World Maritime Day Parallel Event

Opening Remarks

World Maritime Day Parallel Event
Manama, Bahrain
By Koji Sekimizu
Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization

 Minister, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to have the opportunity to share a platform with His Excellency Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed, Minister of Transportation, here today, and to be able to join him in welcoming you to this parallel celebration of World Maritime Day.

This is a most appropriate setting for such an event. There is a long history of trade, commerce and maritime traffic in this region, and the status of Bahrain as a seafaring nation and as a strategic port of call is as strong today as it was in ancient times.

The presence here today of the Minister confirms, once again, the deep and strong interest in maritime affairs that exists in Bahrain. Indeed, I understand that the name Bahrain itself is derived from an Arabic word meaning "two seas," referring to the ancient assumption that there was another sea beneath the sea bed.

Be that as it may, it is the water above the sea bed that concerns us today, and more specifically, the safety of the ships and the people that sail upon it.
The theme for our World Maritime Day in 2012 has been “IMO: 100 years after the Titanic”, and it has given us an opportunity not only to reflect on how much things have improved since the Titanic sinking in 1912, but also to reinforce our commitment to preventing the recurrence of disasters on such a scale in the future.

Many ships have sunk – too many – but few have had the lasting impact of the Titanic, a ship which, at the time, was the most technically advanced vessel afloat and which seemed almost invulnerable. And yet, as history has recorded, she was transformed in a few short hours from the world’s most celebrated ship into a name forever associated with tragedy.

The sinking of the Titanic prompted the major shipping nations of the world, at that time, to take decisive action to address maritime safety. This led to the adoption of the first-ever International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and, ultimately, to the establishment of IMO itself. Today, much updated and revised, SOLAS is still the most important international treaty addressing maritime safety – and is now under the stewardship of IMO.

The first SOLAS Convention, adopted in 1914, after the United Kingdom called a conference following the Titanic disaster, was the first attempt to lay down international rules governing the safety of shipping, such as making sure enough lifeboats and lifejackets are provided for all the people on board a ship.

But it was not until the foundation of the United Nations itself that a permanent international body was set up to promote maritime safety more effectively – and that body is IMO. IMO was established by means of a Convention adopted in Geneva in 1948. The Convention received sufficient signatures to enter into force ten years later, and the first meeting of IMO was held in 1959.

The most immediate and important task allocated to IMO was to develop international standards to cover all technical aspects of shipping. And the very first of these was a new version of the SOLAS Convention, which was adopted in 1960. Thereafter, IMO turned its attention to other matters, such as the facilitation of international maritime traffic, load lines on ships, the carriage of dangerous goods and revising the system of measuring ships’ tonnage.

In the realm of safety at sea, the advances have been numerous and wide ranging. In the 1970s, for example, the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea was adopted and a global search and rescue system was initiated, with the adoption of the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue.

In 1988, the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System was adopted and began to be phased in from 1992. In February 1999, it became fully operational. Which means that now, unlike in the days of the Titanic, a ship that is in distress anywhere in the world can be virtually guaranteed assistance. This applies even if the ship's crew do not have time to radio for help, as the message will be transmitted automatically.
Despite huge improvements in maritime safety since the era of the Titanic, accidents do, nevertheless, still occur and there is clearly a great deal of work that still needs to be done.

Ladies and gentlemen, the direct output of IMO’s regulatory work is a comprehensive body of international conventions, supported by literally hundreds of guidelines and recommendations that, between them, govern just about every facet of the shipping industry – from the drawing board to the scrapyard. All too often, regulatory policy has been dictated by events.

If the Titanic spurred the creation of the SOLAS Convention, other disasters have also made their mark. The Torrey Canyon was instrumental in providing the impetus for the MARPOL Convention; the Estonia prompted a thorough review of the safety of ro-ro ferries; the Nakhodka and the Prestige incidents led to increases in the amount of compensation available to the victims of oil spills; the Prestige and Erika incidents caused the regulations surrounding single and double-hull tankers to be reviewed, while both those vessels and the Castor incident served to bring the question of places of refuge for stricken vessels into sharp focus. The losses of the Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987, the Exxon Valdez in 1989, the Scandinavian Star in 1990 and the Al-Salam Boccaccio in 2006 all resulted in either a heavy loss of life or a significant impact to the marine environment and lent direction and purpose to the work of IMO. But the most important result of all this is that shipping today is safer, cleaner, more efficient and more secure than at any time in the past.

Yet each new generation of vessels brings fresh challenges and, regrettably, accidents still occur, reinforcing the need for continual improvement. The Costa Concordia accident this year, in which the loss of life was, thankfully, far less than that of the Titanic disaster, was a clear reminder of that. It underlined that our efforts to promote maritime safety, not least of passenger ships, can never stop. We should respond quickly to accidents and we must be proactive.

What separates the passenger and cruise ship industry from the rest of shipping is the unique nature of its cargo – hundreds and thousands of people. The lives of thousands of people are in the hands of the ship's management, the captain and crew and the operating staff.  I therefore hope that this sector, in particular, will take the opportunity to lead the way, because "safety" is its main product – not comfort entertainment or leisure. Without safety, the industry will not survive, let alone sustain its growth; and real safety does not result simply as a consequence of regulation-compliance.

The time has now come to generate a step-change in the establishment of a safety culture in shipping. This will not be achieved through legislative measures alone. We must generate a new impetus in shipping to go beyond compliance with regulations and explore industry-wide mechanisms to ensure the safety culture is embedded throughout the entire industry.
It is imperative that IMO ensures that the measures it adopts do not impede the deployment of new technologies and the benefits that they provide to the entire maritime industry.  Moreover, IMO must continue to address today’s pressing safety and environmental concerns proactively, and promote the use of latest technologies, to ensure that others do not feel the need to impose inappropriate, unilateral solutions on the shipping industry.

Ladies and gentlemen, as one would expect, the IMO that exists today is very different from the Organization envisaged in Geneva in 1948 – but so is the world of merchant shipping. The success of this evolution can be measured by the global extent of IMO Membership, and, more importantly, by the consistent overall reduction of lives lost at sea due to the rigorous enforcement of the international treaties for which the Organization has been responsible. 

Today, 100 years since the Titanic, IMO has developed – and maintains – a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping and its remit has expanded to include not only safety, but also environmental protection, legal matters, technical co-operation, maritime security and the efficiency of shipping. 

IMO provides the mechanism through which the Governments of every country with an interest in shipping can come together to decide on standards that are to be applied on ships engaged in international voyages. The Membership of IMO includes not just countries in which ships are owned or registered but also coastal States, importing and exporting States, and countries which supply support services and manpower to the shipping industry. The fact that so many nations have elected to join the Organization reflects not only the universal impact that shipping has on global trade and the global community, but also the diverse range and scope of the activities undertaken by the Organization.

The work of IMO represents the collective efforts of many hundreds of people who are dedicated to ensuring that there is a comprehensive and effective framework of international standards surrounding the design, construction, operation and manning of ships.
It could fairly be said that the Titanic disaster of 1912 was the catalyst that eventually led shipping into a new era of maritime safety. Looking ahead, technological developments, new risks, changing priorities and altered public expectations are collectively building momentum towards another such quantum leap. IMO has helped maritime safety to come a very long way since the Titanic; and now, 100 years later, it stands ready to examine whether the present regulatory framework is still the best model for addressing tomorrow’s maritime safety issues.  This is the reason why I am taking the initiative to convene the Future Ship Safety Symposium to be held in June next year.

And it is with that in mind that I must commend the organizers of this Parallel Event, the Ministry of Transportation of Bahrain, for the excellent programme they have put together for this seminar.

I wish you every success with the seminar, and with the other associated activities, and I have no doubt that the discussions that will take place in this seminar will make a very positive contribution to the advancement of the IMO’s maritime safety policies.

Thank you.