High Level Meeting to celebrate 40 Years of Cooperation in the Mediterranean to Prevent and Combat Marine Pollution from Ships, Keynote address, Malta

High Level Meeting to celebrate 40 Years of Cooperation in the Mediterranean to Prevent and Combat Marine Pollution from Ships,
Keynote address by Kitack Lim, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization (4 October 2016)

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here today at the beginning of the events to mark the 40th anniversary of REMPEC – a vitally important but often unsung player in the battle to protect one of the world's most sensitive and vulnerable marine assets.

The Mediterranean represents about one per cent of the world's sea area. But, although it is relatively small, this is one of the most important international waters on our planet.

As one of the cradles of ancient civilisation, it has been subject to human intervention for thousands of years. Today, more than 20 nations have a Mediterranean coastline.

Mediterranean coastal cities are home to more than 80 million people and this figure is set to increase substantially in the coming years. Every summer, over 100 million tourists flock to Mediterranean beaches and this number is expected to double by 2025.

The Mediterranean is also a major thoroughfare for international shipping, with the Suez Canal at its eastern end providing a strategic link between east and west that serves thousands of vessels every year.

It provides food, work and pleasure for millions of people – and supports more than 10,000 species, many of them endangered.

But, landlocked and under extreme pressure from human activities, the warm waters of the Mediterranean find it hard to clean and renew themselves. This is not an area of sea which recovers easily from pollution, damage or exploitation.

Which is why it is so important that we take active steps to protect the Mediterranean from the pressure we put it under. And why it is such a great pleasure to offer the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea – or REMPEC - my sincere congratulations on reaching its 40th anniversary.

The Centre's contribution in assisting Mediterranean coastal States to build up their national prevention, preparedness and response capabilities to prevent and respond to major marine pollution incidents certainly deserves to be celebrated. More than that, its role in helping to facilitate cooperation between countries to prevent and respond to marine pollution should also be acknowledged and appreciated.

In 1976, when the Centre was established under a United Nations inter-agency project between UNEP and IMO, the Centre's mandate was firmly focused on assisting the Contracting Parties of the Barcelona Convention to prepare for and deal with oil spills caused by ships.

The Regional Oil-Combating Centre or, in short ROCC, as it was then called, was the first regional centre of its kind. It became known as REMPEC in 1989, following the extension of its mandate to include hazardous substances other than oil. Since then, it has contributed significantly to the development and strengthening of the Mediterranean States' capacities to prevent and deal with marine pollution incidents. Today, the Centre's remit extends beyond dealing with accidental oil spills to a much broader mandate – to work collaboratively with the Mediterranean States to prevent and combat marine pollution in all forms.

The Centre's work today addresses pollution from oil and hazardous and noxious substances; surveillance for possible illegal operational discharges; ballast water discharges; emissions from ships and anti-fouling systems. It is also working with countries to ensure the provision of adequate port reception facilities in the main ports around the Mediterranean Sea. Another important part of its work is to help coordinate efforts to build the capacities in national maritime administrations to prepare for and deal with pollution from ships, and this includes developing the legislative and administrative frameworks needed at the national level.

The network of protection for the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing prevention, preparedness and response functions, is highly appreciated by all the IMO Member States and, indeed, the wider maritime community. And, through the effectiveness of its mandate and work, REMPEC has become a model for the establishment of similar Centres in other regions of the world.

A key characteristic of the REMPEC success story during the past 40 years has been cooperation. REMPEC itself is operated under, and financed by, Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, within the framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan of the Regional Seas Programme of the United Nations Environment Programme – UNEP.

Administered and technically supported by IMO through an Agreement with UNEP, REMPEC is a prime example of close cooperation between two United Nations bodies, working together to protect and preserve the environment. I should like to take this opportunity to thank UNEP for its strong cooperation with IMO, in this and other projects.

The European Commission and the European Maritime Safety Agency, EMSA, have also been strong and supportive collaborators of REMPEC and, once again, I would like to offer them my thanks and appreciation.

IMO is justifiably proud of the role it played in helping to set up REMPEC and of its continuing work in administering the Centre. The link between IMO and REMPEC remains very strong, with IMO making extensive use of the Centre for the implementation of activities under the Organization's Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme.

Going forward, IMO is committed in its support for the Centre and I would like to extend my appreciation to all 22 Contracting Parties and especially to the Centre's host country – the Government of Malta.

As I mentioned a moment ago, throughout the past 40 years, REMPEC has become something of a role model for other regional centres, which have been inspired by the Centre's set-up and programme. This should be a source of great pride, not only for REMPEC but all affiliated bodies, sponsors, governments and individuals.

So my congratulations to REMPEC and all those involved in the work of Centre as we celebrate this important landmark. It is impossible to imagine that your work will ever be finished – and I am sure that REMPEC will now look to the next 40 years and continue its valuable efforts to improve cooperation in the Mediterranean to prevent and combat marine pollution.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you.