Interspill Conference and Exhibition - opening remarks

Interspill Conference and Exhibition
ExCel Centre, London, 13 March 2018
Opening remarks by Kitack Lim, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here today at the opening of this important international event. As you know, Interspill is one of a triennial conference series embracing Spillcon in Australia and the International Oil Spill Conference in the United States – and IMO is pleased to co-sponsor and support all of these events.

Many years of collaborative work between governments and industry, at IMO, have helped reduce dramatically the number of oil spills and the amount of oil spilt from ships. The statistics show that today's shipping industry is safer and cleaner than ever before and it continues on that upward curve.

This is, clearly, a positive trend. But, occasionally, this smooth progression has been punctuated by individual incidents; incidents that have a resonance far beyond their own immediate effects.

Last year, for example, marked 50 years since the Torrey Canyon incident of the United Kingdom – probably the first major oil spill receiving global attention; and this year, in fact the day after this Conference finishes, is the 40th anniversary of the infamous Amoco Cadiz incident.

History tells us that just a single incident such as these can have huge consequences. But history also shows that such incidents can be the catalyst for significant improvements. The Torrey Canyon is a perfect example.

During the years that followed, IMO introduced a series of important measures designed to prevent tanker accidents and minimize their consequences.

It also tackled the environmental threat caused by routine operations such as cleaning oil cargo tanks and disposing of engine room wastes – in tonnage terms, a bigger menace than accidental pollution.

In May 1967, IMO proposed changes in ship design and operation that led directly to the development of the MARPOL Convention – which, as we all know, is still to this day the most important measure to address preventing pollution of the marine environment by ships.

Progress in a number of other key areas was also prompted by the Torrey Canyon incident, such as improvements to navigational practices and – to highlight the focus of this event – oil spill preparedness and response.

As well as this intensification of IMO's technical work in preventing pollution, the incident was also the catalyst for work on liability and compensation. It led to the IMO's Legal Committee being established, and this body subsequently developed a comprehensive framework for compensating the victims of pollution incidents and established the IOPC Funds.

As a result of all this activity, shipping today is safer and cleaner than ever before and there is also a robust mechanism in place to respond effectively to oil spills – and deal with their financial consequences, too.

And so, over fifty years on, it is clear that the Torrey Canyon disaster also had a positive legacy.

Ladies and gentlemen, broadly speaking, there are three distinct strands which run through IMO's regulatory output. First, there are measures aimed at preventing accidents. Then, there are measures dealing with the effects of accidents that do happen and, finally, measures dealing with the aftermath of accidents.

Collectively, the Intervention Convention, Salvage Convention, the Oil Pollution, Preparedness, Response and Cooperation Convention and its Protocol on Hazardous and Noxious substances, as well as the various conventions covering liability and compensation, provide a comprehensive framework under which countries can prevent, mitigate and receive compensation for losses due to marine spills.

These measures can be thought of as “the last resort”; they exist as a back up to the safety chain. They are there for those rare but inevitable occasions when things do go wrong.

At IMO, we have a continuing programme of working with countries and other partners to improve our overall capacity to deal with major incidents that might result in pollution damage.

IMO also works closely with the oil industry, through its Global Initiative programme with IPIECA, to support many developing countries improve their capacity for oil spill preparedness and response, not just relating to ships, but also offshore units, oil handling facilities and other potential sources, demonstrating, again, that strong cooperation by governments and industry can be an incredibly effective approach.

I cannot stress enough how important these efforts are, and how grateful we are to all those who, over many years, have helped us to develop and deliver our technical cooperation efforts in this crucial subject area. The incident at the beginning of this year involving the tanker Sanchi and the cargo ship CF Crystal reminded us all that the need to be properly prepared for spills and ready to act quickly to deal with them will never go away.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me turn now to some of the topics to be covered at this particular event.

I think the first thing to note is that the organizers have put together an extremely comprehensive and detailed programme for you, that includes a mixture of workshops, seminars and technical sessions, all supporting the plenary session.

The list of speakers, panellists and participants includes a mixture of experts with deep knowledge and understanding of the issues, and people hands-on practical experience. Scientists, industry representatives, researchers, practitioners and regulators are all here – to share their experiences, discuss the lessons they have learned and pass on their knowledge.

Preparing for, and responding to, spills is, by its very nature, a collaborative activity. Even at the national level, it is rarely something that countries can tackle alone. When you think of the highly-specialist skills, equipment, hardware and materials that are needed, it makes sense to collaborate over areas like training and stockpiling, at least on a regional basis.

Indeed, the principle of collaboration is at the heart of the OPRC Convention and its HNS Protocol, which are designed to facilitate international cooperation and mutual assistance. I am confident that this event really will enhance the all-important, collective capacity to prepare for, and respond to, spills.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, let me re-iterate IMO's strong support for Interspill and the associated triennial events. Collectively, they provide the principal global forum for the advancement of knowledge and understanding of this key subject area and, as such, perform a vital role.

My thanks go to the co-organizers, and to all our fellow members of the Interspill Committee. I have no doubt that Interspill 2018 will be every bit as informative and productive as those that have gone before.

Thank you.