MSC 87

Opening speech

(12 to 21 May 2010)

Good morning, distinguished delegates and observers,
It is a pleasure also for me to welcome you to the eighty-seventh session of the Maritime Safety Committee; and I particularly welcome those delegates who are attending this Committee for the first time.
Before I address some of the most important items on your agenda, I wish, first of all, to express deep sadness for the reported crash, with heavy loss of life, of an Afriqiyah Airways plane in Libya this morning. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who perished in this new tragic accident.
Now I wish to say a few words about this year's World Maritime Day theme, which is "2010: Year of the Seafarer". By choosing this theme, the Organization will have, throughout the year, the opportunity, together with the maritime community at large, to pay tribute to the more than 1.5 million seafarers from all over the world for their unique contribution to society and in recognition of the risks they shoulder in the execution of their daily tasks and duties in an often hostile environment.
The theme should, furthermore, help to attract continued attention to some hazards - largely unknown until recently but confronting seafarers nowadays - such as pirate attacks, unwarranted detention when their ships are involved in accidents, refusal of shore leave for security purposes and abandonment, to name but a few. It will also provide an excellent opportunity for us all to convey to seafarers a clear message about our genuine care for them and that they are not left unaided when, for example, they are under the threat of pirates or when in distress at sea - as evidenced by our efforts to implement our anti-piracy strategy or finalize the international SAR plan through, among other activities, establishing regional maritime rescue coordination centres around the coastline of Africa.
Among the various ingredients of the action plan to celebrate the Year of the Seafarer, the comprehensive review of the STCW Convention and Code takes centre stage. Thanks to the strenuous efforts of the STW Sub-Committee, that review has been completed in time for the two instruments (Convention and Code) to be submitted for adoption at the Diplomatic Conference we will convene in Manila next month at the invitation of the Government of the Philippines. I hope the Committee will endorse the final text of amendments the Sub-Committee has submitted as the basic document for the Conference.
The selection of 2010 as "Year of the Seafarer" is also in line with the "Go to Sea!" campaign we launched in November 2008 to focus attention on the urgent need to attract young people of the right calibre to the seafaring profession, by emphasizing the rewarding, stimulating and long-term prospects seafaring offers, not only at sea but also in the broader maritime industry ashore. I was, therefore, particularly pleased to note, from the information provided to this session, the action taken by several Governments to promote the goals of the campaign by transferring elements of best practice and promoting the promulgation of positive examples and useful experiences gained in one part of the world to others so that all parties concerned can benefit therefrom.
While promoting the "Go to Sea" campaign, through initiatives such as the most commendable seminar on the problem of the global shortage of seafarers and the role of the shipping industry through corporate social responsibility organized here yesterday by the Japan International Transport Institute, we should seek to promote three objectives in particular:
- one, to instil an enhanced, more favourable public perception of the maritime industry;
- two, to promote a greater knowledge among young people of the opportunities offered by a career at sea; and
- three, to bring about a marked shift in the quality of life at sea by bringing it more closely in line with the career alternatives available ashore.
Last week, I joined, for two days, the Polish training ship Dar Mlodziezy of the Academy of Gdynia while sailing in the Aegean Sea to take part in a tall ship regatta from the Greek port of Volos to the Bulgarian port of Varna.
I had planned my visit to the ship as the pinnacle of my Year of the Seafarer activities and was looking forward to my meeting the Polish cadets on board as an excellent opportunity to congratulate them for their decision to join the maritime profession and encourage them to stay in it after their graduation. I was not disappointed. Watching the young boys and girls (who were joined by ten cadets from the Greek Merchant Marine Academy of Aspropyrgos) in all aspects of their daily life on board their wonderful square-rigged ship; observing them while working in the chartroom; attending their classes and speaking to them; sharing their meals and meeting them while visiting the ports of Spetses and Hydra, I felt elated. Observing them setting and taking down sails (many of a height of more than 50 metres from the deck when climbing to the masts), I was impressed by their discipline, professionalism, spirit of team work, self-confidence, the display of a degree of seriousness in the execution of their duties that was in contrast to their young age and by the respect they were showing to their officers and senior cadets - all these coupled with excellent manners. In a nutshell, distinguished delegates: if the future of shipping is in the hands of officers of the calibre of the cadets I came across on the Dar Mlodziezy, then the future of shipping is bright!
Mr. Chairman,
The threatened devastating impact on the delicate ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico emanating from the oil spill caused by the explosion and sinking of the oil rig Deepwater Horizon on 20 April has saddened us all. More than that, we were distressed by the reported loss of 11 human lives.
On behalf of the membership and staff, I conveyed, to the United States Government, our deep condolences and solidarity. At the same time, I expressed the wish for IMO to receive the report of the investigation into the accident as soon as possible after it has been concluded so that we can move promptly to introduce, into the regulatory regime of the Organization, whatever lessons can be learned from the incident to enhance safety in the offshore industry and strengthen, should that prove necessary, the provisions of the MARPOL and OPRC Conventions. For the time being, we join those who work hard to stem the flow of oil and wish them success and good luck.
Distinguished delegates,
The unabated acts of piracy in waters off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and, recently, in the wider expanse of the western Indian Ocean (with 19 ships totalling 403 seafarers being held hostage at present), continue to be in the public spotlight. It is of grave concern and disbelief that, in the 21st century, shipping should continue to be confronted with a scourge that has resulted in a large number of seafarers from many nations being unwittingly subjected to the terrifying ordeal of attack, with armed pirates boarding their vessels and engaging in hijack and hostage-taking for ransom.
It is against that worrying background that last year's Assembly adopted two resolutions on piracy, once again demonstrating the Organization's strong determination to act, in unison with other parties concerned, to halt these unlawful operations through recommending a series of preventive, evasive and defensive measures. In this, your Committee acts as the Organization's spearhead in its efforts to discharge its responsibilities relevant to safety and security at sea, at the same time maintaining and reinforcing its leadership role in coordinating action to resolve, from its perspective, the unprecedented and complex situation that, for more than five years, has rendered voyages off the coast of Somalia a very dangerous venture indeed.
In this context, we should expect that both the revised Code of Practice for the investigation of crimes of piracy and armed robbery against ships and resolution A.1026 on Piracy and armed robbery against ships in waters off the coast of Somalia will play a substantial role in enabling you to move the Committee's anti-piracy work forward during this session.
You will be pleased to note that, in response to a proposal I made to the UN Secretary-General last September, the United Nations Security Council decided, in November 2009, to extend, by twelve months, the provisions of Somalia-related resolutions it had adopted in 2008, authorizing States and regional organizations co operating with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, to take concrete action to repress acts of piracy off the country's coast. This was done by means of resolution 1897, which, in addition to the fundamental authorization it provides to third parties to act within Somalia's territorial sea, recognizes Somalia's rights to offshore resources, including fisheries; calls for capacity building, including in the Somali region; and welcomes the Djibouti Code of Conduct.
In a subsequent communication with Mr. Ban, in which I thanked him for his action to secure the adoption of resolution 1897, I welcomed the outcome of enhanced collaboration between IMO and the United Nations in the pursuit of our shared aim to eradicate piracy off the coast of Somalia, while he, his staff and the Security Council were, concurrently, addressing its root causes on land. In his reply, on 30 December 2009, Mr. Ban welcomed IMO's engagement to address the scourge of modern piracy and supported the Organization's initiatives to contain its symptoms through the Djibouti Code of Conduct. The progress that is being made towards implementation of the Code was, subsequently, welcomed by the Security Council when adopting resolution 1918 last month.
I am pleased to advise you that, since MSC 86, five countries, namely Egypt, the Comoros, Mauritius, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, have signed the Djibouti Code of Conduct, thus bringing the number of signatory States to fourteen. Meanwhile, we have, with monies provided by the Djibouti Code of Conduct Trust Fund, established a Project Implementation Unit within the Maritime Safety Division for overall management and execution of a series of programmes, including the establishment of a regional training centre in Djibouti; and of three information-sharing centres in Sana'a, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam.
Turning now to the many other important items on the Committee's agenda, I would single out the development of goal-based new ship construction standards, in the context of which you are expected to adopt mandatory standards under the SOLAS Convention for new bulk carriers and oil tankers to conform with. This is a most significant development because what it effectively means is that, for the first time in its history, the Organization will, under the goal-based concept, be setting standards for the construction of ships.
The main premise behind us moving towards regulating the construction of ships under the new concept was our wish to ensure that they are built as robustly as possible, and remain so throughout the entire length of their life, provided, of course, that they are properly operated and maintained. Under the new SOLAS provisions, you are also expected to adopt, at this session, arrangements foreseen for rules for the design and construction of bulk carriers and oil tankers to be verified by experts for conformity with the mandatory goals and functional requirements under the novel concept. As a side-effect of your work on the subject, you will have to make decisions, which are bound to have financial repercussions for the Organization; such decisions should, therefore, be forwarded to the Council for it to consider allocating the necessary resources.
Distinguished delegates,
Since your last session, progress towards solidifying the establishment of the global LRIT system has continued satisfactorily and I was pleased to be advised, at the close of business last Friday, that a total of 53 LRIT Data Centres have already been established worldwide - all of which are up and running providing services to 80 SOLAS Contracting Governments representing more than 95% of the world's merchant fleet by gross tonnage. It, therefore, gives me great pleasure, once again, to recognize the work of Governments, individuals and the Secretariat in leading the development of a unique project with the novel aims, ambitious scope and unprecedented technical complexity of the LRIT system.
The performance of the International LRIT Data Exchange and all LRIT Data Centres is now being reviewed and audited by the LRIT Coordinator as the Committee will be advised at this session - in the course of which you will be invited to decide on the establishment of the International Data Exchange on the basis of the evaluation made by IMSO as the LRIT Coordinator; the report on the eighth meeting of the Ad Hoc LRIT Group; and issues concerning the system's production phase. I trust that, once you are satisfied with the assurances requested by the system Coordinator, you will consent to EMSA being assigned the IDE tasks, which, given the Agency's track record as an efficient contributor to enhanced safety, security and environmental protection, I am confident it will respond to satisfactorily.
Furthermore, you will be invited to make decisions concerning arrangements for the handling and assurance of the continuity of services provided by the LRIT system, as well as on an intersessional mechanism for that purpose, and to promote the use of LRIT information. I remain confident that, through persistent, well-coordinated and determined efforts, the system will reach its full implementation stage very soon so that the benefits of its services will be enjoyed by the maritime community as a whole.
LRIT, apart from being a powerful system for the collection and sharing of information that can prove to be vital to navigational safety and security, has the potential to contribute significantly to our efforts to counter piracy. To such an end, you will be invited to consider, at this session, how the Organization could pass on to security forces operating in waters off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean information derived from the system to support their work in combating piracy and armed robbery against ships. If this has an appeal to you, the means to establish the requisite system should be thoroughly considered.
Distinguished delegates,
At this session, you are also expected to adopt several amendments to the SOLAS Convention, including some to SOLAS chapters II 1 and II 2. They cover the introduction of goal-based new ship construction standards (to which I have already referred); Performance standards for protective coatings for cargo oil tanks of crude oil tankers; and Performance standards for alternative means of corrosion protection for cargo oil tanks of crude oil tankers. They also address new regulations pertaining to lifeboat on-load release mechanisms; and to gas measurement and detection for the prevention of fire and explosions on tankers. Finally, you will be invited to adopt the latest set of proposed amendments to the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code, a code whose great usefulness to the safe carriage of cargoes by sea has been proven time and again.
I would now like to highlight some aspects of the work of the sub-committees, which are reporting to this session.
Regarding operational safety issues, the NAV Sub-Committee deserves due praise for its work at its July 2009 session, which, among others, included approval of a number of ships' routeing and reporting measures; new Guidelines for integrated bridge systems, including their arrangement; of an SN Circular on the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor for use by ships transiting the Gulf of Aden; and of a draft MSC resolution on Assuring safety during demonstrations on the high seas. The latter was developed in order to provide guidance relevant to demonstrations, protests or confrontations on the high seas, while also affirming the rights and obligations of those, who engage in legitimate actions in this respect. At NAV 55, good progress was also made in the development of a strategy implementation plan relevant to e-navigation.
In the field of radiocommunications and search and rescue, the COMSAR Sub-Committee finalized, for your approval, a draft revised International SafetyNET Manual and a draft MSC resolution on Guidelines on operational procedures for the promulgation of maritime safety information concerning acts of piracy and piracy counter-measure operations. All these significant outcomes of the NAV and COMSAR Sub-Committees are but welcome steps within their extensive programme of work to further enhance safety from the perspective of both.
Regarding fishing vessel safety, you are invited to consider proposed Recommendations for decked fishing vessels of less than 12 metres in length and undecked fishing vessels - for approval at this session before they are forwarded to ILO and FAO for endorsement. The SLF Sub-Committee has made significant progress on the development of an Agreement or, as the case may be, an Assembly resolution on the implementation of the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol, together with a set of associated amendments thereto.
The Committee is, therefore, expected to provide, at this session, general comments and specific guidance for the SLF Sub-Committee to continue its work on the implementation of the Protocol so that the whole exercise can be completed in time for the next session of the Assembly to sanction, to facilitate the instrument's entry into force in the foreseeable future and thus enhance the safety of both the fishing vessels and those who are engaged in the fishing industry worldwide.
An important item on the recent agenda of the DE Sub-Committee has been the prevention of accidents with lifeboats - an issue that moved into the spotlight following a series of accidents during lifeboat drills and inspections resulting in several serious injuries and fatalities. At this session, you are invited to consider for approval draft Guidelines for evaluation and replacement of lifeboat on-load release mechanisms, which have been drafted to assist in the prevention of further accidents of the nature I just mentioned. Interest in the matter is evidenced by the considerable number of submissions commenting on the draft Guidelines and I look forward to the Committee working out a satisfactory solution on, and finalizing, this item at this session.
Of the other important technical work of the sub committees, it is particularly pleasing to note the significant progress made on:
the comprehensive revision, under the purview of the BLG Sub-Committee, of the International Gas Carrier Code;
the revision of the Recommendations for entering enclosed spaces aboard ships - involving the BLG, DSC, FP and STW Sub-Committees; and
the preparation of the 2010 Fire Test Procedures Code by the FP Sub-Committee.
As the extensive technical work programme on maritime safety and security cannot be delivered by the Committee alone, we rely substantially on the contribution of our sub-committees, to which and to their chairmen, vice-chairmen and other officers we owe an expression of deep gratitude and appreciation.
There are two more items on your agenda on which I wish to say a few words. These are:
the application of formal safety assessment, and
 the envisaged institutionalization of the Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme.
The application of the formal safety assessment process will be addressed in the context of the ongoing work of the FSA Group of Experts, which you established at your last session with the task of reviewing several FSA studies carried out as part of the recently concluded international research project SAFEDOR, using a risk-based approach to ship design and equipment. The same group is due to consider the FSA Study of IACS on the safety of general cargo ships, once finalized. I hope that the group's findings and recommendations on the studies I just mentioned would assist the Committee to identify any areas that deserve further consideration in the interests of enhanced safety.
Putting the Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme on a strong footing remains a top priority of the Organization as part of its ongoing endeavours to ensure that all Member States benefit from the Scheme through an efficient and effective implementation of the IMO instruments to which they are party. In a similar vein, identifying and prioritizing areas where specific activities, through our Integrated Technical Co-operation Programme, would benefit Member States, as borne out of the audit experience, should be a much desired goal.
I am pleased that the Assembly, at its last session, decided that the Scheme should move forward. The Committee, at this session, is expected to discuss how the institutionalization of the Scheme could best be achieved and a fruitful debate to that effect would lead us towards a new phase of development.
Before I conclude, I will, as I always do, briefly invite your attention to the more general matter of security during meetings - on which I would appreciate your continued co-operation at any given instance. As we are occasionally reminded, these are not easy times and we should not, for lack of vigilance and alertness or through the demonstration of any complacent attitude, make it easier for those who contemplate acts of violence to succeed in their evil aims.
Distinguished delegates,
I have highlighted quite a number of the issues you are expected to tackle as part of your agenda this week and, judging also from the large number of submissions, I am left in no doubt that, once again, you are in for a very busy session. You should look at what lies ahead in this and the following seven days as an opportunity and a challenge, the outcome of which will provide welcome direction, guidance and assistance to all those who are concerned with enhancing safety at sea, maritime security and the protection of the marine environment.
I am confident that, with your usual commitment and the customary IMO spirit of co operation, and under the able leadership of your Chairman, Mr. Neil Ferrer of the Philippines, you will succeed in making this another successful and fruitful session. The Secretariat will, as usual, stand by you with any service that might be required in the accomplishment of your tasks. I wish you every success and the best of luck.
Thank you.