Safety at Sea Awards

Safety at Sea Awards
12 September 2017
Speech by Kitack Lim, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here this evening and to join this celebration of 50 years of Safety at Sea Magazine.

If ever a publication could be said to be aligned with IMO by its title alone, then Safety at Sea must be the one.

Allow me to start by highlighting one of the great strengths of IMO regulations: they provide a global regime applying equally to all. This ensures that ships have to comply with the same rules and technical standards wherever in the world they operate and regardless of which flag they fly. If properly implemented, no one can gain an advantage, either by cutting corners or by imposing unilateral requirements.

For me, one of the most important things to always remember is that billions of people all over the world rely on shipping in their everyday lives – even though they may not realize it. 

But, at the same time, shipping itself needs to be sustainable – and this means shipping activities have to be balanced with both long and short term environmental and safety concerns. IMO's role is to ensure that shipping continues to make its contribution to the global economy without upsetting that delicate balance.

As you may all know, IMO was founded nearly 70 years ago primarily to promote safety at sea; and, although our remit has expanded a great deal since then, promoting maritime safety remains one of our core objectives.

Because shipping is the most cost-effective way to transport the vast majority of international trade, a safe, secure, clean and efficient international shipping industry is indispensable to the modern world. 

IMO is a specialized agency of the United Nations. It was created by governments to ensure shipping meets those broad requirements. At IMO, the world's governments come together to develop and adopt a detailed and comprehensive framework of regulations, guidelines and best practices. Collectively they ensure that shipping operates to the standards its stakeholders require of it.

As an organization, IMO can be justifiably proud of its record of steering the industry, through regulation, to being ever safer, greener and cleaner. I won't list all those achievements here – we simply do not have time – but just think of some of the developments Safety at Sea magazine has reported on during the past 50 years: crude-oil washing, inert gas systems and double-hull construction for tankers; tight control of sewage and garbage discharges from all ships; all the myriad navigational rules that have so drastically reduced collisions and groundings; pilotage, vessel traffic services, bridge equipment, cargo loading, stowage and handling – these are just a few of the areas regulated by IMO, and the list goes on and on.

More recently, IMO's efforts to address the negative effects of ballast water management emanating from ships and to reduce the levels of harmful sulphur, nitrogen and greenhouse gases in ships' exhaust emissions are both hugely beneficial to the environment – which has to sustain the world's growing population – and to human life and human health itself.

And we must not forget the human element either. IMO has developed measures covering safe manning levels, hours of work, training and certification and fair treatment for seafarers in cases of accident or abandonment.

As I hope this snapshot demonstrates, IMO has a long and successful track record of ensuring that shipping not only provides a safe and clean service for those who rely on it but also a safe and secure working environment for those who work in it.

But, of course, interesting though it is to look back, we have to place our main focus firmly on the future. Thanks to the opportunities arising from new technology, I believe shipping is on the brink of a new era. The technologies emerging around fuel and energy use, automation and vessel management, materials and construction and so many other areas, will lead to new generations of ships that bring substantial improvements in all areas that IMO regulates.

Indeed, I believe technology and the use of data hold the key to a safer and more sustainable future for shipping.

But technological advances present challenges as well as opportunities, so their introduction into the regulatory framework needs to be considered carefully. We need to balance the benefits against safety and security concerns, the impact on the environment and on international trade, the potential costs to the industry and, not least, their impact on personnel, both on board and ashore.

So how we incorporate new technology into the regulatory framework is a key issue for IMO. On the agenda of the Maritime Safety Committee, for example, you will find future-orientated items such as cyber security, e-navigation, the modernization of the maritime distress and safety communication as well as the rapidly emerging prospect of autonomous vessels.

It is important that IMO is taking a proactive and leading role in these issues, given the rapid technological developments surrounding them. Indeed, IMO regulations for shipping can provide a tangible focus for development of innovative, game-changing technical solutions. In response to IMO regulations, new technologies have already brought significant beneficial changes in the way ships are designed, constructed and operated, contributing to a more interconnected and efficient global supply chain.

And, recently, the philosophical shift away from prescriptive regulation towards goal-based standards will both encourage further innovation and, at the same time, ensure that ships are constructed so that, if properly maintained, they should remain safe for their entire economic life.

Ladies and gentleman, 

Let us both, IMO and Safety at Sea Magazine, be proud of our aims and achievements of improving safety within the shipping industry, enhancing our cooperation and exchange of information and continue to address issues firmly related to educating and informing seafarers about hazards, technological developments and trends. 

I am convinced that the editorial team on Safety at Sea will have plenty of success stories to write about for the next 50 years as well! And that there will also be a great deal of scope for the Safety at Sea awards, too. That’s what award schemes like this do, and why they deserve our support and again, my heart felt congratulations on re-launching this awards to recognize those who innovate and strive for excellence and are also capable of thinking outside the box and taking things to the next level. 

Thank you.