Legal Committee, 105th session, 23-25 April 2018 (opening address)


(23 to 25 April 2018)

Good morning Mr. Chair, Excellencies, distinguished delegates.

First of all, Mr. Chair, allow me to congratulate you on your first meeting as Chair of this Committee.

I am pleased to welcome you all to the 105th session of the Legal Committee. I extend a particular welcome to those of you who are attending the Committee for the first time.

Mr. Chair, Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

This year's World Maritime Day theme: "IMO 70: Our Heritage – Better Shipping for a Better Future" reflects on the Organization's celebration of its 70th Anniversary. Some events and initiatives to commemorate this landmark already took place. On 6 March, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II visited the Headquarters. We will continue to celebrate the anniversary here in London and around the globe. This year's World Maritime Day will be celebrated at IMO Headquarters on 27 September, and the annual Parallel Event will be organized by the Government of Poland in June.


Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Legal Committee, which over half of the century developed more than 20 treaties. This 105th session marks the opening of another half-century, with new challenges for the Committee, which are reflected in the Strategic Plan for the Organization.

Looking at the agenda of this session, there are two issues which are particularly close to my heart: the fair treatment and the abandonment of seafarers. The well-being of over 1,600,000 seafarers working on board seagoing ships every day to deliver goods to the populations around the world is and will remain my priority.

You will consider the growing number of abandonment cases. In most instances, seafarers are abandoned as the result of a deliberate and calculated decision by a shipowner. The shipowner may face financial difficulties and the arrest or detention of a ship by port State control officers. The cheapest way out of these difficulties is the abandonment of the ship and the seafarers. The victims are usually left in horrible conditions, without proper supply of food and fresh water, without wages and resources for their families and with no prospect of being repatriated.

Since the entry into force of the 2014 amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention, the number of abandonment cases has increased dramatically. An orchestrated action is needed to address this issue. The information about each abandonment case is disseminated by the IMO Secretariat to relevant flag States, port States, and seafarers' States, interested organizations and shared with ILO. Flag States should ensure that their shipowners take responsibility for their seafarers. Port States should assist those seafarers who are abandoned within their territories. Seafarers' States should ensure that all consular assistance is provided to those who are abandoned. Shipowners should put in place adequate insurance to safeguard seafarers. Port State control officers should check whether appropriate certificates are carried on board ships. If we all take action and show that we care, there will be no more abandoned seafarers.

Seafarers are often described as an invisible workforce and yet when accidents or incidents occur, all too often they become visible for the wrong reasons. In some cases, seafarers have been detained or imprisoned, often facing criminal charges. They face various sanctions being away from their home country, often being involved in proceedings carried out in a language they don't speak and without any legal assistance or other support.

For those reasons, IMO and ILO developed the Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident. It is the responsibility of Governments to give those Guidelines appropriate effect in their national legislation. However, many countries face difficulties in implementing those Guidelines. Therefore, I very much welcome the initiative by the International Transport Workers' Federation and Seafarers' Rights International to develop guidance to assist Member States in the proper and effective implementation of the Guidelines. I sincerely hope that our joint efforts will result in the better protection of the rights of seafarers worldwide.

The 2010 HNS Convention recognizes that accidents can and do happen as was recently the case with the Sanchi tanker in the East China Sea which was carrying a full natural-gas condensate cargo. The number of ships carrying HNS cargoes is growing steadily with more than 200 million tonnes of chemicals traded annually.

To accelerate efforts to bring the Convention into force, you also decided to hold a workshop on the HNS Convention, which I hope many of you will attend later this week.

The Secretariat works tirelessly, and will continue to do so, to assist Member States in the better understanding of the Convention and is guiding them on the possible implementing legislation.

It is a great pleasure for me to announce that just an hour ago, at 9 a.m. this morning, Canada deposited its instrument of ratification of the 2010 HNS Protocol, together with the data on contributing cargos. I sincerely hope that more countries will follow this good example and that the Convention will soon enter into force.

You will also consider whether to include in the agenda of the Legal Committee two new items: the problem of fraudulent registration of ships and the proposal for a regulatory scoping exercise with respect to Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS).

In the past few years, a number of Member States have contacted the IMO Secretariat to report cases of fraudulent use of their flag. When one thinks of the secondary effects of the use of a fraudulently registered vessel, and the impact such ships can have on the uniform implementation of the IMO regulatory regime, or potential other illicit activities, it is clear that this issue must be examined closely.  This Organization is one of the only forums to discuss the fraudulent use of flags and to find solutions to resolve the problem. I am hopeful that this Committee will undertake the consideration of the matter and will eventually identify measures to prevent unlawful practices associated with the fraudulent registration of ships.

On the issue of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships, I believe that IMO should be proactive and take the lead on this matter. With the rapid development of new technologies that aim at improving the efficiency of shipping, we need to keep our legal framework under review. The Maritime Safety Committee has already agreed to undertake a scoping exercise and at its coming session in May, will be looking further into the technical aspects of the matter. I have established an interdivisional MASS task force within the Secretariat, with the participation of the Legal Affairs Office, to support the ongoing work of the Organization.

The 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, you may also consider any legal matters within the scope of the Organization, specifically the request from the Facilitation Committee for advice.

As you address these important issues, you reinforce that the Legal Committee plays an important role in a more cohesive and connected scheme of global ocean governance, to contribute to the achievement of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. Chair, Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

It remains for me to wish you every success in your deliberations this week, and I am confident that with IMO’s renowned spirit of cooperation you will succeed in progressing the work and reach meaningful decisions by consensus under the able leadership of your Chair, Mr. Volker Schöfish of Germany.

Thank you.