Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) 61st session: 27 September to 1 October 2010 -

Opening speech


(27 September to 1 October 2010)

Good morning, distinguished delegates and observers,
It is also a pleasure for me to welcome you to the sixty-first session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee. I extend a particular welcome to those of you who are attending the Committee for the first time.
Before I address specific issues on the Committee’s agenda for this week, I wish to say a few words about the explosion on, and eventual sinking of, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon and the subsequent pollution the accident caused to the Gulf of Mexico over the period between April and August. Although it was not shipping-related, the devastating impact the oil spill had on the marine environment and on the ecosystem and wildlife of the Gulf has saddened us all immensely. More than that, we were distressed by the loss of 11 human lives. In conveying our deep condolences and solidarity to the United States Government and while sharing in the anguish of those whose livelihood had been seriously affected, I asked that the report of the investigation into the accident be submitted to IMO as soon as possible after it has been concluded, so that we may move swiftly to introduce, into the regulatory regime of the Organization, whatever lessons may be learned from the incident in order to enhance safety and environmental protection in the offshore industry and strengthen, should that prove necessary, the provisions of any relevant IMO instrument.
While the efforts of the offshore industry to extract the oil our society so much depends upon, from great depths below the surface of the sea and land, equally in equatorial and polar regions, under extremely adverse weather conditions, in unusually inhospitable environments, should be recognized, we should, nevertheless, spare no effort to ensure, as long as it may take in order to move to other sources of energy and beyond, that offshore operations take place under conditions of maximum safety for those conducting them and maximum care for the marine environment.
When the clean up and restoration operations were still on, I expressed the wish that they be crowned with success expeditiously. To that wish, I add today those that I know I share with you all:
- may the recuperative powers of nature demonstrate their capacity to heal the wounds of the Gulf soon;
- may creatures repopulate the areas that have been wiped out; and
- may the Gulf recover in all respects and become as ever productive soon.
Last week, we celebrated, here at our Headquarters, the Year of the Seafarer, the 2010 World Maritime Day theme. Of all the regulatory objectives we have included in the action plan to celebrate the Year, the Conference to adopt amendments to the STCW Convention and Code stood out as the most important one and I am very pleased that it took place as it had been planned in Manila in June and was successfully concluded. Among the important innovative features incorporated in the adopted amendments, there are provisions on marine environmental awareness training, which, I hope, will be fully and effectively implemented worldwide, when the amendments come into force on 1 January 2012, as expected.
Another milestone of the Conference was its decision to declare the day on which it adopted the STCW amendments, the 25th of June, as the “Day of the Seafarer”, for celebration each year from now on. This was a fitting decision during the Year of the Seafarer, made in the country that supplies more than a quarter of the entire population of seafarers worldwide. I would, therefore, encourage Member Governments, shipping organizations, companies, ship owners, operators and managers and all other parties concerned, together with seafarer representative organizations, to duly and appropriately promote and celebrate the Day as from next year. This would be the least we could do for those on whom we all depend and to whom we owe so much.
Distinguished delegates,
Turning to your agenda for this session and, in particular, your continued efforts to progress, to the extent that we may be able to finalize, our work on climate change, in a manner that would serve the best interests of the environment, shipping and IMO, we should, I think, try to achieve two objectives:
- One, that the measures (technical, operational and market-based) we are developing are workable, effective, well balanced and proportionate to the level of responsibility attributed to shipping over the world total of greenhouse gas emissions. Excessive measures to reduce global emissions may prove to be unfair to shipping as much as low-effect shipping measures may prove insufficient to protect the environment; and
- Two, that we conclude our work, on the basis of the plan agreed in 2006, in good time so that entities outside this forum will be given no reason to doubt the seriousness with which we approach our task and the efficiency and effectiveness our outcome will have within the overall efforts of the community to stem greenhouse gas emissions.
You will recall that, at MEPC 60, I used the opportunity of my concluding remarks to appeal to those of you, who, on legal grounds, might not feel comfortable with the proposal that MARPOL Annex VI should be used as the vehicle to make mandatory the technical and operational measures under elaboration by this Committee, to take back home the advice of the Legal Office of the Organization that “it would not be contrary to the legislation governing the issue” to proceed that way and, in the light of its clarity, to reconsider their position.
I added that seeking the most expeditious way to introduce the measures should also be seen under the light of political considerations pertaining to the matter as a whole; under the necessity to avoid unilateral or regional measures; and, above all, under the imperative of not delaying action our planet cannot wait for any longer – no matter how insignificant, in percentage terms, the responsibility of shipping in the climate change situation is and the impact any remedial action decided may have on it. I hope that the interim period has provided the time and opportunity for those Members, who were sceptical in the first place, to reconsider their initial position.
In two months, Cancún will open its gates to welcome delegates to COP 16. This is, therefore, the last opportunity for this Committee not only to make substantial progress on items on its agenda, which are relevant to the forthcoming Conference, but also:
- to renew its plea that IMO should continue to be entrusted with the regulation of shipping as far as the reduction or limitation of greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping is concerned; and
- since the matter of the contribution of shipping to mitigation and adaptation activities in developing countries is already on IMO’s agenda and is assiduously being addressed by the Organization through this Committee,
shipping should not be considered an “alternative source of finance” within the context of the Copenhagen Accord.
I hope that all IMO Members, who are attending this Committee and are convinced about the seriousness we attach on all matters pertaining to climate change, will give clear instructions to their national delegations to COP 16 to follow the suggestions I just made in full knowledge and appreciation of the benefits they aim at deriving for the environment, shipping and IMO – in that order.
Since your last session, I have followed closely the work of the two intersessional working groups you then established:
- one, to conduct a feasibility study and impact assessment to advise the Committee on the various proposed market-based measures; and
- another, to progress work on the contemplated technical measures to enhance energy efficiency in ships’ operations.
In the composition of the former Group, I sought, in consultation with your Chairman, to ensure participation of:
• members that had proposed MBMs;
• an equitable geographical spread, to the extent possible;
• an equitable representation of developed and developing countries; and
• a reasonable spread of industry and environmental groups.
In welcoming the appointed experts to the inaugural session of the Group, I asked them to act in their personal capacity, rise above partisan aims and place those of the globe above national and other interests they might be associated with.
Both groups worked hard, even during the usually idle month of August, and I wish to take this opportunity to thank them for their professionalism and dedication. Their chairmen, Mr. Chrysostomou of the MBMs Group of Experts and Mr. Yoshida of the Technical Measures Group, did a splendid work and their commitment and leadership skills should be applauded.
On market-based measures, should we assess the outcome of the Expert Group in not identifying one sole scheme as the most preferred option as an indication of slow or no progress at all made on a sensitive issue? I do not think so. On the contrary, we should welcome the 300-plus-page report not only as reflective of the depth of the work the Group went into in drafting it but also as indicative of the thoroughness and seriousness of the work in hand. On an issue of much importance, it is imperative that we get it right. And I share the views of those who suggest that, rather than rush to choose a half-baked solution, we should prudently assess all the parameters involved and make a truly balanced decision in the best interests of the environment.
Having thus reached the stage of the negotiations we find ourselves today, it now remains for the Committee to progress its work on all three pillars of the 2006 work plan and bring it to as near a completion as possible. For the Committee to succeed in this, it should not lose sight of what it has set to achieve and should, rather than wasting time on procedural matters, remain focused on the objective it has resolved to accomplish – which is no other than the protection of the environment against factors that contribute to climate change. If, in the interest of considerations other than the state of the planet, we allow ourselves to stray from the aim and scope of the exercise in hand, we will not serve the environment well; the good intentions of shipping as a major industry and a service provider of global outreach will be doubted; and the Organization will be criticized for indecisiveness and inaction.
Once progress is achieved on the set objectives, we should then move on to deciding how to incorporate the outcome of our work in the Organization’s regulatory regime. Given the seriousness of the contemplated measures and the need to ensure their wide and effective implementation, I see no way to make decisions on them other than by consensus. This will not only be in line with one of the most successful traditions of this Organization, it will, more importantly, send a message of unity and unanimity among all the parties involved: Governments, in the first place, international organizations and the industry. I sincerely hope you will all be prepared and determined to go the extra mile to achieve consensus – and I will be deeply disappointed if, at the end of the day, decisions will have to be made by means other than by consensus.
In the meantime, we should be vigilant to avert, while seeking implementation of the Copenhagen Accord, any duplication of provisions which might jeopardize the efficacy of the efforts we are making in this Organization in our respective activities.
Distinguished delegates,
On climate change, the question we should put to ourselves should not be what others should do about it and the planet. It should rather be what we can, and should, do about it. We are in this all together and, together, we should seek a successful way out. And, yes, we can!
Turning now to other important items on your agenda, you will recall that, at your last meeting in March, I referred to the interdependence of biodiversity and the transfer of invasive species in ships’ ballast water in the context of 2010 having been declared the International Year of Biodiversity. Invasive species are widely seen as one of the major threats to global biodiversity and it is not surprising that this topic is on the agenda of a number of UN agencies and programmes, as reflected in the UNEP/CBD strategic plan. A clear example of decisive and proactive action taken in the spirit of that strategic plan is, of course, IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention, which, seen from the perspective of our community, aims at establishing a realistic target for the eradication of invasive species and for putting in place mechanisms to control the pathways for their introduction.
To date, 26 States, with an aggregate merchant shipping tonnage of 24.66% of the world total, have ratified the Convention. These figures, though encouraging, still fall short of the required 30 States representing 35% of the world tonnage. At the risk of being persistently repetitive, I will ask you, once again, to exert whatever influence you can back home and work together with other national organizations with an interest in the protection of the marine environment to have this important Convention ratified without further delay.
On a more positive note, since your last session, four new Type Approval Certificates have been issued by Administrations, thus bringing the number of commercially available treatment technologies to 11. If we add to these the 10 new technologies recommended for Basic or Final Approval by the GESAMP-Ballast Water Working Group (all of which you will consider this week), I think there is ample justification to conclude that a major barrier in the implementation process has now been clearly removed thus opening the way for further ratifications of the Convention.
The voluntary early implementation of the 2009 Hong Kong Convention on the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships should be another item on which you should pay special attention this week. The adoption, two sessions ago, of Guidelines for the development of an inventory of hazardous materials, for both new and existing ships, marked the first significant step in the facilitation of this process. I am sure that, in pursuing the decision you made last time to develop, concurrently, three further sets of guidelines (namely, on recycling facilities; on the Ship Recycling Plan; and on the authorization of recycling facilities), you will succeed in providing a strong stimulus for ship recycling facilities to apply the Hong Kong Convention ahead of its entry into force date. Substantial progress on this undertaking will also encourage Members to follow the example of France, Italy, the Netherlands, St. Kitts and Nevis and Turkey – all of whom signed the Convention while it was still open for signature – by now proceeding to acceding to it.
Distinguished delegates,
Many other important items feature on your extensive agenda this week, which time does not allow me to elaborate upon but all of which deserve your careful attention. From amongst them, I would highlight, in particular:
• the adoption of the revised MARPOL Annex III on prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form;
• the consideration of proposed amendments to MARPOL Annex IV on prevention of pollution by sewage from ships, leading to the Baltic Sea becoming a Special Area under that Annex;
• the consideration of the comprehensive review of MARPOL Annex V on prevention of pollution by garbage from ships, with a view to finalizing the revision exercise at this session;
• the consideration of proposals to designate the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands as an Emission Control Area; and the Strait of Bonifacio as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area;
• the outcome of intersessional work on noise from commercial shipping and its adverse impacts on marine life;
• the review of various OPRC-HNS matters – including the approval of the Manual on oil pollution, Section I - Prevention and of the Guidance document on the implementation of an incident management system; and
• the review of technical co-operation activities implemented by the Marine Environment Division under the Integrated Technical Co-operation Programme and of those undertaken under major programmes, such as GloBallast Partnerships; the Marine Electronic Highway in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore; and SAFEMED I and II in the Mediterranean.
Before I conclude, I shall briefly invite your attention, once again, to two issues of a more general nature.
The first concerns security during meetings – on which I would appreciate your continued co operation at any given instance. 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.
The second concerns the Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme and, here, I am pleased to inform you that, as approved by the last Assembly, its institutionalization process has now started with vigour in accordance with the timeframe and schedule set out in resolution A.1018. Indeed, following your last session, the FSI Sub-Committee, meeting in July, carried out some preparatory work and has put to your Committee a number of questions for examination and guidance. In order for the process to proceed as scheduled, it is important that the Committee acts as requested at this session – in particular on the issue of how to introduce the Code for the implementation of mandatory IMO instruments, and auditing, in the annexes to the MARPOL Convention in a mandatory form. That said and while we progress with the set objective, it is equally important that Member States continue to volunteer for audit so that the institutionalization process can benefit from the results of conducted audits. Your support and contribution to the success of both endeavours will be greatly appreciated.
Distinguished delegates,
I have highlighted a few of the many issues you are expected to tackle as part of your agenda this week and, once again, you will have a very busy session. While conducting your business, you should feel encouraged, even motivated, by the progress that has been made on several of the items on your agenda, by a variety of groups working intersessionally. I wish to take this opportunity to thank all the Governments and organizations that participated in the groups for making their expertise, time and other resources available to facilitate their work in the pursuit of the Organization’s goals; and, particularly, to thank the coordinator of each.
With your usual commitment to the cause of environmental protection, and with the customary IMO spirit of co operation, you will, I am sure, succeed in all your objectives and reach sound, balanced and timely decisions. The experience and leadership skills of your seasoned Chairman, Mr. Andreas Chrysostomou of Cyprus, will guarantee a successful outcome in the attainment of which I am confident that you and the Secretariat will assist him throughout the session. I wish you every success in your deliberations and good luck.
Thank you.