Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), 88th session: 24 November - 3 December 2010

Opening address by IMO Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos

(24 November to 3 December 2010)
Good morning, distinguished delegates and observers,
It is also a pleasure for me to welcome you to the eighty-eighth session of the Maritime Safety Committee, and I particularly welcome those delegates who are attending this Committee for the first time.
Before addressing specific items on your agenda, I would like to return for a while to this year’s World Maritime Day theme, “2010: Year of the Seafarer”, which I first spoke to you about at the spring session of the Committee.  I am sure we can all agree that, as the year draws to a close, our activities under the theme have been successful in many respects and, in particular, in generating wide interest, as is evident from the number of events and other initiatives conducted around the globe by Governments, international organizations and a great variety of industry stakeholders – a recent example being the launch of Seafarers’ Rights International, which we hosted, here at our Headquarters, on World Maritime Day.  Let us hope that the momentum spurred by the theme will not end with the close of this year but will continue beyond and, in particular, inspire a new generation by alerting ambitious and capable young men and women to the unique attractions of a seafaring career.
Of all the regulatory objectives included in the action plan to celebrate the Year of the Seafarer, the International Conference to adopt amendments to the STCW Convention and Code, which was successfully concluded in Manila in June, stands out.  The Manila Amendments (meticulously elaborated by the STW Sub-Committee and eventually sanctioned by the Committee), aim to ensure that, once they are in force (hopefully on 1 January 2012), seafarers will, for the foreseeable future, be educated and trained to standards enabling them to operate today’s technologically advanced ships with the required degree of safety and security and with due regard to their responsibilities vis-à-vis the environment.
Another milestone of the Conference was its decision to declare the day on which it adopted the Manila Amendments, the 25th of June, as the “Day of the Seafarer” for celebration each year from now on – a day that has already been added to the list of annual UN observances.  I trust that Member Governments, shipping organizations, companies, owners, operators and managers and all other parties concerned, together with seafarer representative organizations, will, as from next year, duly and appropriately promote and celebrate the Day.  We will certainly do so at IMO, as the Council decided three weeks ago.  And this will be the least we could do for those on whom we all depend and to whom we owe so much.
Distinguished delegates,
It was also with seafarers in mind that the Council decided that next year’s World Maritime Day theme should be “Piracy: orchestrating the response”, with the aim of encouraging us all to redouble our efforts to mount, on a worldwide basis, a decisive and effective response to this modern-day menace. And I was extremely pleased to receive, two weeks ago, a letter from the UN Secretary-General accepting my invitation to come to IMO in early 2011 to launch the action plan we have worked out to cover the entire year in an effort to maintain and intensify focus on piracy-combating endeavours of all kinds (political, maritime, naval and legal).
On World Maritime Day, I received almost one million signatures of a petition calling for an immediate end to piracy.  As I remarked on the occasion, I sincerely hope that the strength of feeling expressed by so many people from so many countries will help to sensitize both Governments and the wider public to the harm being caused by piracy, as well as to exert pressure on those who need to act to do so, in the interest of achieving a satisfactory resolution of this unacceptable situation.
As this Committee knows very well, IMO has been instrumental, and continues to play a pivotal role, in addressing the piracy problem energetically, at all levels, at the same time engaging as many stakeholders as possible – by developing guidance to Administrations and seafarers; promoting the Djibouti Code of Conduct; promulgating our guidance and the industry-developed best management practices; and encouraging the deployment of, and working closely with, naval forces in a co-operative effort without precedent in naval history.  You will be pleased to know that through our dedicated Djibouti Code Project Implementation Unit, we are making headway in establishing three information-sharing centres; establishing a regional training centre in Djibouti; delivering capacity-building training; and developing, in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the legal framework that is needed to prosecute pirates.  We will continue to give this project the highest priority with the aim of assisting States in the region to build and develop their own, effective counter-piracy infrastructure and operations.
However, these successes do not alter the fact that piracy and armed robbery against ships remain a real and ever-present danger to shipping – in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia and in the western Indian Ocean, and also in other parts of the world, such as the Gulf of Guinea and the South China Sea.  Which points to the need for more to be done if the ultimate goal of consigning piracy to the realms of history is to be achieved.  I, therefore, call on all Governments to be proactive and provide naval, coast guard and aerial surveillance assets, as well as financial and other resources, necessary to prevent acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships; and to promote the successful prosecution and detention of those accused of such acts.
Distinguished delegates,
The ground-breaking decision, at your last session, to adopt a set of International Goal-based Construction Standards for Bulk Carriers and Oil Tankers, along with associated amendments to SOLAS chapter II-1 making their application mandatory, should not be seen as the end of the intensive work carried out by the Committee to introduce the concept of goal-based standards in our regulatory system – rather the end of the beginning.
The immediate priority now is to prepare for the implementation of the relevant GBS provisions.  Accordingly, the Secretariat has issued Circular letter No.3076, inviting nominations of auditors; and Circular letter No.3097, inviting advanced notifications of intent to submit requests for verification.  To date, we have received only 9 nominations for GBS auditors and no advanced notifications.  I would, therefore, invite Member States and international organizations concerned that have yet to reply to the circular letters to do so as soon as possible.  This would greatly assist the Secretariat with the implementation activities it is expected to undertake in accordance with the agreed schedule.
In order to progress the continued development of goal-based standards and undertake necessary future work, as you may deem appropriate, the Committee could draw on several of the proposals submitted to this session concerning the safety level approach.  This would generate an interesting debate that would certainly benefit the whole process.
Distinguished delegates,
Since you last met, progress in establishing the global LRIT system has continued well.  At close of business last Friday, a total of 59 LRIT Data Centres had been established – all of which are up and running as an integral part of the system providing services to 96 countries of SOLAS Contracting Governments representing more than 96% of the world gross tonnage of merchant shipping.  These are excellent figures and all Governments and individuals, including the Secretariat, who have taken the lead in the development of this truly unique and complex project – whether in terms of its novel aims, ambitious scope or technical complexity – deserve our thanks and appreciation.
In parallel with those developments, the distribution facility for the provision of flag State LRIT information to security forces operating in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean has been successfully established within the Organization’s Information Technology and Information System infrastructure – at no additional cost to IMO.  In this respect, I wish to advise the Committee that, on Monday, we received a letter from Canada, on behalf of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, requesting access to the distribution facility and I have also been advised that SOLAS Contracting Governments are in the process of requesting same access on behalf of the European Union Naval Force.  Enlarging the membership that wishes to be connected to our distribution facility and receiving LRIT information from flag States will, in my view, serve a worthwhile purpose and I would encourage it. 
At this session, the Committee will receive information on the review and audit conducted by the LRIT Coordinator on the performance of the International LRIT Data Exchange and all LRIT Data Centres.  In addition, you will consider updating information on the establishment of an International Data Exchange by EMSA; the report on the ninth meeting of the Ad Hoc LRIT Group; and issues concerning the modification testing phase and the continuity of LRIT services.  All these point to the complexity of the system, the benefits of which, however, on safety and security, are so considerable that they should entice all SOLAS Contracting Governments to take prompt action to enjoy them.
Distinguished delegates,
An important item on your agenda is the adoption of proposed amendments to the SOLAS Convention, the 1988 SOLAS Protocol and the International Convention for Safe Containers, 1972.  From among those amendments, I would single out those concerning the Fire Test Procedures Code – an outcome that reflects positively on our strong commitment to enhancing shipboard safety in a pro-active manner.  It constitutes the result of diligent and painstaking work undertaken by the Sub-Committee on Fire Protection aiming at ensuring that our fire safety and related fire test standards, for both passenger and cargo ships, are regularly reviewed and updated in line with developments in fire protection, detection and extinction technologies and systems.
The proposed amendments to the International Life-Saving Appliances Code, including amendments related to lifeboat release hooks, are worth highlighting.  Having debated at length draft guidelines for the evaluation and replacement of lifeboat on-load release mechanisms and associated draft SOLAS amendments at your last session, you entrusted an ad hoc working group to finalize intersessionally the guidelines and amendments as it might deem appropriate.  The group’s report is now before you for consideration and action.  I hope that the Committee will be able to bring the matter to a conclusion this time so that the guidelines and the associated SOLAS amendments (including a new SOLAS regulation III/1.5) can be adopted and implemented worldwide as soon as possible.  This would not only send a strong signal about IMO’s efficiency, it will, above all, help build confidence among seafarers when engaging in lifeboat drills and, more importantly, when faced with an emergency, that the life-saving appliances and equipment placed at their disposal function faultlessly.
I would now like to highlight some aspects of the work of the remaining sub-committees that are reporting to this session.
The World Radiocommunication Conference 2012 will discuss a number of issues that will have a direct bearing on related maritime services and we, at IMO, must ensure the continuous availability of the required frequencies for maritime purposes, including new requirements for e-navigation and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System.  Having approved, at MSC 87, the draft IMO position on matters relating to maritime services for presentation at the World Radiocommunication Conference, this time you are invited to consider the Supplementary advice prepared by the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group.  Any decision you may be able to make on the draft advice will be transmitted to the upcoming ITU Conference Preparatory Meeting, which is scheduled to take place in February of next year – so, this is the last opportunity for us to optimize our input to that meeting and, ultimately, to the 2012 Conference.
The COMSAR Sub-Committee has also started work on a scoping exercise to establish whether there is a need for a comprehensive review of the GMDSS.  The initial findings have been considered by the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group, which met last September, and COMSAR 15 is expected to make further progress on the review issue on the basis of that Group's report.  I am confident that the Sub-Committee will bring this matter to a successful conclusion, thus ensuring that the tried and tested GMDSS can continue to fulfil its vital, humanitarian, life-saving role effectively into the future.  The successfully coordinated air and sea rescue mission that took place last month, 230 nautical miles off the Scilly Isles, to recover 98 crew members from liferafts launched from the fish factory ship Athena, following the outbreak of fire on board, was a salutary reminder of the crucial role of the GMDSS to trigger, wherever at sea an emergency occurs, the necessary search and rescue response.
The Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation deserves due praise for its significant progress on the e-navigation strategy implementation plan.  Among other things, the e-navigation user needs have been finalized, and it is expected that e-navigation-related issues will be further advanced in the coming months by the COMSAR and STW Sub-Committees, which have been assigned work on communication and SAR aspects, the former, and training aspects, the latter.
Turning to the work of the STW Sub-Committee, you are invited to approve revised Principles of Safe Manning, with a view to adoption by the Assembly next year as well as amendments to SOLAS regulation V/14 relating to mandatory requirements for determining safe manning, with a view to adoption by MSC 90.  Through these actions, and seen in conjunction with the adoption of the Manila Amendments, particularly those relating to hours of rest, IMO will continue to promote sound principles for the safe and efficient manning of ships.  Furthermore, concerns over fatigue resulting from certain manning and watchkeeping practices (particularly on short sea voyages) and those over the significant contribution of fatigue to marine accidents and incidents (as evidenced by recent casualty analysis reports) make a strong case for us, at IMO, to remain, together with the shipping industry and all other relevant stakeholders, sharply focused on the potentially serious consequences of any associated phenomena.  This is critically important not only in the interests of safety of navigation and protection of the marine environment but also for maritime security purposes on board ships and in port facilities.
The Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme continues to be a high-priority item on the agenda of the Sub-Committee on Flag State Implementation.  As decided by the last Assembly, the Scheme’s institutionalization process has now started in earnest in accordance with the time frame and schedule set out in resolution A.1018.  At this session, the Committee is expected to consider a series of recommendations to make the Code for the implementation of mandatory IMO instruments and relevant auditing mandatory and, in particular, to consider how to introduce the Code and auditing into the annexes to certain or all of the 10 instruments covered by the Code. 
FSI has already worked out a course of action and an associated time frame to enable it to continue its work on the Scheme in its new form.  Your making progress on the matter this week will form the basis for good work by the newly re-established Joint Working Group on the Member State Audit Scheme – now comprising all five Committees – and, subsequently, of a good report to the Council, which will also be keen to receive the outcome of your consideration of the analysis of the first three consolidated audit summary reports.  While we progress with developing the next phase of the Scheme, it is important that Member States continue to volunteer for audit so that the institutionalization process can benefit from the results of as many audits as possible. Your support and contribution to the success of these endeavours will be greatly appreciated.
Distinguished delegates,
This session will, once again, play host to the Joint MSC/MEPC Working Group on the Human Element.  In this context, the Committee will consider the results of a major human element research programme, commissioned by the United Kingdom, on the development of a “just” safety culture.  The report before you gives interesting insights into various cultural influences and human behaviour in the shipping industry and how such a “just culture” can be effectively utilized to benefit safety and reduce the potential for accidents in today’s increasingly globalized maritime world with its rapid technological changes and other complex developments.
Another matter the Committee will be invited to consider under this item concerns the incorporation of human element principles into the Guidelines on the organization and method of its work to ensure that the human element is thoroughly taken into account when it considers new work programme items.  The same will, of course, apply to the MEPC.
Relevant to your consideration of technical co-operation matters is your work on assessment of capacity building.  You will recall that, at your May session last year, in response to the request of the Assembly in resolution A.998, you developed a mechanism to identify instruments requiring the provision of technical assistance prior to implementation and, accordingly, you amended your Guidelines on the organization and method of work – a welcome development you should be given full credit for. 
Once you have approved, at this session, the draft revised Guidelines on the organization and method of work of the Committees and their subsidiary bodies, we will move on to the implementation of the Guidelines on the application of the Strategic Plan and the High-level Action Plan of the Organization, adopted by the Assembly by resolution A.1013.  Here, again, the Committee deserves due recognition for its swift action to review the Guidelines during the current biennium.  The same should also be said for your action to implement the Migration Plan developed by the Council’s ad hoc working group so that the Guidelines on the two plans can start being implemented in earnest as from the beginning of the next biennium.  I will close my reference to this item by paying tribute to both Committees and all the Sub-Committees involved, along with their Chairmen and other officers involved, who, together with the Secretariat, did a well-coordinated job on a matter of undeniable importance to the enhancement of the efficiency and effectiveness of the IMO bodies concerned.
Before concluding, I invite your attention, once again, to security during meetings – on which your continued co operation at any given instance would be appreciated.  These are not easy times and we should not, for lack of vigilance and alertness or the demonstration of any complacent attitude, make it easier for those who contemplate acts of violence to succeed in their evil aims. 
Distinguished delegates,
Having highlighted some of the most important items on your agenda, I am left in no doubt that this will be, once again, a very busy session demanding your close attention to several complex issues.  You should look at what lies ahead in this and the following seven days as both 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 and who, in doing so, share the goals and objectives of the Organization.
With your usual commitment to our aims, and with the customary IMO spirit of co operation, you will, I am sure, succeed in making this another fruitful session.  The able leadership of your Chairman, Mr. Neil Ferrer of the Philippines, will guarantee that.  For this to happen, however, he will need your support and that of the Secretariat, which, I have no doubt, you, and we, will give him generously.  I wish you every success in your deliberations and the best of luck.
Thank you.