest mountain, like Everest, in the history of IMO. I was most fortunate – not just a day or a month, but years, 25 years that Sasamura was with me. I learned a lot from him. Sasamura was my ultimate standard and I was like a climber challenging the highest mountain, I think I am still climbing to the top and I owe him a lot.

The second is Kazuya Ishii, the former Director-General of the Ministry of Transport, Japan. In the spring of 1986, when I was working in the Japanese foreign office, he asked me, "why don't you think about going to IMO?". That was nearly 30 years ago. And now, having been involved in almost all important legislative activities of IMO over the last 26 years, being elected Secretary-General and completed my term without major faults, I feel that I have just completed the mission given to me by Mr. Ishii. I will report to him when I go back to Tokyo, next year.

And the third Japanese is, of course, my wife, Chiho. I cannot speak about her without emotion, so before I break down in tears, I just want to mention that without her, I could not have been able to come this far.


I wish to thank the senior staff of my management team - Director Zhu, Director and Assistant Secretary-General Balkin, Director and Assistant Secretary-General Winbow, and Mr. Du. They have all retired but they had given me significant support in my cabinet.

Now, I want to thank the current senior staff of the cabinet.

Director Olga O'Neil, thank you for your dedicated service. Your mandatory retirement age has arrived and this is an important rule governing UN civil servants, and I stick to the separation requirement. But, as requested by the Secretary-General elect, I have decided to extend your term for three months, for a smooth transition from me to Kitack. Within this period, Kitack, you should decide her successor. I wish you, Olga all the best, and when you retire, I wish you a long and happy retirement life with Bill.

Director Stefan Micallef, your work based on your long career at UNEP is our asset and I thank you. Director Nicolaos Charalambous, I thank you for your creative brain which doesn't stop even at nights. I can tell you that sometimes, when I would wake up in the middle of the night and send Nicolaos an email, within 30 minutes I would receive a response from him. Please take care of yourself. You are not a young boy anymore!

Director Fred Kenney, you are definitely an ultimate defender and protector of the Secretary-General and IMO. Please continue to protect the Organization. Director Ashok Mahapatra, thank you for your support and understanding over the many years, based on your Asian wisdom.  Director Lawrence Barchue, thank you for your dedicated work based on your always sound judgement and critical mind. 

Special Adviser Chris Trelawny, I thank you for your advice and support in security and counter piracy actions. I always enjoyed your humour, optimism and confidence on your professional judgement even in difficult situations. Keep the Organization safe.  Mr. Kyung-Rae Min, thank you for your integrity and your moral strength as the head of the IMO Ethics Office. Please keep your role until your retirement.
The Head of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, Jesper Loldrup; you were my vehicle to navigate through the fields of policy, thank you also for your support as my Sherpa for the United Nations Chief Executive Board.

Thank you for all of your support.

One last member whom I have yet to mention is Director Jo Espinoza. In spite of his desire to retire and start his new life earlier this year, I appreciate his decision to stay until my retirement upon my request and now for another half year for the period of essential transition from me to Kitack, upon the request of Kitack. But I cannot miss this opportunity to say my farewell. He was my back stop and the backbone of my management. His integrity in all actions we took together is truly outstanding. He has implemented my way of management and he has realized my vision aiming at an open, fair, efficient,  creative and forward looking Organization. I am very pleased to have shaped this Organization to an efficient Organization of the 21st century and in that context, his contribution was enormous. I thank him and wish him all the best for his new endeavours after his postponed retirement next year.

Before I finish, I would just like to touch upon my personal side. Probably many of the delegations know of my love of Chinese classical literature.

Chinese classical literature has been my teacher and mentor throughout my professional life. From time to time I consult with dialogues of Confucius and I followed the advice of Zeng Guofan, a famous Prime Minister of China.  For me, Chinese classical literature is a treasure and full of advice for us, in the 21st century.
I mentioned at the Australian reception the poem of Tao Yuan Ming. He is one of the greatest poets in the history of China, praising rural and field life. He was born 1650 years ago.

His famous poem says:

''Let's go back to the home country and begin a rural and pastoral life in the field.''

This famous poem on returning to the field resonates very well with my sentiment now.

He is also famous for his story of Peach Blossom Spring, or Paradise, or in similar term, Shangri-La or utopia. Let me call this Peach Blossom Paradise.

The story goes as follows;

In ancient China, there was a fisherman. He navigated through the river upstream, he lost his way, and came to the forest of peach blossoms. He found a cave and a tunnel in the rock of the mountain and he went into the tunnel.  In the tunnel, suddenly he came to an open field, full of beautiful flowers where people lived harmoniously and peacefully. People came to see him. They offered him good meals, entertainment… he enjoyed it very much. He asked people where they came from.  They said they came from a country of hundreds and hundreds years ago - fleeing from battles. They did not know who was ruling the country now. The fisherman stayed for several days in comfort and pleasure in this Paradise. The fisherman then realized that he must return home, so he said farewell to the people and returned back through the tunnel.

During his return, he left signs and marks here and there, so that he could come back again. He told the story to the Mayor who was so interested in it that he asked him to take him to the Peach Blossom Paradise. They went together but they could not find the cave and the tunnel entrance. All signs and marks had disappeared.

Distinguished delegates,

I am now returning back to the rural field of my home country and I feel like I am going to search for, and find, the Peach Blossom Paradise of Tao Yuan Ming in Japan.

I will start a new life in a rural province of Japan and establish a care system for my wife. Our new home is surrounded by paddy fields, by the river near an internal sea. We can see the mountains and a hot spring spot is nearby. I will start a field and rural life with my wife.  Once I set up a new system for me and my wife, I hope that I will also have some time to do what I really wanted to do.

I will definitely monitor the developments of IMO from a distance. I may be vocal on the developments of IMO. But, I will not take up any official specific role or function for IMO, even if requested by Kitack. A retired Secretary-General should not deal with actual work to meet the future challenges of IMO. This is my principle and this is my line. Once I have drawn the line, I will keep the line.

I have a long list of things that I really want to do. My interests cover philosophy and religion, Japanese art and culture including brush writing, maritime policy development, marine archaeology, maritime heritage and maritime history, maritime and ocean affairs and sustainable ocean education, and bringing up new generations.

As you may know my passion in maritime history and maritime heritage, I want to be a maritime historian and I am interested in creating a group of interested people who would gather and cooperate in exploring the ancient history of migration of mankind, over seas and oceans, search for maritime heritage, writing history of maritime activities of mankind, educational and promotional activities, and cooperate with maritime museums worldwide.  I might visit your country to explore your country's maritime history and maritime heritages!

For those activities, I will remain in the academic fields and, whatever I do, I will do it in my personal capacity and from an independent position as a person who has served the UN as a head of an agency and retired from the public service. I will maintain this integrity.

And also, navigating Japanese waters for my own pleasure by craft or yacht. This is like exploring my own Peach Blossom Paradise of Tao Yuan Ming.

I hope that Chiho and I will settle in our new home and begin our new life in Japan and I will continue to search for my Paradise. This is my destiny.

But, I may end up with just a rural life in Japan and if I cannot not find the Paradise that I am looking for, that will also be fine. And someday, I might feel that IMO would have been my actual Peach Blossom Paradise where I lived for a significantly long period of 26 years.


Distinguished delegates, colleagues in the shipping industry and the Secretariat, thank you very much for your support and, most of all, the friendship you have kindly provided to me over the last 26 years.

You have given me a very decent life here. Truly an extraordinary life for a Japanese boy born in a village of Yokohama. IMO has been my life. I have spent a good, creative, intellectual and professional life here. I must confess that I am totally satisfied with my professional life at IMO and now look for a different life in Japan.

My professional life here was also a life to attempt to meet that high standard set by Mr. Sasamura. Sasamura is my eternal hero. Mr. Sasamura joined IMO in mid 1960s and he served IMO for 25 years until 1989. I joined IMO when Sasamura retired from IMO and I stayed for 26 years, together with him making in total half a century of service. His contribution to the rule making activity of IMO was and is still outstanding and truly incomparable to anyone. He created the IMO legislation system, not only the MARPOL Convention. Since I joined IMO, Sasamura was always my teacher. I challenged him, discussed with him and learned everything from Sasamusa. He was IMO for me and I am still trying to meet his incredibly intellectual standard of work at IMO. He passed away just before I was elected Secretary-General, but he continued to be with me over the last four years.


Dear friends and colleagues, my time of 26 years of passion to IMO is over and I am leaving IMO. I will start my new life in Japan and IMO will also start a new era, an era to face new, significant challenges. But the objectives of IMO and the spirit of cooperation will never be changed. The shipping industry and the world need IMO.

The challenges I faced five years ago were different from the challenges you are facing now, such as climate change issues after COP 21, the implementation of the BWM Convention, new sulphur regulation in 2020, the smooth implementation of the Mandatory Audit Scheme, and domestic ferry safety. The price of oil is low and the growth of emerging economies is low, and the shipping industry is still in a difficult time of adjustment. Migration will continue and ocean issues will be critical for the future of us all and IMO must expand the scope of action. You have serious challenges ahead that require strong leadership.

New leaders and new generations should explore new and challenging frontiers and create a new IMO under the new leadership. I wish Kitack all the best and fair winds and for member Governments and the shipping industry, I wish you all the best and good luck!

My dear friends, my time is over and I am leaving.
Thank you everybody and goodbye; goodbye all and goodbye IMO!