Fourth National Congress of Mexican Merchant Marine

Fourth National Congress of Mexican Merchant Marine

Mexico City, 21-24 October 2014
Speech by Koji Sekimizu, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization

General Coordinator, Undersecretary, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here today, at the inauguration of Mexico’s fourth National Congress of Merchant Marine. I believe that Mexico has never previously hosted a visit from an IMO Secretary-General in an official capacity, so I am honoured to be the first in history.

I am also pleased to be continuing a long tradition of links between Mexico and my home country, Japan. Indeed, this is the 400th anniversary of the first-ever diplomatic visit from Japan to Mexico navigating through the Pacific Ocean. If I may use this opportunity to show my effort to learn some Spanish language: hace cuatrocientos años la misión japonesa llegó a Acapulco y cruzó a Veracruz para viajar hacia Madrid. In 1614, Hasekura Tsunenaga, a Japanese envoy in the service of Date Masamune, crossed what was then known as “New Spain” on a mission to Europe. After departing Veracruz to cross the Atlantic Ocean visiting Spain and the Vatican, he then returned to Japan, again transiting via Mexico, and today there is a statue of Hasekura Tsunenaga on the outskirts of Acapulco, the city where he first landed.

To me, this story and others like it are fascinating in their own right. But I believe they also have a strong relevance in the modern world. Readers of my blog will know that I am very interested in maritime heritage and maritime history: indeed I blogged about the story of Hasekura Tsunenaga in September this year after, purely by chance, I discovered another statue of him in Civitavecchia, Italy. Yesterday I visited Veracruz and enjoyed a breakfast with leaders of the Port of Veracruz at a restaurant, a converted old house, made of wood some 400 years ago and which was well preserved, and I imagined that Hasekura Tsunenaga might have visited that house as well.  

The real point I wish to make here is that highlighting our rich, shared maritime history and heritage is the perfect way to put modern shipping and trade, and how much global society depends on it, into a context the general public can more readily understand and appreciate. Too often shipping is either simply unappreciated or assumes negative connotations. So I am trying to use maritime heritage to highlight the importance of trade and shipping both now and in the past, and am encouraging colleagues in the maritime world to join me in doing so. I believe this is an effective way to draw attention and raise public awareness of shipping and, as such, is an important part of our outreach. But it is not only in our outreach, I think it is important to recognize that Acapulco and Veracruz were, 400 years ago, already a transitional corridor from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, now that your country is now about to heavily invest in building a new Port of Veracruz. 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

To return to the present day: recent years have been difficult ones for shipping. The global financial crisis of 2008 was followed by a dip in global trade in 2009. Since then, global seaborne trade volumes have improved, and yet freight rates have remained low and, in some markets, extremely volatile. The fundamental problem remains overcapacity of ships on the supply side; even though trade volume is increasing to record levels, there are simply too many ships chasing the available cargo. For many shipowners, profit can be elusive.

Yet shipping will find a sustainable and viable way forward; because shipping, as the only really cost-effective way to transport the vast majority of international trade, will be central to global sustainable development and growth in the future. 

Faced by new challenges – financial, technical, regulatory – shipping is in a period of transition. I genuinely believe that the challenges shipping faces also represent tremendous opportunities; opportunities to create a new industry that is leaner, fitter, cleaner and more efficient, at every level.

Let me now look at some of these challenges and opportunities in more detail. The need to protect and preserve our environment and our planet is now almost universally recognized and understood. For shipping, one of the most significant manifestations of this is the move towards cleaner fuels resulting in a reduction of harmful exhaust emissions. The regulatory countdown toward widespread use of low-sulphur fuel is now well underway. The 0.1 per cent cap in the North American, North Sea and Baltic Emission Control Areas will take effect from 1 January 2015 and the 0.5 per cent global cap will take effect in 2020 or 2025, depending on the outcome of a review on the availability of compliant fuel to be undertaken by IMO. Meanwhile, the European Union has announced its intention to implement the cap in its waters in 2020, regardless of the outcome of the review.

We should be in no doubt that the reduction of harmful exhaust emissions is a vital measure for coastal and inland air quality, and will have a great beneficial effect on human health. Lives will be saved. The shipping industry has expressed its desire for the fuel availability review to completed early so that, whatever its outcome, appropriate measures can be taken in good time. This is a position I have agreed with but it is, of course, for the IMO Member States to decide. I am, however, encouraged by the progress made in the Marine Environment Protection Committee on this issue. Today I am delighted to hear from the Undersecretary that the Mexican Government has decided to take action with a view to accepting MARPOL Annex VI which contains provisions for energy efficiency measures and hence reduction of the GHG emissions from ships. I welcome this great news. 

There is also good progress to report in the implementation of another important environmental measure, the Ballast Water Management Convention at MEPC. This was adopted a decade ago, yet still lacks sufficient ratification to bring it into force. The number of states is sufficient (42, with Turkey and Japan’s recent ratifications) but the required 35 per cent of world tonnage has not yet been reached. However, the MEPC last week arrived at a major break-through and it is anticipated that the entry-into-force criteria will be met shortly as a number of States have indicated they are making arrangements to deposit their instruments of accession very soon. 

Although the convention is not yet in force, a great deal of progress has been made. An ever-growing number of type-approved ballast water management systems are now available. The shipping industry, equipment manufacturers, researchers and developers have all demonstrated goodwill and collaboration. 

Of course, I am aware of the industry’s concerns: but whatever may be delaying entry into force, the need to prevent the global spread of harmful invasive species in ballast water and sediments is undisputed. Action is needed, and it will be most effective if taken under the Ballast Water Management Convention, in force. Mexico, I am pleased to note, has ratified the convention – and I would urge all those IMO Member States that have not, to do so as soon as possible.

As shipping faces the need to ensure its own sustainability, the melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean provides an excellent opportunity for shorter sea passages – which means reduced costs. But it also takes shipping into an environment that is not only extremely harsh and challenging for ships to operate in, but which also lacks the infrastructure on which safe and green shipping relies – infrastructure for navigational information, up-to-date hydrography, search and rescue, spill response and so on.

There is a clear need for special measures to safeguard shipping and protect the environment in such inhospitable conditions. This is why IMO has been developing the Polar Code. The Polar Code is intended to cover the full range of shipping-related matters relevant to navigation in waters surrounding the two poles.

The process is now nearing completion. The safety elements of the Code were approved by the Maritime Safety Committee in May 2014 and the environmental elements were approved by the Marine Environment Protection Committee when it met last week. The Code is expected to enter into force in 2016.

Measures such as this are vital, not just for shipping but for the wider community as well. This year at IMO we have been focussing on the importance of effective implementation of IMO measures, through our theme for World Maritime Day – “IMO conventions: effective implementation”. The adoption of a new IMO convention is only half the story: to be properly effective, it needs early entry into force, widespread ratification, effective implementation, stringent oversight of compliance and vigorous enforcement.

Implementation of IMO measures is, ultimately, the responsibility of the Member States, supported by the industry – and the forthcoming mandatory audit scheme for Member States will be an important tool for assessing Member States’ performance in meeting their obligations and responsibilities as flag, port and coastal States under the relevant IMO treaties. The mandatory audit scheme will be implemented from the beginning of 2016. 

Next year, our theme will be maritime education and training, a subject that is very close to my heart and which I know is seen by the industry as vital to its long-term sustainability. Indeed, it is impossible to over-stress how important an issue this is. Without a quality labour force, motivated, trained and skilled to the appropriate international standards, the industry cannot survive. Not only that, but all the many advances that have been made, in terms of safety and environmental impact, are at risk if those at the “sharp end” - seafarers - are unable to implement them properly.

At IMO, we are unique among UN agencies to have two affiliated educational institutions – the World Maritime University and the International Maritime Law Institute. We are very proud of these and of the many graduates they have produced who now hold positions of responsibility and influence within the maritime community.

Next year will see the relocation of the campus of the World Maritime University to a superb, modern facility in Malmö, provided by the City of Malmö. The University has launched a campaign to find sponsors to outfit its new academic premises with modern equipment and facilities and, in particular, for its audio-visual conference facilities, maritime library and research rooms. I strongly urge willing States and shipping industry stakeholders to contact WMU and find out what they can offer to support this important transition.

You will be aware, I am sure, that the WMU’s financial vulnerability was brought, once more, into sharp focus in 2008 and 2009. As a result of the narrow donor profile and lack of long-term financing for the University, the IMO Council has requested the WMU Board of Governors to prepare a study on the financial sustainability of the University and report to Council in June next year. 

The discussions so far have clearly shown that the benefits of the education provided by WMU are not limited to the students or the countries they came from but extend to those whose livelihood or business depends on the international seaborne trade.

Unfortunately, although the University is an institution from which everyone living on this planet directly or indirectly benefits, there has been no significant progress on the building up of the planned endowment fund and, thus, the long-term financial sustainability of the University remains a matter of concern. 

It is my great hope that during the coming months we will be able to launch a campaign for building the endowment fund and cement the long-term future of WMU. I hope that everyone will contribute, as all contributions, irrespective of their size, can and will make a positive difference and I am looking forward to any positive contributions from the Mexican maritime shipping and trade industries.  


Ladies and gentlemen,

I should like to turn now to a problem that is proving traumatic and difficult for many, many people in Europe at the moment. Driven by desperate circumstances in their homelands, thousands of people are fleeing the shores of northern Africa to seek refuge in Europe. But they are doing so outside of the legal framework that exists for migration and in such huge numbers that they are proving almost impossible to deal with. Taking to sea illegally and often in unsafe vessels, they are placing a huge strain on rescue services and on merchant vessels. The age-old principles of rescue on the high seas are being stretched to breaking point.

But this onslaught of migration by sea is not a random occurrence. It is being organised and orchestrated by people who trade and traffic the lives of others. There is a legal framework in place to make this a crime – the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, which is an annex to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. What we are seeing now, in the Mediterranean, is organised, international crime, and it needs to be treated as such.

This means collective action by all concerned to detain, arrest and prosecute people-smugglers. IMO can play its part but the ultimate solution lies in collaboration among several other bodies and UN agencies, such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, INTERPOL, the African Union, the European Union and European Commission and the Economic Commissions for Africa and for Europe.

To this end, I have written to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and to the heads of the key agencies concerned to pledge IMO’s support for any measures aimed at the prevention of illegal migrants travelling by sea and urging that the processes by which such migration can take place in a managed and sustainable manner should be strengthened. 

Looking at the wider context, I firmly believe that cooperation among different organizations is becoming increasingly important in matters of ocean governance. The seas and oceans are one of the great uniting factors of our planet, covering about 70 per cent of its surface and supporting global society in so many different ways. They provide raw materials, energy, food, employment, a place to live, a place to relax and the means to transport about 90 per cent of global trade.
Nevertheless, conflicts in the use of ocean space and resources among the various stakeholders are increasing. Although the oceans cover a large percentage of the earth's surface, they are becoming increasingly crowded.
It has been widely documented that the global marine environment and its resources are being degraded and over-exploited. Species, critical habitats and the health of the marine ecosystem are all becoming endangered, to the extent where this is adversely affecting people who live in coastal regions and communities, worldwide, that depend on marine areas for food and livelihood.

These are some of the issues that were very effectively highlighted in the recent report entitled “From Decline to Recovery: A Rescue Package for the Global Ocean” which was published earlier this year by the Global Ocean Commission. And, as I explained in a letter to the co-chairs of the Commission welcoming the report, these are also among the challenges that IMO is working diligently and successfully to tackle.

Management and governance of the ocean sector is a balancing act. The varied and sometimes conflicting stakeholders all have a legitimate interest in the process, while the overall health of the seas themselves is a common concern. 

The United Nations has long been at the forefront of efforts to secure the peaceful, cooperative, and legal use of the seas and oceans for the benefit of humankind. Its ground-breaking work in adopting the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention stands as a defining moment in the extension of international law to the vast, shared water resources of our planet. The United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, through its Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, plays a major role in supporting those efforts.

But there are many other bodies within the UN system that also have a stake in ocean affairs. There is IMO, of course; but, there are a number of UN agencies dealing with oceans such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UNODC; and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

There are a number of coordinating mechanisms through which these bodies work together to ensure our joint efforts are maximised and that duplication is reduced. I am thinking here of entities such as UN Oceans, the Global Partnership for Oceans and the Group of experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environment Protection – GESAMP. Through these mechanisms, our cooperation is already strong; but I believe it can be stronger still and, with the heads of several other agencies, I am currently exploring ways in which we can make our mutual cooperation and support even more effective and I am considering inviting UN Oceans to hold its session next year at IMO.


Ladies and gentlemen,

I began these remarks by talking about shipping in a historical context and I would like to conclude with another look back – at how much the industry has been transformed in the years since IMO came into existence in 1948. The Organization was born into a world weary from war and in which the old colonial powers still held sway in terms of global prosperity and trade. As a consequence, these were also major powers in shipping; and, as the leading maritime nations, they tended to create their own standards with regard to vessel construction, safety, manning and so on. 

But, in 1948, the new spirit of global unity that was in the air and the first glimpses of a new world order on the horizon combined to cause a number of far-sighted nations to draw up the blueprint for an international organization that would develop standards for shipping – for adoption and universal implementation throughout the entire industry. 

Fast-forward to today and we see so much that has changed. Globalization has transformed international trade, new powers have emerged in shipping and the measures established by IMO have provided the bedrock on which a safer and cleaner industry can continue to develop and flourish in a sustainable way. 

IMO’s standards shape the modern shipping industry. The comprehensive body of IMO conventions supported by literally hundreds of codes, guidelines and recommendations, govern just about every facet of the industry. IMO’s work has demonstrated beyond doubt that international standards – developed, agreed, implemented and enforced universally – are the only effective way to regulate such a diverse and truly international industry as shipping.

It is because of the extensive network of global regulations that IMO has developed and adopted over the years that, today, shipping is a safe and secure mode of transport; clean; environment-friendly; and very energy-efficient. 

As the only truly viable means of transporting the vast majority of global trade, shipping is central to the concept of sustainable growth, which is at the heart of the UN’s post-2015 agenda. As such, the mission of IMO, to continually improve the safety and security, efficiency and environmental performance of shipping is one that reaches out far beyond the Organization’s immediate constituency and touches the life of nearly everyone on the planet. 

The Organization needs the support and backing of its member states; 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of Mexico joining IMO, since when Mexico has been an engaged and committed member – it is, for example, a member of the IMO Council, has provided the Presidency for the Assembly in 2012-2013, chairmen for IMO bodies, and the winner of the 2013 International Maritime Prize. I have no doubt that this commitment will continue as we face new challenges in the years ahead.

Finally I would like to express my sincere appreciations to the Government of Mexico, Ambassador Diego Gomez Pickering and his embassy staff in London, Vice Admiral Carlos Ortega Muñiz and Alternate Permanent Representative Susana Garduño Arana for providing me with the wonderful opportunity to visit Mexico and address the National Congress today.  

Ladies and gentlemen, 

Thank you.