Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), 94th session, 17-21 November 2014 (opening address)

(17 to 21 November 2014)

Good morning, Excellencies, distinguished delegates and observers.  

Welcome to the ninety-fourth session of the Maritime Safety Committee. 

This year’s World Maritime Day theme, IMO Conventions – Effective implementation, will soon have completed its run in this year.  I, therefore, urge all of you to promote wider and more effective implementation of IMO measures and to encourage the ratification of all those IMO instruments that have not yet received the required number of ratifications to enter into force.  Earlier this month, at a high-level session of the World Maritime Day Parallel Event generously hosted by the Government of Morocco in Tangier, I spoke about the importance of the IMO system of global cooperation involving flag, port and coastal States, the shipping industry and other maritime industry partners, which is excellent for sharing responsibilities for effective implementation of IMO conventions and this is also in the interests of sustainable shipping.

One critical element in our efforts towards improved implementation is of course the Member State Audit scheme.   I wish to advise you that in preparation for the Scheme’s mandatory introduction, on 1 January 2016, I have established a separate Department – independent from the Secretariat’s technical divisions – to take forward all of the preparatory work necessary.  The manpower requirements of the Department, which is headed by Mr. Lawrence Barchue, are being addressed by reallocating posts, while any necessary retraining of staff is foreseen over the intervening period. 


Distinguished delegates, 

As this year draws to a close it is hard to comprehend where the world is heading.  The present situation of conflict and crisis, with so many countries experiencing untold hardship from wars, natural disasters and disease, undermines any prospect of effective poverty relief and sustainable economic development and growth.  Most of us in this hall today are thankfully not directly affected, but many of us know of others who are.  And all of us are no doubt aware that IMO, as an Organization within the UN system, cannot shut itself off from the world’s problems and that our partners in the shipping industry, ports and related maritime sectors are not immune from the world’s problems.

We have all seen heart-wrenching pictures of illegal migrants crammed into unseaworthy craft in the Mediterranean Sea, desperate to reach Europe for a better life.  We are aware of the massive effort required by the coastguards and navies mounting rescue operations at sea.  Equally huge is the effort required from shore authorities in dealing with large groups of often traumatised, exhausted, hungry and vulnerable people, including the elderly, pregnant women and infants.  

We are also aware of the significant burden placed on ship owners when masters receive distress calls and are requested to deviate from their voyage plan in order to render urgent search and rescue assistance.  In doing so, they act in the best humanitarian traditions of the sea and in accordance with their obligations under the SOLAS and SAR Conventions. One single ship rescuing hundreds of persons in a single incident is not unusual and indicates the magnitude of the burden placed on ships’ crews.

I thank and congratulate all involved in rising to the challenge and for their cooperation in acting professionally and with determination to assist persons in distress at sea and to care for survivors. Their efforts to save lives must also be appreciated against the grim background of the number of illegal migrant deaths in the Mediterranean.  According to the latest report of the International Organization of Migration, known fatalities have reached 3,072 so far this year.  Yet according to some, the death toll should be estimated three times as high due to the many unreported fatalities.  An estimated 25,000 lives were lost in the past twenty years.  While we may pray for those who perished, their harrowing ordeal should strengthen our determination to work harder to prevent illegal migration by sea.  

It is abundantly clear that the situation we are seeing in the Mediterranean region today is stretching coast guard and navy resources and the rescue infrastructure as a whole to breaking point.  The implications reach far beyond the impact on the available search and rescue capacity and affect the expeditious conduct of international shipping.  Figures that I have seen suggest that, so far this year, more than no fewer than 600 merchant ships were diverted from their routes to rescue persons at sea.  Such high level of diversions is detrimental to commercial shipping operations, with a knock-on effect on trade.  

At the heart of the problem of illegal migrants are extreme poverty and armed conflict, aggravated by criminal elements ruthlessly taking advantage of the misery of refugees. Enhancing cooperation between the countries of origin, transit and destination is key to tackling this problem. 

There is already a firm international legal basis for action and in this regard I have written to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well as to the Chief Executives of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), INTERPOL and others, expressing my concerns and calling for coordinated action by all UN agencies and other relevant and interested entities.  There is a great need to work in partnership, and within the respective organizations’ competences, with a view to mobilizing the international community to take appropriate action to address all aspects of this issue, in particular to address organized criminal gangs who prey on vulnerable people and arrange for sea transportation in breach of all safety regulations. I have already allocated resources in the Maritime Security and Facilitation Sub-Division of the Secretariat to undertake work to determine and map out the role IMO might be able to play in the wider effort of the United Nations in dealing with this phenomenon.

Most recently, we have had to focus our minds on protection measures for ships visiting ports in countries in West Africa affected by the Ebola virus disease (EVD), which the United Nations Security Council has declared “a threat to international peace and security”.  In conjunction with shipping industry bodies, the Organization has joined forces with the World Health Organization (WHO) and others in a Travel and Transport Task Force aimed at facilitating a coordinated and consistent approach to the provision of information for the air and maritime travel and transport sectors.  

Meanwhile, we have established a focus page on our website, which is updated with the latest information and advice in all six working languages of the Organization aimed at safeguarding seafarers and other people and restricting the spread of the disease.  In addition, we have issued three circular letters in September of this year. Our effort is aimed at minimizing disruption to international trade and protecting lives from the spreading disease.  


Distinguished delegates, 

I have spoken before about my concern over the regrettably high number of accidents involving domestic ferries in developing countries.  The issue was brought into yet sharper focus by the tragic loss of the Sewol, which cost the lives of so many young people and prompted me to take action under our Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme, and in conjunction with Interferry, to revitalize our existing project on domestic ferry safety.  The time has now come for IMO to take action to improve the safety of passenger ships carrying hundreds of people, regardless of whether the voyage takes place in international or domestic waters. 

A mechanism was established under the newly activated Technical Cooperation Programme to establish technical guidelines and recommendations to improve safety of domestic passenger ships and we are now preparing for a major conference on the safety of domestic passenger ships next year in April in Manila, Philippines.


In the context of the Organization’s ongoing work on maritime security and countering piracy, of particular relevance to this Committee is the need for clarity on States’ laws and procedures.  You will be asked to consider aspects of national legislation on maritime security, legal issues posed by the use of private maritime security companies and so-called “floating armouries”, and responses to the cyber threat.   

The fact that no cargo ship has been taken by pirates off the coast of Somalia since 10 May 2012 demonstrates the effectiveness of the measures in place. It has however not disappeared and we certainly should not forget the estimated 37 seafarers who are still being held captive years after their ships were attacked.

Vigilance must continue unabated.  The industry must not in any way relax its strict adherence to the IMO guidance and Best Management Practices and the provision of navy vessels should continue for the deterrence and disruption of pirate action groups, while Governments in the region must make every effort to counter piracy activities.  

With respect to West Africa, we are encouraged by the efforts of States in the Gulf of Guinea to take action to reduce the number of attacks in that region.  We particularly welcome the inauguration of the Interregional Coordination Centre at a strategic level, which took place in Yaoundé, Cameroon in September of this year. We thank those countries for their proactive lead in countering piracy through promoting regional coordination and situational awareness, respectively.  The Secretariat will continue to do everything it can to support these important initiatives, as well as giving direct support to States in the region.  To that end, I am grateful for the generous donations received by IMO’s West and Central Africa Maritime Security Trust Fund from China, Japan, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.  


Turning now to the Committee’s agenda for this week, your attention is invited to the reports from the remaining three subcommittees that have met for the first time since the restructuring and their reduction from nine to seven.  In addition, I would welcome your comments on a document submitted by the Secretariat on the experience gained with the new sub-committee structure – I believe that its implementation has been positive – and on the impact of the measures adopted under my review and reform initiative.  I can advise that I have re-activated the five sub-groups on review and reform I established at the start of this initiative in 2012, including the one on meeting support arrangements, with a view to considering possible next steps and establishing a plan of action up until the end of 2015.  I hope, therefore, that we will be able to identify further opportunities for improved efficiencies in our working methods that can aid the Organization to deliver its mandate efficiently and effectively. 


As you are all aware, the development of the Polar Code has been an important item on the Organization’s agenda.  At your last session, you approved the draft new SOLAS chapter XIV and, in principle, the draft Polar Code with a view to adoption this week.

I note that a number of issues have been drawn to the Committee’s attention which will need to be resolved at this session.  I therefore welcome the establishment of a working group to iron out the remaining issues in order for this phase of the work on a Polar Code also to be completed.  I am again grateful to the chairman of that group – Ms Turid Stemre – and wish her every success in bringing the Code to fruition at this session.

Another important item on this week’s agenda concerns the finalization of the draft international code of safety for ships using gases or other low flashpoint fuels.  There has been a strong impetus for IMO to work on the development of the so-called IGF Code in the context of the search for cleaner fuels to help protect the environment.  The work on the IGF Code achieved to date in the CCC Sub-Committee should enable the Committee to finalize the draft text of the Code for approval at this session, with a view to adoption at MSC 95 next May.  


You will recall that concerns were raised at MSC 93 last May about the safety risks associated with poor fuel oil quality. The issue was also addressed at MEPC 67 last month, bearing in mind that fuel oil quality is important to avoid pollution, as well as being of paramount importance for safe shipping. 

I am sure you will be pleased that the MEPC did give significant consideration to the need for additional control measures and that the importance of the issue was recognised in its decision to develop guidance to assure the quality of fuel oil delivered for use on board ships, and also that further consideration will be given to the adequacy of the current legal framework. 


There are other important matters on your agenda, all of which demand your careful consideration.  

As regards the work done to date to improve the efficiency of our regulatory work and the clarity of our regulations, the opportunity exists at this session to finalize the work on establishing guidance on entry into force of amendments to SOLAS, which effectively concerns the reinstatement of the four-year cycle, and also to finalize the work on the interim guidance on drafting of amendments to SOLAS and related mandatory codes.  I am hopeful that this work will be concluded this week in order to ensure that future amendments are drafted in a manner that makes the application to new and existing ships clear and reduces any opportunity for confusion.


As regards the important matter of implementation of the goal-based standards for new ship construction of bulk carriers and oil tankers, I have established five teams of independent experts to conduct the verification audits for the rules of the 13 recognized organizations that have submitted their respective rules at the end of last year.  The conduct of these audits has involved a very considerable amount of work for both the Secretariat and the appointed external auditors and a full report on the latest progress will be presented under agenda item 5.  I wish to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to the auditors for taking on this pioneering project and to wish them well in their ongoing work.


The Committee is expected to address the first full review conducted by the III Sub-Committee of the findings from 59 Member State audits, using the approved analysing process.  Taking into account the relevant outcome of the MEPC 67 session of last month, you will be invited to consider the five major areas of recurrent findings in audits and their underlying causes for action, as appropriate.  


Additionally, I would appreciate the Committee’s favourable consideration of the recommendation, in response to my personal initiative and taking into account the related outcome of MEPC 67, that the third meeting of the Joint IMO/FAO Ad Hoc Working Group on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Related Matters should take place next year at IMO Headquarters.  


Before I move into the concluding part of my opening remarks, I would like to remark on one specific field of activities of shipping in future and therefore activities of IMO in future. That is electronic navigation and exchange of data to increase efficiency of shipping leading to safe ships and clean oceans.

Even in the mid 1990's, twenty years ago, I was interested in the developments in information and communication technologies and their impacts on shipping operations.

Electronic navigation was a field where IMO Secretariat had put our efforts and resources from the end of the last century. Before MSC approved a work programme on e-navigation in 2006, we had developed an IMO project on electronic navigation and traffic support system called as Marine Electronic Highway Project and I was fully involved in this project.

When MSC decided to work on a-navigation in 2006, I suggested that the MEH project in the Malacca and Singapore straights should be used as a test bed for exploring the e-navigation. This was not realized and, instead, the Strategy for e-navigation was created and Strategy Implementation Plan was finally established this year after the very long period of discussions at NAV, COMSAR and STW sub-committees spanning over the last eight years.

The message I sent at NCSR 1 in July this year was my request to move into an implementation phase of the Strategy and Strategy Implementation Plan swiftly and as soon as possible.

Since IMO launched the project on MEH in Singapore in 1998, we have seen significant developments in information and communication technologies and their application. In our field, AIS was introduced and mandatory carriage of ECDIS was decided. MEH Demonstration Project was conducted with some achievement with generous grant from the GEF. We have established Strategy for e-navigation but we have not yet implemented it.

The world is steadily moving into more of e-commerce, e-trade and, in our field of facilitation, the single window and e-navigation is definitely holding the future. However, we also have seen during the run up to the development of the Strategy Implementation Plan that the world has moved beyond the concepts related to   navigation and much more towards the benefits to be gained from access to timely information through the transfer of data – leading to increased  efficiency   and ultimately to safer ships and cleaner oceans.
Whether we at IMO would continue our work in this field establishing new planned outputs under our work management method or not, the real world will not stop its progress towards electronic navigation and electronic traffic management and electronic handling of business.

Regional maritime community may use a local or regional approach with a specific test bed but shipping must meet the standards of each of regional standards. Shipping needs harmonized approach based on global measures to be adopted at IMO.

I stated at NCSR that I would encourage member governments to put forward their proposals with clear tasks to be accomplished for the implementation of the Strategic Implementation Plan and I am pleased to see at this session a document submitted in order to achieve the tasks set out in the SIP. I hope the Committee will have fruitful discussion on this issue in order to ensure that IMO would maintain its leading position in dealing with this very important field of shipping in future. 


It remains for me to give my best wishes to your Chairman, Mr. Christian Breinholt of Denmark, for the task ahead in tackling the agenda of this session in the five days available and finding the appropriate balance between competing demands so that the Committee may reach the best and most widely acceptable outcomes.  Decision-making at IMO is a collective process that is the product of creative action by hundreds of delegates, aimed at establishing consensus, which is the essence of IMO meetings and ensures that IMO is functioning well as the competent global standard-setter.  I thank you in advance for the usual spirit of cooperation.  

For our part, we, as the Secretariat, will discharge our duties and responsibilities in supporting both the Chairman and the work of the meeting to the best of our abilities.

With this, I wish you every success in your deliberations and look forward to welcoming you all at the customary drinks reception in the Delegates’ Lounge on the first floor after close of business this evening,

Thank you.