Legal Committee, 107th session (LEG 107), 27 November, 30 November, 1 December 2020

LEG 107

Opening speech by IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim 

Friday 27 November 2020

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, good morning, good afternoon, good evening,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this first remote regular session of the Legal Committee. I extend a particular welcome to those of you who may be participating in a session of the Legal Committee for the first time.

The holding of these remote sessions has enabled us to demonstrate that IMO is ready and working hard to continue its mission, progressing on its policy issues. In these unprecedented times, the Secretariat is also doing its best to continue serving Member States and also ensure that IMO is prepared to address the challenges to our industry as effectively and expediently as possible in spite of the constraints imposed by the COVID 19 pandemic.

I am aware that the Chair is proposing a streamlined agenda for the Session, with the possibility of some agenda items being postponed to the next session of the Committee, which will take place in 2021, hopefully under much more "normal" conditions.

I expect you will be very busy, as the Committee has received more documents for this session, than any meeting of the Legal Committee in its 53-year history.

Some of the important topics at this session include the new agenda item on "Matters relating to the work of the Legal Committee and the COVID-19 pandemic" and the related agenda item on "Fair treatment of seafarers and the abandonment of seafarers". 

I would like to stress that the well-being of the over 1.6 million seafarers working on board seagoing ships every day to deliver goods to populations around the world continues to be my priority. As I have repeatedly emphasized, seafarers are the silent heroes and collateral victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, as travel restrictions have left hundreds of thousands of them stranded on ships, or unable to join ships. IMO, together with other United Nations system organizations, has taken countless actions to address the serious issues that have arisen during this crew change crisis, and we will continue to seek solutions to put an end to the crisis.

At previous sessions, your Committee expressed strong commitment to preserving the rights of seafarers. With regard to this matter, you will consider two proposals for new outputs. 

The first proposal invites the Committee to add a new output under its work programme on Fair treatment of seafarers detained on suspicion of committing maritime crimes.

The second proposal raises the need to develop a set of guidelines for port State authorities on how to deal with seafarer abandonment cases. The issue of abandonment of seafarers is something that we must continue to address with concrete action. Unfortunately, some cases remain unresolved for a long time and this has a negative impact on seafarers' physical and mental health. The Committee will have an opportunity to embark on the work needed to address this issue.  t

Another important topic you are expected to consider further concerns unlawful practices associated with the fraudulent registration and fraudulent registries of ships. At the 106th session, this Committee agreed on a series of measures to prevent those unlawful practices. In December 2019, the Secretariat issued Circular Letter No. 4190, which invited Governments to provide information on their registries of ships, and a number of Governments have already done so.

Ship registration, representing the authority of the flag State, is one of the key legal principles embedded in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and it is the foundation for IMO's efforts with respect to flag State implementation and port State control. I am confident that you will have fruitful discussions on the matter, and I look forward to seeing further progress of your deliberation on the development of concrete actions.

You will also be expected to consider the facilitation of the entry into force and harmonized interpretation of the 2010 HNS Convention. In this context, I would like to encourage your Governments to ratify and bring into force the 2010 HNS Convention, which addresses accidents involving hazardous and noxious substances. The number of ships carrying HNS cargoes is growing steadily, with more than 200 million tonnes of chemicals traded annually. I am encouraged by the progress made by many Member States towards ratifying the HNS Convention, and I hope that progress will continue. 

This is the first regular session of your Committee to be held remotely and your workload is heavy. I am confident that you will tackle the tasks before you successfully, inspired by the customary IMO spirit of cooperation and under the capable leadership of your Chair, Mr. Volker Schöfisch of Germany, ably supported by your Vice-Chair, Ms. Gillian Grant of Canada, and the staff of the Secretariat.

I am also confident that you will have open and informative discussions and will reach agreement on the agenda items under consideration to pave the way for progressing IMO's work in the following months. I extend best wishes to all of you for every success in your deliberations.

Thank you.