Annual IMO Awards 2021

Opening speech at the 2021 Annual IMO Awards

By Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General

6 December 2021

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

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the 2021 IMO Awards Ceremony, bringing together this Organization's two most prestigious awards, which have become a true IMO tradition.  

The International Maritime Prize was first presented in 1981 and, since then, we have seen a succession of highly distinguished people receive the award, from across the world.  

The IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea is now in its eleventh year, and previous winners include seafarers and professional rescuers, who, at the risk of losing their own life, performed acts of exceptional bravery, displaying outstanding courage in attempting to save life at sea or to prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment. 

Both awards, therefore, recognize individuals who have the IMO mission in their hearts: the safety of life at sea and pollution prevention. 

The winner of the highest IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea, Mr. Tran Van Khoi from Viet Nam and the recipients of the certificates of commendation are not able to be with us in person today due to the pandemic. However, the Secretariat has made a film outlining Mr. Tran Van Khoi's incredible act of determination and bravery that saved lives, as well as details of the specific incidents in which inspirational and courageous people have gone beyond the call of duty to save others and/or to avert an environmental disaster for which the Council agreed they should receive certificates of commendation. 

International Maritime Prize      

I would like to begin with the International Maritime Prize, which is awarded annually by the IMO Council to the individual or organization judged to have made the most significant contribution to the work and objectives of IMO. In this way, we honour those people who have not only dedicated their working lives to the IMO cause, but also have been truly inspiring. 

The recipient of the 2020 International Maritime Prize is someone who has spent many days here in the IMO corridors and has dedicated his entire career to shipping safety and the maritime industry. 

Mr. Paul Sadler began his distinguished maritime career by graduating from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne with a Bachelor of Science in Naval Architecture and Shipbuilding. 

He has held roles as a production manager, a design and project engineer in the United Kingdom shipping industry and was instrumental in introducing quality standards at the British Shipbuilders' Sunderland shipyard, such that it became the first shipyard in the world to achieve ISO9001 Certification. 

In May 1991, Paul joined the UK's Maritime and Coastguard Agency as a ship surveyor, becoming the Government's marine surveyor to the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship. He was also recognized for his sensitive and knowledgeable approach in handling the United Kingdom's response to the safety of bulk carriers following the loss of the M/V Derbyshire and later the domestic river boat, the Marchioness. 

In December 1998, Paul was appointed Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to IMO, subsequently being appointed Permanent Representative in June 2005, until 2007. 

After leaving the UK Government in 2007, the International Association of Classification Societies (or IACS), appointed Paul as their Accredited Representative to IMO and he continued to attend IMO meetings in that role until his retirement in 2019.  

Over a period of 12 years, Paul oversaw IACS' work at IMO on major initiatives such as Goal Based Standards, the Recognized Organization Code, EPS Code and Chapter 4 of MARPOL Annex VI. He also offered invaluable advice to improve the clarity of regulations through unified interpretations. 

Paul has shared his passion for advancing knowledge to the next generation of marine engineers. He has lectured widely - on a voluntary basis - students and maritime industry organisations both in the UK and overseas on IMO and the role of classification societies and recognized organizations. 

Paul served as a member of the World Maritime University's Board of Governors for ten years, from 2010. In 2020, WMU awarded him an Honorary Fellow in recognition of his distinguished service to the maritime world. 

His work at IMO and his advocacy for robust, pragmatic and effective maritime regulation was recognized with a Distinguished Public Service Award, from the United States Coast Guard in 2017. 

Mr. Sadler, Paul, you are truly a worthy recipient of the International Maritime Prize.

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on seafarers
In presenting the next award, I would like to speak about the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect it continues to have on seafarers. 

Seafarers have been and continue to be on the frontline during this pandemic, delivering food, medicines and vital goods for the global economy.  

At its 125th session, the Council decided to give, once again, special recognition to all seafarers for their outstanding response and endurance while facing extremely difficult conditions due to the COVID-19 crisis.  

The Council also decided to award a tailored letter of commendation to Captain Juan Feliu and Captain Rainiero Salas, pilots, and Mr. Edgar Gaskin and Mr. Lisardo Acosta, launch operators with the Panama Canal Authority, nominated by Panama, highlighting best practices in aiding vessels in need of assistance during the pandemic. 

Regrettably, thousands of seafarers remain stranded at sea for months beyond their contracted time and similar numbers are stuck at home, unable to join ships and provide for their families. This is causing immense strain, fatigue and exhaustion and is unsustainable. While there is hope with the development and distribution of vaccines, it is critically important that seafarers be given priority access to those vaccines, to hasten the end of the crew change crisis. 

Seafarers are fundamental for the global supply chain and the post-COVID recovery. Their rights to safe and decent work conditions must be recognized, respected and protected. IMO will continue working towards a wider designation of seafarers as key workers, access to vaccination and assistance to distressed seafarers through its dedicated Seafarer Crisis Action Team. 

Today, we express our deepest gratitude to all seafarers. While conveying the commendation of the Council to all seafarers, I also wish to take this opportunity to add my own warm appreciation for your dedication and professionalism. 


Exhibition of seafarer portraits 

I am pleased to announce that the International Transport Workers' Federation Seafarers' Trust is presenting an exhibition of portraits of seafarers, by seafarers. The portraits can be found on the fourth floor and I encourage you all to visit the exhibition during the Assembly; and reflect again on the challenges seafarers face during these difficult times. 

The World Maritime theme for 2021 has been "Seafarers: at the core of shipping's future". We will continue to keep seafarers at the heart of everything we do here at IMO. 


Unsafe mixed migration 

Next, I would like to bring your attention to the humanitarian tragedy of lives lost at sea through unsafe, mixed migration. 

The Mediterranean alone, this year has yet again seen thousands of people on perilous crossings, in unsafe vessels.  

Figures from the International Organization for Migration show that there have been over 140,000 sea arrivals or attempted crossings in the Mediterranean alone so far this year, with more than 1,570 people dead or missing to date.  

This is an ongoing, tragic situation. People continue to make perilous journeys, some of them putting their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers and other predators.  

But we should recognize that coast guards, navies, search and rescue agencies and merchant vessels continue to rescue persons in distress at sea, acting in the best tradition of seafaring and ensuring the death toll is not even higher. 

The IMO Assembly decided to give special recognition to merchant vessels and their crew involved in the rescue of mixed migrants at sea, inviting Member States to provide information on merchant vessels and their crew deserving of commendation.  

This year, IMO has issued two special certificates marking the commendation of the Assembly for the bravery, professionalism and compassion demonstrated by the nominees. 

The certificates have gone to: 

  • Captain Zhang Hui and the crew of the M/V Ocean Ang, nominated by China, for the crucial role everyone on board played in rescuing and assisting 41 migrants from a sinking boat in the Aegean Sea 
  • Captain Volodymyr Yeroshkin and the crew of the oil tanker Maersk Etienne, nominated by the International Chamber of Shipping, for their vital role in rescuing and assisting 27 persons from a sinking boat in the Mediterranean. 

I would like to thank all those countries and organizations that have previously sent information on deserving crews and take this opportunity to encourage Member States to continue to do so.

But most importantly, my heartfelt thank you goes to all seafarers and rescuers, including coast guards, who continue to uphold the humanitarian traditions of the sea every day. 

Thank you