Facilitation Committee - 37th session

Opening address

(5 to 9 September 2011)

Good morning, distinguished delegates and observers – and welcome to the thirty-seventh session of the Facilitation Committee.  I extend a particularly warm welcome to those of you who are attending this Committee for the first time.
I will start by saying a few words about the theme for World Maritime Day, which we will be celebrating three weeks from now. The theme chosen for this year is “Piracy: orchestrating the response”.  It aims at complementing that of last year, which was dedicated to seafarers.  Our strong wish and set aim is to coordinate a global campaign to stem the unacceptable incidence of piracy – in particular, off the coast of Somalia – and, at the same time, to ensure that the momentum gained by the 2010 Year of the Seafarer will be sustained by future annual celebrations of the “Day of the Seafarer”, on the 25th of June, the date chosen to mark the adoption, by the 2010 Manila Conference, of a comprehensive set of amendments to the STCW Convention and Code.
It is in the context of IMO’s overall concern about safeguarding human life at sea that, further to pursuing the anti-piracy campaign this year, the Council has decided that the World Maritime Day theme for next year should be “IMO: One hundred years after the ‘Titanic’”. The theme was particularly chosen in order to give us the opportunity, throughout 2012:
- to take stock of improvements in maritime safety during the 100 years since the sinking, on her maiden voyage, of that much-publicised transatlantic liner;
- to pay tribute to the memory of those who lost their lives in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic on that fatal night of 14 April 1912;
- to highlight that the sacrifice of the many passengers and crew of the Titanic has not gone in vain;
- to examine whether the lessons drawn from amongst the most costly accidents (in terms of human lives lost) of the last 100 years have been learnt to the full;
- to analyse the safety record of shipping and identify those areas that have contributed the most to its improvement over the years;
- to identify the major contributory factors (systems, concepts, mechanisms, etc.) in the quest for ever-enhanced safety in shipping;
- to examine which areas, within the overall spectrum of maritime safety (constructional, operational, cargo, human element, etc.), should be given priority consideration in the years to come; and
- to pay tribute to all those who, in the course of the 100 years since the sinking of the ‘Titanic’, have contributed to improvements in maritime safety.
Returning to this year’s theme, while we remain focused on intensifying our efforts to prevent merchant ships from falling into the hands of pirates through a multi-faceted action plan we have devised in co-operation with industry and seafarer representative organizations, our thoughts and prayers are with those seafarers – 384 in total from 19 ships – who, at present, are held captive somewhere along Somalia’s extensive coastline.  May they be released unharmed and returned to their families soon.
Distinguished delegates,
Although piracy is, in the main, the responsibility of the Maritime Safety Committee, there are aspects of it that fall within the purview of your Committee, as I will explain forthwith. They stem from the outcome of last May's session of the MSC and are to be found within the context of two MSC circulars containing interim recommendations and guidance – for flag States, on the one hand and for shipowners, ship operators and shipmasters, on the other – on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships transiting the high risk area, as defined in the Best Management Practice manual.
The approval of those two MSC circulars is not, however, the end of the road, as piracy remains a thorny issue and, as such, continues to generate intense debate within the wider maritime community and beyond. There are several co-related aspects of it that await settlement and, of these, I will highlight two.   
First, the interim recommendations and guidance I just mentioned reiterate IMO's clear position of not endorsing or institutionalizing the deployment of armed security personnel on board merchant ships. This comes as a sequel to the Organization's recommendation that firearms should not, for a variety of reasons, be carried on board merchant ships and, therefore, its policy on the issue remains unaltered.
Furthermore, the MSC has agreed that the use of armed personnel should be a matter for individual shipowners to decide, subject to a thorough risk assessment and following consultations with the State under whose flag they operate their vessels. Such States should have in place a policy concerning the authorization of such personnel on ships flying their flag and, if so, under what conditions.
Second, any guidance on the carriage of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships would be incomplete without properly addressing attendant concerns pertaining to the embarkation and disembarkation of such persons – including their firearms, ammunition and other security-related equipment. 
These are important issues on which your Committee is best suited for consideration and advice – which, I am sure, you will promptly accommodate within your agenda this week. Any advice you will be able to provide in this respect will be greatly appreciated, as it will be properly used by the intersessional meeting of the Maritime Safety Committee’s Working Group on Maritime Security and Piracy, which is scheduled to convene next week to discuss the “armed guards” issue from the port and coastal States’ perspective; and also by Working Group 3 of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, also meeting next week here at IMO. I hope you will respond to these outstanding issues satisfactorily.
Turning to genuinely FAL-related matters, I will start with the comprehensive review of the FAL Convention, which you tasked an ad hoc correspondence group you established at your last session to deal with.  The importance of this review, which also concerns the implementation of the Convention and its harmonization with other relevant international instruments, cannot be underestimated. I trust the group has done a good job to enable you to progress the issue further this week. Our aim should be to ensure that the Convention continues to be relevant to the objectives it pursues – and this could be done if it adequately addressed both the present and emerging needs of the shipping industry, as they relate to the smooth flow of traffic into, and out of, ports. To such an end, advantage should be taken of relevant technological developments, such as those achieved in the field of electronic transmission of information and data and the Single Window concept the Committee has been dealing with for some considerable time.
These, and many other considerations of commercial and economic nature, make the review you have embarked upon an exercise of paramount importance.
Distinguished delegates,
Once again, you are asked to consider issues relating to persons rescued at sea, many of whom turn out to be trafficked and undocumented migrants. This is a worrying phenomenon, which, unfortunately, seems to be endemic in certain areas of the world. In the Mediterranean region, for example, the problem is particularly severe during the summer months on routes from north Africa to southern Europe.  Member States in the region make strenuous efforts to come to the aid of hundreds of persons in distress, sometimes at great risk to their own staff and at considerable cost, rescuing thousands of them in the process before they receive them on their soil. The situation has recently been exacerbated by the Libyan crisis while the situation in the Gulf of Aden, with refugees leaving Somalia and neighbouring countries in an effort to reach the Arabian Peninsula and, from there, to move to Europe, is equally disconcerting. In this particular area, the problem has become even worse as a result of the famine that recently struck Ethiopia following an unprecedented drought.
At IMO, we work, and will continue working, together with affected countries, the Office of the UNHCR, FAO and WFP to address the issue in a coordinated manner. We feel appalled at the unacceptably high number of lives lost every year among persons fleeing famine or political unrest-struck countries, who use sub-standard ships provided by unscrupulous owners to carry them away in search of a better life.  During the first seven months of this year alone, there have been over 51,000 such fellow human beings arriving in Italy alone from Libya and Tunisia, with more than 1,500 persons reported dead, missing or unaccounted for – compared with 48,800 refugees arriving in Yemen from Ethiopia and Somalia with 122 lives reported lost in the process.
The plight of these persons, meeting death under tragic conditions on overcrowded ships of dubious safety, sometimes in sight of the promised land, constitutes a stigma for the civilization of the 21st century and should be brought to an end soon.

In order to seek solution to the problem, we have invited, through Circular letter No.3203 of 18 August 2011, countries in the Mediterranean region to a meeting for the development of procedures to address the disembarkation aspect of persons rescued at sea. The meeting will take place in Rome on Wednesday, 12 October, in connection with the celebrations of this year’s World Maritime Day parallel event.  It is our intention, building on the conclusions and recommendations of the Rome meeting, adjusted as it may be necessary to local conditions and circumstances, to move to other parts of the world suffering the same symptoms.
Distinguished Delegates,
With the draft text of the Revised IMO Compendium on Facilitation and Electronic Business having reached an advanced stage of completion, the Committee deserves due recognition and praise for its hard work. This time, you will consider the report, including a set of recommendations, of the Correspondence Group on Electronic Means for the Clearance of Ships, which, I hope, will enable you to finalize and eventually adopt the Revised Compendium, together with the associated, security-related, declaration form.
A successful completion of this task will further enhance the status of the Committee among the other bodies of IMO, at the same time promoting a wider acceptance of the FAL Convention.  This will help spread globally the measures adopted by the Organization to facilitate international maritime traffic and, thereby, serve even better the shipping industry.
The consideration of issues relating to the electronic clearance of ships has been an important item on your agenda for some time.  At this session, you are expected to consider the report of the Correspondence Group on the development of guidelines for setting up a Single Window system in maritime transport with a view to finalizing them this week.  It is satisfying to see that the added value of the Single Window concept – as a tool both to improve the information flow to individual port authorities and governmental agencies and to decrease the burden on the ship master – has been widely recognized for all its values and benefits.
Several other items on your agenda are also important and call for careful consideration.  Among those, I would highlight, in particular:

• the electronic access to ships’ certificates and documents;
• maritime trade recovery issues;
• matters related to stowaways;
• shore leave and access to ships; and
• technical co operation matters. 
As you go about your work, you should keep uppermost in your mind the role of the human element as called for in resolution A.947 and the underlying human element strategy – and which is also recognized in the Organization’s Strategic Plan for the period 2010-2015.
Before I conclude, I will say, as I always do, a few words about security during meetings – on which your continued co-operation at any given instance would be much appreciated.  These are not easy times and we should not, for lack of vigilance and alertness or the demonstration of any complacent attitude, make it easier for those who contemplate acts of violence to succeed.
Distinguished delegates,
Having highlighted some of the most important items on your agenda, I am left in no doubt that you will have, once again, a busy session, the successful outcome of which should be greatly assisted by the outcome of the various correspondence groups you established at your last session.  All the members of these groups, especially their coordinators, therefore deserve our thanks for, and recognition of, their contribution.
While several issues on your agenda will not be easy to deal with, I am, nevertheless, confident that, ably guided by your experienced Chairman, Mr.  Abela of Malta, and with the usual IMO spirit of co-operation, you will tackle the tasks before you in your customary expert manner.  A fruitful outcome of the session will provide welcome direction and guidance to everyone concerned with the facilitation of international maritime traffic and with furthering all the associated goals and objectives of this Organization.  The Secretariat will, as always, support the meeting to the best of its abilities.  Among its ranks, you will see Mr. Julian Abril, who, last month, took over as Head of the Facilitation Section in the Maritime Safety Division’s Sub-Division for Maritime Security and Facilitation. I am sure you will extend to him all the support and co-operation he may need to discharge his responsibilities to maximum success. Mr. Abril has succeeded Mr. Graham Mapplebeck, who retired at the end of March, after many years of dedicated service to the Organization, including as Secretary of this Committee. 
I wish you every success in your deliberations and the best of luck. 
Thank you.