Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR), 2nd Session, 9-13 March 2015 (opening address)

(9-13 MARCH 2015)

Good morning distinguished delegates and welcome to the second session of the Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue.

Before I make any remarks on the agenda of the Sub-Committee, I would like to highlight the important outcomes of the high-level Inter-Agency meeting to address unsafe mixed migration by sea held last week at IMO Headquarters. Some of you participated in the open dialogue sessions and therefore what I wish to mention now may not be new for those who attended the meeting but I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the significant outcome of the Inter-Agency meeting with delegations of the NCSR Sub Committee.

The situation in the Mediterranean is really worrying. Last year, more than 200,000 people were rescued and more than 3,000 people died at sea. Most of them were left in the middle of shipping lanes on board unseaworthy small boats arranged by migrant smugglers. Just before the New Year, in the incidents of Blue Sky M and Ezadeen, merchant ships full of migrants were abandoned in the congested waters without qualified seafarers, thus posing a grave concern to hundreds of migrants, other merchant ships and the environment.

If the rate of growth of the number of migrants drifting in the Mediterranean this year was to follow the growth ratio from 2013 to 2014, this year, we would face 400,000 to 450,000 migrants calling for rescue at sea. Potentially half a million people. This would be an enormous number of people that would pose serious challenges to the shipping community.

European States supported Mare Nostrum where the Italian Coast Guard and the navy, in particular, deployed rescue coordination facilities in the Northern coast of Africa and Eastern Mediterranean, but this operation was officially terminated last year. Taking into account this factor, the shipping industry and merchant ships would be forced to rescue a far greater number of migrants this year. Last year, merchant ships rescued 40,000 migrants. If the total number of migrants desperately waiting for sea rescue was in the order of 400,000 people, how could the shipping community meet the challenges alone this year? The current search and rescue system firmly maintained by the shipping community is not designed for that scale of mass rescue of migrants at sea. Without additional measures, ships cannot cope with this magnitude and scale of sea rescue operations.

I raised the matter with the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, last autumn. At the regular UN Chief Executives Board held in Washington in November last year, I raised again this issue and emphasized the need for concerted efforts by the United Nations agencies. I attended the High-level dialogue of UNHCR last December and this year I called a United Nations Inter-Agency Meeting on 4 and 5 March. The meeting was attended by high-level representatives of UNHCR, OHCHR, UNODC, UNDP, ILO, UN-DOALOS. The Executive Director of UNODC, Mr. Fedotov and Assistant High Commissioner of UNHCR, Dr. Turk were among them. I am truly grateful to the respective Heads of those UN Agencies for their support at two sessions of preparatory meetings held in Geneva and for their participation in last week’s meeting at our Headquarters. I am also grateful for those Member Governments and organizations that participated in the open dialogue and provided contributions to the meeting.

At the Inter-Agency meeting, I highlighted the importance of taking action against smugglers to prevent and reduce the number of unsafe, unregulated, illegal sea passages arranged by smugglers.

Upon my call, the UN agencies agreed to establish a new mechanism. This mechanism will not duplicate the efforts and functions of the Global Migration Group of the United Nations, but it will complement its work and provide contributions.

The target areas for the new mechanism should be focused on the maritime phase of migration and we will aim to:

•    create a database on migrants smugglers with the help of UNODC;
•    create an information sharing system for sea migration incidents; and
•    prepare information materials on the danger and risks of unseaworthy sea passages to be circulated among migrants populations;

We will continue to discuss various issues surrounding sea passages of huge numbers of migrants covering alternative safe ways and strengthening and improving sea rescue arrangements.

The United Nations alone cannot solve the problem. The key is willingness and actions to be taken by Governments.

You may recall that a Contact Group was useful for coordinating actions taken by the international community to tackle Somali-based piracy in the Indian Ocean. We do not need another Contact Group in dealing with the issue we are facing in Mediterranean, because IMO could provide a forum for Governments, UN agencies and the shipping community to tackle the problem of mass rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean. It is up to the Governments but I will raise this issue to IMO Member Governments with a view to considering with them what can be done and should be done by IMO in dealing with the challenges of mass sea rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean and, in particular those issues falling within the responsibility of this Organization, such as preparation of necessary manuals and guidelines for the shipping industry in dealing with mass rescue operation by merchant ships, the common understanding on the definition of persons in distress,  the possibility of considering a better system to ensure predictable disembarkation places, the cost to the shipping industry, the legal aspects of mass rescue of migrants, etc.

I intend to prepare an information paper on the outcome of the Inter-Agency meeting to the Legal Committee in April, to the Maritime Safety Committee and to Council in June, so that the outcome of the Inter-Agency meeting could be shared with the wider IMO Membership and hopefully necessary action could be taken by this Organization in order to provide our contributions to the efforts of the shipping industry and the wider international community in dealing with the maritime phase of one of the biggest issues of the world in the 21st century – millions of migrants/millions of people undertaking migration.

Having said that, if I turn to the agenda of your Sub-Committee this week, I would like to encourage Member Governments to continue to keep their ship’s routeing measures and mandatory ship reporting systems under review and to advise the Organization of any proposed changes. You are performing an important function of IMO as the competent international organization under UNCLOS.

I would like to remind the Sub-Committee that the LRIT system has been successfully established and is nowadays operating satisfactorily. A number of proposals aiming at improving and promoting the use of the system will be considered at this session.
I would like to congratulate the Sub-Committee for the finalization and approval of the e navigation Strategy Implementation Plan and encourage Member Governments and interested organizations to continue working towards the implementation of related solutions in order to address the needs identified not only on board ships, but also on the shore side and search and rescue services. This is, in my view, creative work to ascertain safety, protection of the environment and sustainable shipping by maximising benefits of available information technology and communication facilities. I hope that your work will help traffic management authorities and the shipping industry to realize the concept of the Marine Electronic Highway in important channels and waterways.

Moving to other issues, I would like to highlight the importance of the finalization of the draft IMO position on matters relating to maritime services on the agenda for the next World Radiocommunication Conference of ITU, scheduled to take place in November this year. The availability of interference free parts of radio spectrum, dedicated for maritime radiocommunication and radionavigation purposes, is of utmost importance for the safety and security of shipping.

I would also like to note that excellent progress has been made by the ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group with regard to the updating of the IAMSAR Manual, for inclusion in the 2016 edition of the Manual.

Finally I would like to mention about the GMDSS. I noted that MSC 94 had agreed that IMSO should undertake the technical and operational assessment of the Iridium mobile satellite system, for consideration by the NCSR Sub-Committee at a future session. I see significant progress in the field of this work for satellite service providers and I would like to stress the importance to continue making progress in respect to the detailed review and modernization plan of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and extend my appreciation for the hard work to those involved in the process review of the GMDSS, including the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group and the ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group.

We may recall that the GMDSS was adopted in 1978. In 2018, in three years' time, we will come to the 30th anniversary of the implementation of the GMDSS. I think the time has come to update the system, taking into account the developments in e-Navigation and more satellite service providers in the future. In this context, what I think is necessary is a vision. When the GMDSS was developed at the beginning of the 1980s, we had your predecessors' clear vision for the future and that was the future GMDSS, FGMDSS and we need again FGMDSS. It is important to keep a clear visible target and in this context, I suggest you may imagine what sort of legal instrument may come up to provide a basis for the future of GMDSS.

Fifty years after the adoption of SOLAS 1974 will be in 2024 and you may be aware I was advocating to really think about how and with what sort of preparation we may approach that year, 2024 to mark 50 years of the SOLAS Convention.

With that, before I conclude, I would like to draw your attention to another important issue of security. I am sure you are aware of the incidents in various parts of the world since the beginning of this year and the tightened level of security of this country. The threat to the UN in this country is still minimal but, nevertheless, I would request delegates to be aware of the security measures and stay vigilant.

With this, before passing over to you, Mr. Chairman, as usual, we will have a reception this evening in the delegates lounge and you are all invited. You participation would be highly appreciated.

Thank you.