Legal Committee (LEG), 99th session, 16 - 20 April 2012

Opening address

(16 to 20 April 2012)

Good morning, distinguished delegates and observers.  Welcome to the ninety-ninth session of the Legal Committee. 
This is the first and only session of the Legal Committee to be held this year and also the first time I address the Committee in my capacity as Secretary-General.  It is my pleasure, therefore, to invite all of you to a welcome cocktail, which I shall be hosting in the Delegates’ Lounge this evening, immediately following the close of the session.
I would like to use the opportunity of this opening address to share with you some of my thoughts on the challenges facing the Organization in the coming years and, in particular, my plans to improve the delivery mechanism in the Secretariat to handle our ever increasing workload as we seek to address newly emerging priorities.  I refer, in particular, to the new demands upon the Organization from high-level policy concerns, such as our counter-piracy campaign, the transition to the mandatory Member State Audit Scheme and the ever-more complex environmental challenges, including the development of market-based measures for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping.
Dealing with all the high priority items will require effective human resource deployment, the creation of new, proactive and transparent ways of handling our work and improvements to our existing working methods.  It will also require close co-operation between the Secretariat and Member Governments to implement the tight expenditure controls requested by the Council, and I know that I can count on your support in this endeavour.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,
Before I comment on the agenda of this session, I wish 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 of this year.
We should not pre-empt a response or speculate on causes and, with this in mind, I have urged the Italian Administration to carry out its investigation into the casualty and to report its findings to the Organization as soon as possible.  In this respect, I have pledged that the Organization will seriously consider the lessons to be learned and will take appropriate action in the light of those findings.  I am grateful to the Italian authorities for agreeing to my request for the Organization to be represented, as an observer, on the body overseeing the casualty investigation, which will enable us to monitor progress closely and remain abreast of emerging issues, as they arise.
Distinguished delegates,
The Costa Concordia accident, quite apart from calling for a serious review of all relevant safety matters, highlights the importance of the 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, concepts which form the backbone of other IMO liability and compensation instruments.
It is a source of concern to me that, 10 years after its adoption, only seven States – three short of the ratification requirement of 10 States – have deposited instruments of ratification.  I would urge States that have not yet ratified the Protocol to do so at the earliest opportunity taking into account resolution A.988(24).  As I am sure you will all appreciate, IMO’s long-established authority and credibility as the competent global standard-setter in this field is at stake.

Distinguished delegates,
Turning now to the major items on your agenda this week, one key issue is the proposal to amend the limits of liability in the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims.  Assuming the amendments are adopted at this session, by the time the revised limits enter into force, a full 19 years will have elapsed since the currently applicable limits were adopted by the 1996 diplomatic conference.
In this context, it is relevant to consider the serious oil pollution damage that resulted from the accident involving the Pacific Adventurer off the southern Queensland coast in February 2009.  The limits of liability for a bunker fuel oil spill, as calculated under the 1996 limitation regime, would have fallen significantly short of covering the cost of this incident, even assuming the Bunkers Convention had been in force for Australia at that time.
I believe that it is timely to revise the limits with a view to ensuring prompt and adequate compensation of victims and look forward to a successful conclusion of your deliberations on this matter at this session.

Distinguished delegates,
Piracy continues to be a high priority concern of IMO.  At the beginning of the year, I travelled to New York to meet the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban, to discuss how we might strengthen the co-operation between the UN and IMO, in particular, with regard to anti-piracy capacity building activities.  We again discussed this subject in February at the Somalia Conference convened here in London by this country’s Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron.
Encouraged by Mr. Ban, we are now preparing several important events in mid-May.  On 14 May, IMO will be convening a meeting of the Djibouti Code of Conduct Signatory States aimed at reviewing the status of the Code, followed, on 15 May, by an IMO Conference on Capacity Building to Counter Piracy off the Coast of Somalia to which all relevant UN agencies and the European Union are invited.  Then, on 16 May, we will be holding a high-level debate in the context of the MSC to discuss the complex issue of arms on board.
Piracy has also been on the Legal Committee's agenda for several sessions, and I welcome the Committee’s helpful consideration of relevant legal issues. 
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 held respectively in the Seychelles (in October 2011) and in Copenhagen (in March 2012).
It will also be reporting on the establishment and maintenance of a database of court decisions related to piracy off the coast of Somalia.  The main aim of the database is to provide a useful source of precedents for States intending to prosecute pirates as well as for prosecutors, judges, researchers and academics.
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 was open for signature from 1 November 2010 to 31 October 2011, during which period a total of eight countries signed it, subject to ratification or acceptance.  Nonetheless, 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. 
What we need now is prompt action to bring the Protocol into force – a matter that is firmly in the hands of Member States, your hands.  Therefore, I would urge 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.  On our part, the Secretariat will do its utmost to support the ratification process with the resources available under the Organization’s Integrated Technical Co operation Programme.

Distinguished delegates,
I am sure that the Committee is aware that the Assembly, at its twenty-seventh session in November last year, adopted resolution A.1058(27) 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. 
The resolution recognizes the seriousness of this issue and invites Member States and other concerned parties to submit proposals to the Legal Committee for its consideration.  I accordingly welcome the proposal jointly submitted by the Philippines, the United Kingdom and CLIA on the development of guidance on this matter as a new, unplanned output to be added to the biennial agenda of your Committee and look forward to good progress on this matter at this session.
I turn now to the proposal submitted by Indonesia at the Committee’s ninety-seventh session, for the inclusion of an item in the Committee's work programme to consider liability and compensation issues for transboundary pollution damage resulting from offshore oil exploration and exploitation activities.  This proposal evoked wide ranging views, however, most delegations that spoke expressed support for it, at least in principle.  This, in turn, led to the Committee’s recommendation to the Council to revise Strategic Direction 7.2 to accommodate this topic as a new output.  Instead of acceding to this request, however, the Council, at its 106th session, requested the Committee to re-examine this proposal. 
The documents submitted to this session indicate that there is as yet no consensus on whether the Organization can – or indeed should – play a part in addressing this complex problem.  Given the proliferation of offshore oil rigs and the dangers they pose to the marine environment, coupled with the fact that there is currently no international forum where this issue has been addressed, this session will be the Committee's best opportunity to revisit the proposal, taking into account the concerns expressed by delegations on all sides of the spectrum.

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 co-operation.  The Secretariat will, as always, support the meeting and your Chairman, Mr. Kofi Mbiah of Ghana, to the best of its abilities.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,
Before I conclude, it is appropriate for us to remember that, a century ago, on April 14, 1912, the seemingly invulnerable White Star liner Titanic struck an iceberg, while on her maiden voyage between Europe and the United States.  Within a matter of hours, 1,512 people had perished in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic, transforming what was then the world’s most celebrated ship into a name forever associated with disaster.
The disaster prompted the major shipping nations of the world, at that time, to take action to address maritime safety, leading to the adoption, two years later, of the first-ever International Convention on Safety of Life At Sea and, ultimately, to the establishment of IMO itself.
But each new generation of vessels brings fresh challenges and accidents still occur, reinforcing the need for continual improvement.  Our efforts to promote maritime safety, particularly of passenger ships, will never end. 
I urge IMO Member Governments and the shipping industry as a whole to refresh their determination to improve and enhance the safety of passenger shipping today, and into the future.
On the 100th anniversary of that disaster, let us remember those who lost their lives on that fateful night of 14 April 1912 as well as all those who have, in the intervening century, also perished at sea due to marine casualties and reflect on the dangers and perils still associated with sea voyages today.
May I therefore invite you to stand and observe a minute of silence.

Thank you.

With this, it remains for me to wish you every success in your deliberations during this week.
Good luck and thank you.