Legal Committee, 104th session, 26-28 April 2017 (opening address)


(26 to 28 April 2017)

Good morning, distinguished delegates.

On behalf of the Secretary-General, Mr. Kitack Lim, who unfortunately is unable to be here this morning, I am pleased to welcome you all to the 104th session of the Legal Committee. I extend a particular welcome to those of you who are attending the Committee for the first time.


Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,

As was mentioned last night, at the very well-attended reception - and I also want to thank our co-hosts, the IOPC Funds, for the reception - this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Legal Committee.

Within its mandate, the Legal Committee has, for the past 50 years, provided the machinery for cooperation among Governments to consider any legal matters within the scope of the Organization.

The grounding of the Torrey Canyon on 18 March 1967 raised so many legal questions and problems that, only two months later, the Council decided to establish an ad hoc Legal Committee, which met for the first time in June 1967. Looking around the room today it is hard to believe that, at its first session, only 22 countries and five non-governmental organizations were represented to discuss these important issues, setting the tone for the development of a comprehensive liability and compensation regime for international shipping.

Over the past 50 years, this Committee has come together 104 times and can proudly look back at the creation and adoption of a number of key conventions and guidelines. Apart from the development of a successful international liability and compensation regime, it has, among many other issues, created a convention that empowers coastal States to take action to protect their coastline from oil pollution following a maritime casualty, thereby being one of the earliest treaty instruments recognizing the “precautionary principle”; it has taken action to prevent acts of terrorism which threaten the security of passengers and crews and the safety of ships; and it has done important work towards the protection of seafarers.

To commemorate this special occasion and to celebrate the Committee’s achievements, there are two things: first, there is document LEG 104/14, which re-caps some of the highlights over the 50 years of the Legal Committee and I commend that paper to your attention. I don’t think we will introduce that paper later on, but it is a good read.


Looking at the agenda of this 104th session, one can see that the future of the Committee will be very different from its past. Having developed many successful treaties covering most aspects of shipping that fall within the Committee’s remit, the Legal Committee will be less involved in preparing new treaty instruments.

The Committee’s future, of course, lies in assisting IMO’s Member States with the effective and uniform implementation of this important treaty regime. As the Secretary-General has emphasized many times since he took office at the beginning of last year, he will ensure that the utmost focus is placed on improving implementation at a global level, while continuing with IMO’s vital and necessary function of rule-making.

But the Legal Committee may also face broader issues. Beyond its day-to-day functions and challenges, the Legal Committee and the Organization as a whole will have to play a role in a more cohesive and connected scheme of global ocean governance to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.

It is the Secretary-General’s firm belief that the maritime sector, which does not only include shipping, but also the ports and the people who operate them, can and should play a significant role in helping Member States to create the conditions necessary for increased employment, prosperity and stability ashore through the promotion of trade by sea. The enhancement of the port and maritime sector should be embraced as wealth creators both on land and, through the development of a sustainable blue economy, at sea.

In this context, the most effective tools are the international instruments developed and adopted by IMO for international shipping. These instruments establish the “rules of the game” for using the oceans as shared resources and, in turn, diminish the negative impact of humankind on such resources, as well as encouraging closer common and collective responsibilities in caring for them.

In this context, it is relevant to emphasize that this year’s World Maritime Day theme, "Connecting Ships, Ports and People", is directly linked to IMO’s ocean governance, which is underpinned by our policies focused on improving the safety of life at sea, ensuring the protection of the marine environment and contributing to sustainable development, as well as our interaction with other relevant stakeholders.


I would like to bring your attention to the agreement reached by the Council in its session in December 2016 on the new Strategic Plan for the Organization, which we will touch on under agenda item 12. While the overall plan will have only seven Strategic Directions, in order to ensure that we can focus our efforts and monitor our performance in these seven areas during the period 2018-2023, the Council also reaffirmed that IMO will uphold its leadership role as the global regulator of shipping. In addition, IMO will continue to promote the greater recognition of the maritime sector's importance and enable the advancement of shipping, while addressing the challenges of continued developments in technology and world trade.


I am sure that the Legal Committee will take up this challenge and that it will also in the future, for the next 50 years and beyond, continue to play an important role and contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the Organization.


Turning now to the main tasks set for your Committee at this session, I will start with the very happy news that the Secretary-General has received the first instrument of ratification to the 2010 HNS Protocol. Last Friday, Norway became the first State to have expressed its consent to be bound by the Convention. We may be one step closer towards its entry into force, but a lot of work remains to be done.

The number of ships carrying HNS cargoes is growing steadily with more than 200 million tonnes of chemicals traded annually by tankers; and I urge all States to consider acceding to the HNS 2010 Convention as soon as possible in order to bring it into force.

The HNS Convention recognizes that accidents can and do happen and it is the last piece of the puzzle needed to ensure that those who have suffered damage caused by HNS cargoes carried on board ships have access to a comprehensive and international liability and compensation regime.

The HNS Correspondence Group will once again report on the outcome of its intersessional work and the Committee will be invited to approve a draft presentation on HNS Incident Scenarios and finalize a resolution to facilitate implementation of the HNS Convention.


Under the new agenda item Advice and guidance in connection with the implementation of IMO instruments, you will consider the report of the correspondence group that was established at your last session to develop a draft Assembly resolution to allow for the delegation of authority to issue insurance certificates under the CLC and the HNS Convention. I am hopeful that we will be able to finalize this resolution at this session.

You will also consider a request for legal advice received from the forty-first session of the Facilitation Committee to provide advice on the status of the appendices to the FAL Convention.


These items on your agenda this week show that, while one of the main roles of the Legal Committee will continue to be the effective and uniform application of existing conventions, the Legal Committee could, to a larger extent than has been the case in the past, consider any legal matters within the scope of the Organization. Other committees could benefit in their work from the input of the Legal Committee, which the FAL Committee has recognized when requesting the Legal Committee to provide advice. This represents a significant opportunity for the Committee, and I am sure your discussions on the request will result in the provision of sound legal advice to FAL.


The Legal Committee will also continue the development of “soft law” by preparing guidelines in specific areas of maritime law. In this regard, the Committee has lent its legal expertise and experience to develop guidance to assist States in pursuing voluntary bilateral or regional arrangements on liability and compensation issues connected with transboundary pollution damage resulting from offshore oil exploration and exploitation. While the Committee itself will not develop any guidelines in this case, a guidance document has now been finalized and will be presented to your Committee.


During the past 50 years, your Committee has, in close cooperation with ILO, worked hard to secure basic rights for seafarers and their families, such as adequate compensation for loss of life or personal injury and adequate protection in cases of abandonment. At this session, you will once again consider the future work that needs to be done with a view to ensuring financial security in case of abandonment and the fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident.

In this connection, you will also consider a proposal to look into two issues regarding the provision of rescue, relief and rehabilitation of seafarers who have become victims of piracy.


Distinguished delegates,

It remains for me to wish you every success in your deliberations this week, and I thank you in advance for the usual spirit of cooperation that prevails in this Committee to progress the work and reach meaningful decisions by consensus under the able leadership of your Chair Dr. Kofi Mbiah of Ghana. This will be his last session as Chair of this Committee having served it diligently for six years, and, as always, the Secretariat will stand by and give him and the Committee all the support you require.

With this, I wish you every success in your deliberations.

Good luck and thank you.