Legal Committee, 100th session (opening address)

(15 to 19 April 2013)
Good morning, distinguished delegates and observers.  Welcome to the one hundredth session of the Legal Committee, and an especially warm welcome to those of you who have not previously attended these meetings. 

This session of the Legal Committee, being its one hundredth session, marks a milestone in the history, not only of the Committee itself, but also of the Organization as a whole.

It is my pleasure, therefore, to cordially invite you all to attend the special event I will be hosting on Thursday afternoon to mark the occasion.  This will consist of a seminar, which will begin at 2.30 p.m. in this meeting room, followed by a reception in the Delegates’ Lounge.

Distinguished delegates,

Before I comment on the agenda for this session, I would like to take this opportunity to update you on developments related to the grounding and subsequent capsize of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy in January last year.

The safety of passenger ships has always been a matter of the highest concern to the Organization, but this tragic accident has raised new challenges for us that need to be addressed as expeditiously as possible.

Since the beginning of the year, I have been saying that the casualty investigation report would be submitted shortly for detailed consideration by the Maritime Safety Committee in June this year.  We have received preliminary recommendations from the Government of Italy, but we have not yet received the final report.  Nevertheless, I am confident that we will receive it very soon.  I have no doubt that the Committee will take swift action to establish operational and management measures robust enough to prevent the recurrence of the type of navigation that led to this tragic accident.  It will also need to adopt a clear plan of action with the aim of reviewing all technical standards of large passenger ships to improve existing requirements for design and stability.

Distinguished delegates,

The Costa Concordia accident, quite apart from calling for a serious review of all relevant safety standards, highlights the need for the expeditious entry into force of the 2002 Protocol to the Athens Convention, developed by your Committee.  As you know, the Protocol is designed to provide prompt and adequate compensation to passengers for loss of life or personal injury and for loss of luggage.  It substantially revises the 1974 Athens Convention, by adopting much higher levels of liability and by introducing concepts such as compulsory insurance and the tacit acceptance procedure for amending the limits.

It is a source of concern to me, as I am sure it is to you, that, eleven years on from its adoption, only nine States – just one short of the ratification requirement of 10 States – have deposited instruments of ratification.  I would therefore urge States that have not yet ratified the Protocol, to do so at the earliest opportunity, taking into account resolution A.988.

On the matter of ratification and implementation of IMO Conventions today, I would like to state the following:

The role of IMO is to establish international regulations and regimes for anything related to ships and shipping. Our method is to adopt conventions and implement them with the cooperation of Member Governments and related industries.  Our objectives cannot be accomplished until our conventions are fully implemented.

Therefore the slow pace of ratifications and the prolonged state of non-fulfilment of entry into force conditions are a source of great concern, because such a situation may compel some authorities to take action to try to enforce unilateral measures, even before such IMO regulations enter into force.  This is largely against the spirit of cooperation at IMO and damages the credibility of IMO.

In this context, our work on the Ballast Water Management Convention is important.  I encourage IMO Member Governments to cooperate and establish meaningful measures which would ease the burden of introduction of the ballast water management technologies and accelerate the ratification with a view to early entry into force of the Convention.

The Torremolinos Protocol is another example.  We have adopted the Cape Town Agreement to accelerate the process of implementation of safety requirements.  I am encouraging Member Governments to ratify the Cape Town Agreement as soon as possible and I am particularly encouraging Torremolinos Protocol Contracting Governments to sign the Cape Town Agreement under the simplified procedure.

Another Convention on my radar of concern is the Hong Kong Convention.  Ship recycling has been debated in the context of the Basel Convention.  Ships have been targeted as potential means of trans-boundary waste disposal.
Much has been discussed on this issue both by Basel Convention Parties and also at IMO over the decade.  As a result of intensive and extensive debate over a long period of time, the Hong Kong Convention was adopted in 2009.

The Hong Kong Convention may not be perfect; and in the view of some, the measures may not be satisfactory, but this is the best international instrument currently available.  Therefore, we must accelerate the process of ratification and ensure the early entry into force of the Convention in order to ensure the safety of workers and protection of the marine environment.

I particularly request ship recycling countries, such as China, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Turkey, to accelerate the process of ratification.  At the same time, I would like to encourage all other Member Governments to pay respect to the provisions of the Convention and support it through early ratification as well.

Furthermore, what is of paramount importance is that anything related to the implementation of the Convention must be discussed in IMO, as has been the case with the Ballast Water Convention, in order to prevent any unilateral measures potentially being imposed.  The Hong Kong Convention is currently the best available international regime, adopted by an IMO International Conference.  Therefore, we must make every possible effort towards its implementation, through the IMO process and anything related to the implementation of the Hong Kong Convention should be debated not elsewhere but here at IMO.

Distinguished delegates,

At the meeting of the Sub-Committee on Fire Protection at the beginning of the year, I set two bold targets, which I now share with you.  The first is the eradication of piracy and the release of all seafarers held hostage within the foreseeable future. 

In this connection, regrettably, 3 ships have been hijacked and 38 seafarers held hostage since the beginning of this year but, more positively, 3 ships and 51 seafarers have been released.  At the present time, 7 ships and 75 seafarers remain captive. 
Our fight against piracy continues and we should further our efforts to address the problem.  In this regard, I recently wrote to the 24 Member States that are most involved in providing naval assistance off the horn of Africa, urging them to continue their work to protect merchant shipping through the provision of naval forces, until the risk is substantially reduced. 

My second target relates to casualties and loss of life at sea, with the aim of reducing the current level of some 1,000 lives lost per year to half that figure.  This is a significant challenge when considering the many types of ship involved, including domestic ferries, fishing vessels and others.

In this regard, the adoption of the Cape Town Agreement in October last year, which revised the entry into force criteria of the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol, was an important milestone.  The Agreement also enables Contracting Governments to the Torremolinos Protocol to take advantage of the simplified process available under the Agreement to become Parties to it by signing it.  The Agreement is open for signature until 10 February next year and, to date, no Government has signed it.  I urge them to do so at the earliest opportunity.

Piracy has, of course, also been on the Legal Committee's agenda for several sessions, and I welcome the Committee’s helpful pursuit and consideration of statistics and other relevant data, in particular, on the investigation, apprehension and prosecution of alleged pirates and armed robbers.

In this connection, your Committee will be considering several interesting submissions at this session.  In line with our policy of keeping you fully informed of developments within the UN system, the Secretariat will be reporting on the outcome of the meetings of Working Group 2 of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia held in Copenhagen in September 2012 and April 2013, respectively.

Other information has been provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in response to the Committee’s request at LEG 99, regarding the number of pirates captured and handed ashore for further investigation, and the difficulties associated with apprehending pirates; as well as by the United Nations Interregional Research Institute (UNICRI) on the database of court decisions related to piracy established by that body.  With regard to the UNICRI database, I would remind you of the Secretariat’s invitation to Member Governments to submit relevant information either directly to UNICRI or to IMO, for forwarding to UNICRI.

You have also been requested at this session to consider a proposal suggesting that Member States and organizations in consultative status with IMO should share their experiences in resolving problems related to the apprehension of pirates and any related information.  I would strongly encourage all IMO Members who have not yet done so to review pertinent domestic legislation with the aim of aligning it as much as possible with the provisions on piracy in relevant international instruments, including UNCLOS and SUA.  In this context, although the 2005 SUA Protocols are in force, we should continue to make every effort to secure their widest possible ratification, in support of the ongoing campaign to eradicate piracy.


Monitoring the implementation of the 2010 HNS Protocol is another important item on your agenda this week.  This Protocol has been signed by eight countries, subject to ratification or acceptance.  Nonetheless, to date, the Protocol has not yet secured a single ratification.  So we are still a long way off from being able to provide an assurance that, if an accident at sea were to occur involving hazardous and noxious substances, a viable international legal regime will be in place – and operational – to compensate victims for loss or damage suffered. 

At this session you will be requested to consider the outcome of the Workshop on HNS Reporting held here at IMO last November, organized jointly by the Secretariats of IMO and the IOPC Funds.  This Workshop, which was widely attended, adopted guidelines on the submission of HNS contributing cargo, as well as a number of model forms on HNS reporting. 
These guidelines thus represent the outcome of intensive work on the part of the many delegations that were present and are aimed at facilitating administrations in their preparations for the ratification and implementation of the 2010 HNS Protocol.  What is needed now is prompt action on the part of Member States to bring the Protocol into force.  Therefore, I would request administrations with major imports of HNS substances, in particular, to redouble their efforts to ratify the Protocol in view of the benefits they would derive from such action.  For our part, the Secretariat will do its utmost to support the ratification process with the resources available under the Organization’s Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme.


Distinguished delegates,

I turn now to agenda item 7 on collation and preservation of evidence following an allegation of a serious crime having taken place on board a ship or following a report of a missing person from a ship, and pastoral and medical care of victims.  In view, particularly, of the strong encouragement given by the Assembly to the development of guidance in this matter, I welcome the draft guidelines submitted by the United Kingdom, CLIA, IFSMA and IAASP and look forward to good progress on this matter at this session.  Whilst voluntary, such guidance would assist shipowners, operators and masters in cooperating with relevant investigating authorities, and contribute to effective and efficient criminal investigations in cases of serious crime or missing persons from ships; and would further facilitate and expedite cooperation and coordination between investigating authorities, consistent with international law.


I now turn to the documents that have been submitted for your consideration by the delegation of Indonesia under the agenda item “Any other business”.  These follow the Committee’s agreement at LEG 99 to further analyse the liability and compensation issues for transboundary pollution damage resulting from offshore oil exploration and exploitation activities, with the aim of developing guidance to assist States interested in pursuing bilateral or regional arrangements, without revising Strategic Direction 7.2, a decision that was duly noted by C 108.

Given the proliferation of offshore oil rigs and the dangers they pose to the marine environment and to the interests of coastal States, the documents submitted to this session provide the Committee with a foundation on which to develop guidance to assist those States that have requested its formulation while, at the same time, respecting the legal framework that has already been put in place by many States, often on a regional basis, to control pollution damage caused by oil rigs and to recover compensation.


Under the same agenda item, the Committee is invited to consider a request for advice by the 1992 IOPC Fund about possible consequences of the discrepancies between insurance policies, blue cards and certificates issued under the 1992 Civil Liability Convention. 

The consideration of such requests is an integral part of the Committee’s functions.  The question is whether the State issuing the CLC certificate has an obligation to investigate the terms, conditions and cover provided in certificates (blue cards) presented by insurers and whether, as a consequence, it would have a potential liability to the IOPC Fund, should the Fund suffer a loss as a result of the insurance cover being insufficient.  I am sure that not only the IOPC Funds, but also national administrations are looking forward to receiving the Committee’s views on this matter.

Distinguished delegates,

Having highlighted some of the most important items on your agenda this week, I am left in no doubt that this will be another full and fruitful session.  I am confident that you will succeed in accomplishing the tasks assigned to you in the usual IMO spirit of cooperation.  The Secretariat will, as always, support the meeting and your Chairman, Dr. Kofi Mbiah of Ghana, to the best of its abilities.

Before concluding, you may have noted that Mr. Jan de Boer, your former first Vice-Chairman, is now seated on this side of the podium.  We are very pleased that he has joined the Secretariat and are sure that he will continue to contribute to the work of the Committee, albeit in a different way.

With this, it remains for me only to wish you every success in your deliberations during this week.

Thank you.