Speech to European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) staff - EMSA, Lisbon, Portugal

Speech to European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) staff

EMSA, Lisbon, Portugal  24 May 2017

"IMO's priorities in the forthcoming years"

Speech by Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be with you and I am delighted to have the opportunity to share my thoughts with you on some of the issues that face us today.

Although we have different structures and different mandates, at least in terms of detail, IMO and EMSA are nevertheless united by the same overall objectives. We both seek to create the conditions in which safe ships operate on clean oceans with a minimal impact on the environment.

In the case of EMSA, you can trace the organization's formation back to two major incidents which really brought home how poor maritime safety can have such widespread and long-lasting negative consequences for so many people.

The Erika and Prestige incidents, and their resulting oil spills, resulted in huge environmental and economic damage to the coastlines of Spain and France. They also acted as a reminder to decision-makers in Europe that the continent needed to invest in better preparation for a large‑scale oil spill; and that meant creating something that provided resources above-and-beyond those available at the level of individual Member States.

Today, EMSA has evolved to the point where it is active in all fields where maritime safety may be strengthened by action at the EU level. Even so, more than a third of its budget is spent on oil spill preparedness and response activities, including a network of stand-by oil response vessels and state-of-the-art equipment, which are available on demand to assist Member States. 

At IMO, we don't have that kind of "hands-on" function when it comes to dealing with emergencies. As a specialized agency of the United Nations, our role is to be the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. IMO Member States, which includes all the EU Member States, create a global regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.

We create a level playing-field so that ship operators cannot gain advantage by simply cutting corners and compromising on safety, security and environmental performance. IMO measures cover all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, operation and disposal – to ensure that this vital sector remains safe, environmentally sound, energy efficient and secure.

IMO's regulatory framework is reflected in national and regional legislation for shipping all over the world – including the EU. Indeed, the EU member states are crucial to the work of IMO. Individually and collectively, EU member states have made an invaluable contribution to our work to enhance safety, security and to protect the environment.

Over several decades, IMO regulations and technical standards have laid the foundation for shipping to become progressively safer, more efficient, cleaner and greener. Statistics for maritime casualties and pollution incidents clearly attest to this.

And, as you would expect from a group with such a strong tradition of maritime experience and expertise, the EU countries have been among the prime movers in this. And, beyond that, EU countries have an equally strong influence over ensuring that IMO measures are universally adopted and implemented. Given the number and combined fleet size of the EU countries, EU ratifications can bring most measures close to, or beyond, the entry-into-force point. The EU can also exert a great deal of influence globally by ensuring compliance among your own national fleets and among non-EU ships that sail in your waters and enter your ports.

The relationship between global regulation, through IMO, and regional implementation can be strong, and very effective. And EMSA, in particular, has made, and continues to make, a very positive and active contribution to such synergy.

To name just a few examples – EMSA hosts the International Data Exchange Centre, free of charge, to ensure the smooth operation of the LRIT system, and has carried out third-party audits in countries supplying seafarers for compliance with the STCW Convention. EMSA's research into ro-ro passenger ship stability has added significantly to our knowledge of this field; and your work in areas like Port State Control, accident investigation, ship inspection and environmental monitoring is of immense value.

IMO has developed more than 50 international treaties and related standards. But the full benefits of this extensive body of international law can only be realized if their provisions are effectively, efficiently and consistently implemented and enforced. And it is the Member States, supported by the industry, who are ultimately responsible for implementing IMO measures. IMO's technical cooperation work is vital ensure that they have the capacity to do this, especially those developing countries which may lack the relevant maritime experience and expertise.

Given how comprehensive this regulatory framework now is, I think the future will see more and more emphasis placed on IMO's work on technical cooperation and capacity building, in support of the global Sustainable Development Goals.

The regulatory framework will, of course, need occasional adjustment to keep pace with technology.

Indeed, I believe technology holds the key to a safer and more sustainable future for shipping. I do not expect one single breakthrough that will solve all our problems at once. But what we will see is real progress through the collective effect of small gains in many different areas.

Thanks to the opportunities afforded by new technology, 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 step‑change improvements in all the areas that IMO regulates.

And, in the future, we can expect the "soft" technologies of digitization and big data to be as important in the development of shipping as the traditional "hard" technology issues that I have just mentioned. E‑navigation and cyber security are already on IMO's agenda and we are expecting the subject of autonomous vessels to be raised at the next Maritime Safety Committee.

At IMO, we also need to do more to embrace data in our work and in our decision-making processes. For example, we need to have more detailed and deeper analysis of statistics and data so that we can really understand underlying trends and causal factors behind shipping casualties; and we must make sure that additions and amendments to the regulatory framework are also based, wherever possible, on relevant statistics, studies and analysis.

Ladies and gentlemen, the regulatory framework for shipping embraces what are deemed to be the highest possible standards that can be applied universally. But, of course, that doesn't stop others from embracing higher standards should they choose to do so.

But in an international context; in the context of an industry that needs to operate within a consistent framework that is recognized, and applied equally wherever in the world a ship may call, those higher standards must be self-applied. By which I mean there is nothing wrong with individual countries applying higher or more stringent standards to their own vessels; but they must also recognize the validity of the universal standards that apply to all ships.

The very essence of international regulation, and one of the foundations on which IMO is built, is that no advantage should be gained either by cutting corners or by unilaterally imposing higher standards.