Capital Link Operational Excellence Digital Forum - keynote speech

Capital Link Operational Excellence Digital Forum

16 June 2020

Keynote theme: Operational challenges from the COVID-19 reality, to sustainability considerations and new challenges on ship safety, security and human resources

Kitack Lim, Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization (IMO)

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to open this Digital Forum,

The spread of the coronavirus has placed the entire world in an unprecedented situation.

In these difficult times, the ability for shipping services and seafarers to deliver vital goods, including medical supplies and food, is central to responding to, and eventually overcoming, this pandemic.

It is, therefore, crucially important that the flow of commerce by sea should not be unnecessarily disrupted. At the same time, the safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment must also remain paramount.

I have been extremely impressed with the unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration between IMO Member Governments, UN entities and industry organizations.

Together with our industry partners and colleagues in the World Health Organization, and other UN agencies, like ICAO, ILO, UNCTAD, WTO, IMO has been developing and issuing practical advice and guidance on a variety of technical and operational matters to facilitate international trade and coordinate responses.

However, we are now facing a crisis in shipping. I am referring here to the humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of thousands of seafarers still waiting to be repatriated after many months at sea, having stayed put way beyond their original contracts. They are fatigued and weary.

Some seafarers have now been marooned at sea for 15 months, months over the maximum time at sea of 11 months set out in the International Labour Organization Maritime Labour Convention.

Last week, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined our call for action, calling on all countries to formally designate seafarers and other marine personnel as "key workers" and ensure crew changeovers can safely take place.

I have personally endorsed the crew change protocols which have been developed by industry bodies to ensure safe crew changes. It is imperative that Governments implement these protocols, allowing stranded seafarers at the end of their contracts to repatriate and others to join ships and replace them.

I recognize that some countries have acted to designate seafarers as key workers, to facilitate crew changes by implementing crew change protocols developed by industry, which I have endorsed;  to allow for repatriations, to ease travel restrictions involving the issuance of passports and visas, and to give seafarers access to medical care.

But others have not done so and we are at a critical point now.

I implore Governments to do more, today. This cannot wait.  This is now a real safety issue, endangering the safe operation of ships. We cannot expect seafarers to stay at sea forever.  Governments must allow shipping to continue moving by getting seafarers to their homes, and to their ships to work.

I have spoken many times of our "voyage together". Never has the spirit of those words been more important than it is now. So, I am impressed by the unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration among all maritime stakeholders during the pandemic.

We need to capitalize on this unprecedented cooperation as we move forward. The pandemic has shown that shipping remains the prime mover of goods and therefore shipping and maritime will be at the heart of the recovery.

Digitalization, big data, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics are key in enabling the post-COVID recovery and taking shipping into this new era.

Increased data collection, processing and interconnectivity capabilities, enabling automated systems to be controlled remotely or through artificial intelligence. The increased automation in shipping has the potential to increase safety, improve environmental performance, and enable more cost-effective shipping.

IMO is working to ensure shipping can embrace the digital revolution – while ensuring safety, environmental protection as well as cyber security.

Another area which has gained momentum in the COVID-19 crisis is IMO's work to enhance shipping efficiency.

Knowing the many challenges awaiting shipping and international trade, IMO is working to ensure the adoption of technologies that increase the connectivity and efficiency of working practices in maritime transport and ship management; be it in marine communications or the exchange of information in the ship-to-ship as well as the ship-to-shore interfaces, including through the so‑called "single window" concept.

Cooperation between shipping, ports and logistics will be vital to enhance the efficiency and sustainability of shipping and therefore facilitate trade and foster economic recovery and prosperity.

Communication, cooperation, and collaboration are keys to our success – and I appreciate in particular the enhanced participation and contribution of Member States, but also the shipping and port industry in the Facilitation Committee.

A good example for our cooperation is the successful implementation of the global sulphur limit in ships' fuel oil, "IMO 2020" despite the COVID-pandemic.

IMO Member States and many other stakeholders worked tirelessly in the run up to its entry into force as well as in the first months of implementation, to ensure the transition would be harmonized. And, so far, it has indeed been smooth, with only a small number of cases of unavailable compliant fuel reported to IMO. And, of course, we continue to monitor the situation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

the single biggest challenge we are still facing is the battle against global warming and climate change.

IMO has adopted its initial strategy for decarbonization, with clear targets and ambitions, importantly, the reduction of the total annual GHG emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050. This Strategy includes ship's design and equipment, propulsion efficiency, operational practices, and future fuels.

At the same time, IMO is pursuing efforts to phase out GHG emission completely as soon as possible within this century. Member Governments, shipping and shipbuilding industry, port industry, classification societies and technical R&D institutions, all are highly committed to meeting the targets.

Above all, new fuel technologies and innovation will be vital in the IMO strategy.

While research into developing zero-carbon marine fuels is underway - with hydrogen, ammonia or biofuels and electricity considered viable options - more action is needed to speed-up this process. This requires huge investments, notably in R&D and infrastructure development.

To achieve this, IMO is stepping up its efforts to act as the global forum and promoter of R&D in zero-carbon marine fuels, bringing together all interested stakeholders from public and private sectors.

In parallel, IMO will embark on emission reduction mechanisms, like market-based measures, to incentivise the uptake of alternative renewable fuels.

Lastly, IMO continues to expand technical cooperation and capacity building projects for developing countries, in particular Small Islands Developing Countries.

Ladies and gentlemen, despite these unprecedented circumstances it is of utmost importance to not only do everything in our power to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on shipping, international trade and seafarers, but to also progress on our most important policy issues.

IMO is currently having and preparing informal and formal virtual meetings to discuss key policies including GHG issues to keep momentum of our current strategy and other major policy issues.

So, shipping remains unchallenged as "the" carrier of goods in a truly sustainable way.

Thank you.