Assembly, 30th session, 27 November to 6 December 2017 (Opening address)

Opening address to the thirtieth regular session of the IMO Assembly
By Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General
IMO Headquarters, 27 November 2017

Mr President, Ministers, Excellencies, distinguished delegates and observers, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to IMO Headquarters for the 30th session of the Organization's biennial Assembly. And first of all I would like to express my deepest appreciation to all Member States, Inter-Governmental Organizations, Non-Governmental Organizations and industry for the invaluable support and cooperation during my first two years as Secretary General. Collaboration and communication have been two main ingredients of our collective successes. And also, I would like to thank the IMO Secretariat for the dedicated effort to best serve the Organization. As usual, during the next week and a half, you will receive extensive reports on the Organization's work over the past two years. You will hear that, once again, during this biennium, we have been active and engaged, facing and meeting many challenges within our mandate.

Before moving on, I would like to take this opportunity to convey the Organization’s, it’s Secretariat, the wider IMO Community and my own condolences to the delegation of Egypt and the bereaved families, friends and colleagues of the innocent victims for the recently committed terrorist attack in the Sinai peninsula. I also would like to express our solidarity and support to the delegation of Argentina with regard to the Argentine submarine, ARA San Juan, which went missing on 15 November 2017 with 44 crew members on board. We look forward to positive news in the near future.

Ladies and gentleman,

In this Assembly, you will also be asked to make important decisions that will determine how the Organization operates over the next two years. You will, for example, be asked to approve the work programme and budget for the next biennium and to elect a new Council to administer IMO until the next Assembly.

But perhaps one of the most important issues before you at this Assembly is to formally adopt the new Strategic Plan for the Organization for the six-year period 2018 to 2023, together with the associated Assembly resolution on the application of that plan.

The seven strategic directions point us now towards  more effective rule making and implementation processes by integrating new and advancing technology to respond to our challenges, among others, to increase ship safety, including addressing new emerging technologies such as autonomous vessels, our contribution to combat climate change, engagement in ocean governance, mitigation of cyber-crimes, and facilitation of international trade, whilst continuing to take due consideration of the human element factor.

In order to achieve this objectives, I would like us to transform IMO into a “knowledge based Organization”, allowing us to perform the necessary adjustments to carry out appropriate analysis to support and improve our already effective rule making process and enhance implementation.

Without doubt, a key strategic direction for the Organization as a whole will be to improve implementation of the existing regulatory regime.

International shipping now has a comprehensive regulatory regime that covers the whole life of a vessel, from start to finish, and its operational environment.

This regulatory framework will inevitably need to be amended and upgraded from time to time, to keep pace with technological developments and with the changing expectations of our stakeholders. But our emphasis now must switch firmly onto effectively implementing what is already there – rather than developing new rules and new conventions.

Implementation is, of course, the responsibility of Member States; but the Secretariat plays its part, too, with mechanisms such as the Member State Audit Scheme and the extensive technical cooperation programme, with its strong emphasis on capacity building in developing countries and Small Islands Developing States. To respond to my commitment to improve technical cooperation and capacity building to developing countries, I have taken the necessary actions in the development of a long-term financial sustainability strategy that will also help us improve our efficiency and delivery. This is an area in which, clearly, we must all work together over the coming years, in the spirit of a “voyage together” where no one is left behind.

Ladies and gentlemen, I mentioned earlier the rapidly increasing pace of change that we are experiencing today. All around us, in every sphere of life, we are encountering radical new models for the way we live our lives, usually driven by some form of innovative digital technology or artificial intelligence.

For IMO, this raises a fundamental issue: how do we deal with the fact that technology will move far, far more quickly than the regulatory process? Integrating new and advancing technologies in the regulatory framework and ensuring regulatory effectiveness both feature among the seven strategic directions contained in the new plan and, in this context, they are clearly linked.

Digital disruption will arrive in the shipping world very soon; and, when it does, IMO must be ready. For me, this means the regulatory framework for shipping must be based firmly around goals and functions rather than prescriptive solutions. This is the only way to ensure that measures adopted by IMO are not rendered obsolete by the time-lag between adoption and entry-into-force. I know we have already made good steps in that direction but we must go further and faster in the coming years.

The Organization itself, too, needs to become more effective – and that means more nimble and more adaptive. From the Secretariat’s perspective, we will continue to ensure that we are as ready as ever to support Member States in their decision-making processes. In positioning the "Knowledge based Organization" concept, we will be equipped with higher expertise and will continue to review our internal structures and procedures and our use of technology in all areas. To achieve these goals, I have started the process for a functional review of the Secretariat, a mechanism assisting in carrying out an internal assessment of our current activities aiming at providing smarter services to Member States.

We also need to do more to embrace data in our work and in our decision-making processes. We are in the era of digitalization and at the United Nations level we are already looking at frontier issues that include emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, and the benefits they could have in society as a whole, and to remain relevant. For IMO, we need to have more detailed and deeper analysis of statistics and data so that we can really understand underlying trends and causal factors behind shipping casualties; and we must make sure that additions and amendments to the regulatory framework are also based, wherever possible, on relevant statistics, studies and analysis. This would pave the way for better regulation, one that not only takes into account the work carried out to reduce administrative burdens, but to avoid disproportionate requirements, as well as addressing obsolete and unnecessary ones.

Ladies and gentlemen, the need to continue to respond to climate change is another key strategic direction identified in the plan. As you know, regulating greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping, as part of the global response to climate change, has been high on IMO’s agenda for some time. We have made good progress, and the work is approaching some new and very significant milestones.

Thanks to IMO, international shipping was the first industry to be subject to global, mandatory, energy-efficiency measures designed to address greenhouse gas emissions, and consideration of further measures is now well underway and being very actively pursued.

This is the key point:  IMO Member States have told the world they will produce a comprehensive strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships, beginning with an initial strategy to be adopted next year.

Make no mistake, the whole world will be watching IMO next year, and looking for something of real substance, an initial strategy that will provide a firm basis for our work towards the revised strategy in 2023. Next year really will be a time when the world will expect IMO Member States to deliver a clear vision as the first stage of the approved roadmap.

I urge you, be bold; set ambitious goals that really will make a difference. You have a real opportunity here to do something of lasting significance. Make the most of it.

There is a commitment for IMO to ensure a balance, for international shipping, between the needs for economic development, facilitation of international trade, safety, security and environmental protection. If this balance can be achieved, the benefits will be felt far beyond the shipping industry itself.

IMO is actively working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, supporting Member States in their implementation of the 2030 Agenda is enshrined in the vision statement captured in the new strategic plan. Because most of the elements of the 2030 Agenda will only be realized with a sustainable transport sector supporting world trade and facilitating the global economy, aspects of IMO’s work can be linked to almost all of the individual SDGs.

Much has been said and written about the “blue economy”. 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. What is needed is collaboration within and across different sectors to address impacts and reduce conflicts.

The various actors and stakeholders in shipping and transport have a tendency to operate in isolation from each other. We often find that areas such as maritime safety and navigation, port and infrastructure development, transport policy, environmental protection, fisheries, security, customs and border control all fall within different departments or different ministries.

And yet, in reality, all these areas are linked to one another and have a mutual influence and bearing on each another. Although IMO is primarily concerned with regulations for ships, in a world where shipping is part of a continuum, can the international regulatory authority really be confined to dealing only with ship related matters? I don’t think so. Indeed, there are countless areas where our work also impacts ashore, as clearly stated within the IMO Convention – from safety and traffic facilitation, efficiency of navigation, through security to environmental protection, we share so many areas of mutual concern with other stakeholders in the logistics chain.

Establishing a sustainable maritime transportation sector is essential to the development and growth of the world's economy as we move forward. A coordinated and integrated approach to maritime policy and ocean governance is needed. Again, the importance of IMO’s role in this regard is clearly identified in the strategic plan.

Next year, IMO will celebrate its 70th anniversary, and we are planning a series of events and initiatives to commemorate this landmark. I hope you will all be able to participate in some or all of them.

The theme we have selected for next year – “Our heritage – better shipping for a better future” – looks both at the past and into the next 70 years that lie ahead. It provides an opportunity to reflect and showcase how IMO has adapted over the years as a crucial player to the global supply chain.

With shipping transporting more than 80 per cent of global trade to people and communities all over the world, it is clear that our actions have an effect beyond the ships we regulate. We have a need to raise our profile in the global community as a key member of the United Nations family.

IMO represents the collective views and decisions of its 172 Member governments; and they – you – represent the billions of ordinary people, all over the world, who rely on shipping every day of their lives, whether they realise it or not.

These people are our constituency; and these people need a viable, sustainable shipping industry. Their prosperity, their well-being and, in some cases, their very survival, depend on it.

Therefore, when IMO regulates about issues related to safety, security, human element and protection of the marine environment, the overarching objective is to ensure that the people of the world can continue to benefit from shipping in a manner that meets modern expectations towards IMO.

I know that the rules and regulations you adopt at IMO can be difficult or challenging for the industry to comply with. But nothing truly worthwhile is ever easy. IMO’s mission is to promote safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient and sustainable shipping; and these are the yardsticks by which we should measure our success.

Ladies and gentlemen, the IMO Assembly is a great opportunity for you, the Member States, to signal clearly your intentions for this Organization over the coming years and, in particular, the next biennium. So I urge you, please, use this meeting to be pro-active, and to really deliver on the key issues that you will address, not only during this session but throughout the biennium and beyond, and fulfilling the expectations and objectives set for the Organization. We must, collectively, understand that issues we once considered “futuristic”, like autonomous ships, artificial intelligence, management through Big Data and cyber security are already actually with us right now. I cannot stress enough the need to continue our established collaboration and cooperation, and I will do my utmost to increase even more our communication channels, which are paramount in facing together any challenges that may lay ahead for the shipping industry…our industry.

It remains only for me to welcome you all to IMO. Whether you are a regular visitor or here for the first time, I can assure you that you are most welcome. You have a busy and challenging time ahead of you – not least in getting through all the receptions and after-hours events! So here’s to another successful and productive IMO Assembly.

I would like to conclude expressing once again my deepest gratitude to all Member States, Non-Governmental and Inter-Governmental Organizations and to the industry for their cooperation, and I thank in particular the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the host country, for its ongoing support.

Thank you.