Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue (COMSAR), 17th session, 21 to 25 January 2013 (opening address)

(21 to 25 January 2013)

Good morning distinguished delegates,
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to the 17th session of the COMSAR Sub-Committee. I particularly welcome those who participate in the Sub-Committee for the first time.
Since this is the second meeting of IMO, still in January 2013, I wish you all a Happy New Year.  I hope it is a happy, healthy, productive and successful year – a year in which we could make further significant progress in all fields of activity of IMO.
As I said at FP 56 two weeks ago, the status of the world economy is well known, 5 years after the 2008 banking and credit crisis. The situation of the shipping industry is described as a slow economy, with a reduced amount of seaborne trade and huge over-tonnage. A very difficult time for shipping continues.
The fiscal situation of Member Governments does not allow any relaxed approach. This will compel the need for:  tight budget control at IMO; an approach towards the Mixed Zero Growth scenario I suggested to the Council; more efficient ways of doing our business; adaptation to changing society and changing needs; and the application of a holistic approach, with the sub-committee restructuring being an important part of the whole process of review and reform.
I am sure that sub-committee restructuring is a subject you are interested in.  I do not need to repeat the Council's in-principle endorsement of the way forward with the initial proposal for modifications to the sub-committees’ structure.  The Council requested the MSC and MEPC to consider the implications and practicability of the proposal.
Based on the discussions at the MSC, the Secretariat is preparing a framework document for the MEPC and MSC.  We are in the process of informal consultations, starting with consultation with the Chairmen to seek their views.  I want to involve as many delegates as possible.  There is no formal agenda item for this, but it is important that you express your views, so that the Secretariat could take them into account and reflect them in our framework for further discussion at MSC and MEPC.  I suggest that the Sub-Committee discuss this under Any Other Business.
At FP 56, I spoke about my vision on two specific issues: safety and anti-piracy actions.
For safety, I stated that reduction of maritime casualties by half in the foreseeable future is my target. I would like to see annual casualties to be reduced down from current annual loss of lives of over 1,000 toward less than 500.
This needs collective efforts by all not only covering international shipping but also the domestic navigation and fishing sectors. I think that the implementation of the Torremolinos Protocol will make a significant contribution towards this objective and in this context I am taking every opportunity to promote ratification and entry into force of the Cape Town Agreement.
On Monday, 11 February this year, in three weeks’ time, the Cape Town Agreement will be opened for signature at the Headquarters of IMO. I would like to see as many as possible of the Contracting States of the Torremolinos Protocol to come to IMO and place their signatures from that date.  Currently, 17 States have ratified the Protocol and, if all of them were to sign the Cape Town Agreement, then we would be extremely close to meeting the conditions for entry into force of the Cape Town Agreement.
We need 22 States holding a total of 3,600 fishing vessels for entry into force of the international safety regulations and, according to our calculations, signatures of all Torremolinos Protocol Contracting States would represent 2,200 fishing vessels against the required 3,600.  Contracting States to the current Torremolinos Protocol would therefore be able to bring the safety standards of fishing vessel towards a reality by simply placing their signature on the Cape Town Agreement within the allocated window of one year and I urge all Contracting States of the Torremolinos Protocol to do so.
An important practical point is that this window of special acceptance procedure is limited to one year and will end on 10 February next year; therefore, those Governments that wish to take advantage of this speedy process must take action now so that their signature would be placed within the designated period.
For your information, the current Contracting States are:

Bulgaria, Croatia, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kiribati, Liberia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Spain and Sweden.
In the meantime, I would urge all non-signatory States of the Torremolinos Protocol, to start their own process of the standard ratification process with national legislative authorities for the Cape Town Agreement. I ask particularly the Governments of those States which have large fishing fleet and which sent delegations to the Cape Town Diplomatic Conference last year and provided their very positive contribution to the success of the Conference.
Last year, in the centenary year of the Titanic, 2012, we managed to adopt a realistic safety regime for the implementation of safety standards for fishing vessels. Let us proceed to ensure its entry into force in the centenary year of SOLAS, next year, in 2014.
Briefly on the subject of anti-piracy activities and as a follow up of my statement at FP 56, I have sent letters to the President of the Somali Republic and offered our assistance in the fields of maritime law enforcement and maritime security of major ports with our partners, UNPOS and UNODC.
On the issue of Best Management Practices, I contacted industry partners and requested them to urge their member shipping companies to ensure continued application of anti-piracy measures based on the BMP.
I am now sending letters to 23 Member Governments which have been providing naval vessels to protect international shipping as well as to the EC and NATO, requesting them to continue providing naval defence in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean until the risk of piracy has been sufficiently eliminated.
Before I move onto the subjects of the Sub-Committee, I would like to again briefly touch upon the situation surrounding the Costa Concordia. One year ago, I stated that a speedy and full casualty investigation would be fundamental for IMO to take necessary action. In May last year, the MSC debated the work plan for passenger ship safety and I was seriously looking for the expected casualty investigation report to be provided at the November session of MSC. When I realized that the report could not be finalized before the last MSC, I was really disappointed.
Now our team in the Secretariat, with strong co-operation and support provided by our focal point here and in Italy, has good reasons to believe that the core process of the casualty investigation has been finalized and the report would be prepared and made available by March. If this is the case, the next MSC in June would be able to discuss all aspects of the casualty investigation report and take the necessary action.  I would like to still urge the Italian authorities to ensure that the casualty investigation report be presented to MSC in time.
Now moving onto the subjects of COMSAR at this session.
The first issue is the review and modernization of the GMDSS.  Following the adoption of the SAR Convention, the process to develop the Future GMDSS (F-GMDSS) began in 1979.  Amendments to SOLAS to implement the GMDSS were adopted in 1988 and entered into force on 1 February 1992. The GMDSS was fully implemented on 1 February 1999, 20 years after the adoption of the SAR Convention. Now, more than 30 years later after the initial discussions in IMO started, we are in the process of reviewing the GMDSS towards a Modernized GMDSS (M-GMDSS), with the target completion date of 2017.
Significant progress has already been made by the Correspondence Group and the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group intersessionally and I encourage you to stick to the Work Plan and prepare at this session a first draft of the outcome of the High level review, clearly identifying issues which will need further consideration by the established mechanisms.
Another very important task for your Sub-Committee is the preparation of the IMO position for ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conferences (WRCs). You are now expected to finalize this Preliminary draft IMO position on relevant WRC 15 agenda items and consider the need to send liaison statements to Groups in ITU.  You should present a plan ensuring you do not miss the Conference deadlines, taking into account the need for final approval of the IMO position by MSC 94 in December 2014. This is very important work, in particular, at this early stage of preparing a draft IMO position, since past practice has demonstrated that the process of developing IMO’s position in the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group and the COMSAR Sub-Committee is providing valuable information to countries and regional Groups in preparing their positions and proposals to the Conference. In this way, IMO can influence the development of positions at the World Radiocommunication Conference in support of the development and adoption of special regulatory arrangements or spectrum allocations for the maritime service.  Finally, I would like to encourage maritime Administrations to closely communicate with the national telecommunication Administrations in their own country, in order to get maximum attention and support for the needs of the maritime industry in the development of national positions for WRC-15 Agenda items, in line with the IMO position. 
The Development of an e-navigation strategy implementation plan is again on your agenda.  MSC 90 has approved a revised joint plan of work for the COMSAR, NAV and STW Sub-Committees for the period 2012–2014, outlining the work to be done in preparation of the final approval of the Strategy Implementation Plan by MSC 94 in December 2014. I would like to stress that this agenda item needs to be completed in 2014 and that delegates should focus on assisting in finalising this e-navigation strategy implementation plan on time.
The DE Sub-Committee has further requested the COMSAR Sub-Committee to assist in the work on the development of a mandatory Code for ships operating in polar waters.  Looking at recent increasing activities in the polar areas, such as development of the northern sea route and oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters, as well as the increasing activities of cruise ships in the Antarctic, it is obvious that there is a need for mandatory requirements covering both Arctic and Antarctic waters to ensure safety of life and protection of the marine environment in these sensitive and remote sea areas. In this context, your advice on radiocommunication and search and rescue related provisions for inclusion in the Polar Code would be invaluable. As the target completion date for the development of the Polar Code is 2014, it is essential for you to finalize your expert advice at this session.
Finally, I wish you all the best for productive and successful deliberations for this meeting. With this, I conclude my opening of the Sub-Committee by inviting you all to the reception this evening.