32nd IMO Assembly opening address

Opening address to the 32nd regular session of the IMO Assembly (remote session) by IMO Secretary-General, Kitack Lim.

6 December 2021

Madam President, Ministers, Excellencies, distinguished delegates and observers, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the thirty-second regular session of the Organization's biennial Assembly. We are witnessing history as the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic has necessitated the holding of this Assembly session remotely.

Over the last 20 months the pandemic has had a huge impact on the world as we know it. For the maritime sector the impact has been profound.

On the positive front, shipping has demonstrated its relevance and importance to keep trade and transport of essential goods and medicine flowing across continents even during the pandemic. 

However, all this has come at a cost to the world's seafarers. We must acknowledge the outstanding contribution of seafarers and continue to support them.

I must recognize the exemplary collaboration in the efforts to support seafarers between IMO, other United Nations Agencies, Member States, industry and the work of the IMO seafarer crisis action team or SCAT.

The crew change crisis is not yet over. We must continue to take the necessary action for more countries to recognize seafarers as key workers and to facilitate vaccinations for them.

During this session you will be requested to consider and adopt an Assembly resolution urging continued comprehensive action to address seafarers' challenges during the pandemic.

You will consider the reports on the work of the Organization for the past two years. You will also be invited to approve the work programme and budget for the next biennium, and to elect a new Council to administer IMO until the next Assembly.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to review the biennium and highlight some key achievements.

In 2020, as the world went into lockdown, the Organization's work was curtailed - as meetings of Committees and Sub-Committees had to be postponed or cancelled.

IMO held its first ever remote committee session in September 2020 – which adopted interim guidance to facilitate remote sessions that allowed the important work of our Organization to continue. IMO was one of the first UN agencies to adopt a process for decision-making in remote meetings.

Thereafter, sessions of the Council and all Committees and Sub-Committees have now been held remotely.

It is important on this occasion to express my heartfelt appreciation to all Member States and IMO delegates for the support and cooperation that allowed the considerable progress to be made.

The staff of the Secretariat have also been outstanding in adapting to new working practices and continued to deliver the expected output.

I acknowledge the limitations of remote meetings. However, thanks to the collaboration of all and the fabled spirit of IMO cooperation, the regulatory work of IMO has progressed impressively, which I would now like to highlight.

The Maritime Safety Committee and its Sub-Committees have completed a tremendous amount of work, including,

  • the adoption of resolutions relating to supporting seafarers and trade by sea during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • the completion of the regulatory scoping exercise on maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) and the decision to develop a goal-based instrument for MASS;

  • the approval of a full set of guidelines and amendments to update and modernize the Global Maritime Distress and Safety system, completing a decade of work; and

  • the approval of a set of recommended model regulations on domestic ferry safety.

The MSC has also drawn attention and taken action against the illicit activity in the Gulf of Guinea, including piracy and armed robbery against ships – you will be invited to adopt a resolution on this matter.

With regard to the Marine Environment Committee, first, let me commend the intensive cooperative and collaborative work on cutting Greenhouse Gas emissions from ships, including:

  • the recognition of the need to strengthen the initial IMO GHG strategy and initiation of the work towards an upgraded strategy for adoption in early 2023 - noting the recent IPCC reports and the Glasgow Climate Pact;

  • the adoption in June 2021 of MARPOL amendments to reduce carbon intensity of ships, including a rating system;

  • the completion of the impact assessment related to those measures; and

  • the adoption of a work plan for development and assessment of "mid-term" measures, including those aimed at incentivising the uptake of new low- and zero-carbon fuels.

Another highlight was the successful implementation of the reduced global sulphur limit from 2020, with significant benefits for human health and the environment. This truly showcased the adaptability of the shipping sector with the collaboration and commitment of all involved.

Another important achievement is the adoption of a Strategy to Address Marine Plastic Litter from Ships, paving the way for more intense work during the next biennium to address the plastic scourge on our oceans.

The Legal Committee has continued to address important issues, including:

  • abandonment of seafarers, working in tandem with our colleagues at the International Labour Organization (ILO) and in cooperation with industry and workers' bodies; and

  • issues related to threats posed by fraudulent registries and fraudulent registration of ships. You will be invited to adopt an Assembly resolution in this regard.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

the pandemic has illustrated the need for unhindered sea trade, supporting the wider logistics chain.

The work of the Facilitation Committee has continued, with the finalization of a new version of the IMO compendium for electronic business and the approval of amendments to the FAL Convention to make the singe window mandatory, for straightforward electronic exchange of data though a single portal. These amendments are set to be adopted in 2022.

We have already learned lessons from the pandemic. The FAL amendments will also bring in new requirements for Governments and public health authorities to designate port workers and ships' crew as key workers and ensure ships and ports remain fully operational during a public health emergency of international concern.

During the pandemic, IMO has also worked hard to continue to deliver technical assistance and capacity building, delivering more than 80 technical cooperation activities in 2020 alone. Our world-class training institutes, the World Maritime University and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute, have produced the next batch of future highly qualified maritime professionals, despite the challenges of remote learning.

In March 2020, I established the Department of Partnerships and Projects, to promote a culture of collaboration and innovation, creating broader engagement and partnerships with maritime and ocean-related stakeholders. This is fully in line with my vision of a "voyage together".

We have an ever-expanding portfolio of global projects and partnerships.

I am grateful to the Member States, donors and others who support our capacity-building work, so that we can continue IMO's long and successful track record of matching the requirements of developing and less-developed countries with resources.


In 2020, the World Maritime Theme was "Sustainable Shipping for a Sustainable Planet", recognizing shipping's essential role in world trade and need to ensure a sustainable transport sector, including shipping and ports.

Through and beyond the pandemic, sustainable transport will be at the heart of the global recovery. We must rebuild collaboratively, inclusively, equitably and sustainably, leaving no one behind.

The World Maritime Theme for 2021 is "Seafarers at the core of shipping's future". Throughout this year, we have promoted the important role of seafarers for shipping and world trade.

Further showcasing the importance of the human element for shipping, you will be invited to adopt a new strategic direction on the human element to be incorporated in the revised Strategic Plan.

I am passionate about keeping this focus on the human element at the heart of IMO's work.

Included in this focus on the human element is the need for greater consideration for gender equality and diversity in the industry. Following on from the resolution the Assembly adopted in 2019 on preserving that year's World Maritime theme "Empowering Women in the Maritime Community," you will be asked to adopt a resolution proclaiming May 18th each year as the IMO-proclaimed "International Day of Women in Maritime". I look forward to your deliberations on this resolution, and to holding the first celebration in 2022.

Looking forward to the next biennium, the considerable work to be undertaken is against the backdrop of the pandemic and the enhanced recognition of the need to accelerate automation and digitalization of the maritime sector.

Another key consideration is the threat to our planet – the need to tackle climate change. Our collective actions must show our dedication to contribute towards the global issue of climate change.

We can only achieve these goals by working together on a global scale and IMO provides the forum for shipping to do its part. The world is watching us. The way forward is complex, but by working together I have every confidence that we will ensure that shipping will decarbonize and make a key contribution in the fight against climate change and for cleaner oceans. Collaborative and considerate actions are key to making sure no one is left behind.

So, it is very fitting that in 2022, the World Maritime Theme will be: "New technologies for greener shipping".

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I wish to reiterate my commitment and that of the Secretariat to continue to serve to the Organization and its Member States in achieving our common objectives.

Shipping will continue to drive world trade. The work of IMO is more relevant than ever. As a part of the United Nations family, we will continue to seek outcomes in support of sustainable development and a brighter future for our planet.

I am grateful for all your cooperation and collaboration during this biennium, and I wish you all a productive Assembly, which will set the path for the important work ahead in the coming two years.

Thank you for your kind attention.