Second meeting of heads of maritime administrations of Member States from east Europe and west Asia and seminar on acceptance and implementation of IMO instruments

Varna, Bulgaria, 15 – 17 September 2014
Opening Address by Koji Sekimizu, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization

Honourable Deputy Minister, distinguished delegates, observers, media representatives, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to this second meeting of the heads of maritime administrations of Member States from east Europe and west Asia to promote safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient and sustainable shipping and to enhance regional cooperation.  

I wish to start by expressing my thanks, on behalf of the Organization, to the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria and to Her Excellency, the Minister of Transport, Information Technology and Communication of Bulgaria, Mrs Nikolina Angelkova, for inviting IMO to hold this meeting, in this beautiful city of Varna, perfectly situated on the coast of the Black Sea. I am most grateful to Deputy Minister Mr. Todorov for allocating his time to be here with us, representing the host Government. I thank you, Deputy Minister.  

I would like to speak very specifically today about IMO's theme for World Maritime Day this year, namely "IMO conventions: effective implementation". In this context, I am delighted to see a specific reference to the need for the harmonized implementation of IMO measures in the programme of this important meeting. There is a clear understanding that implementation of IMO measures will have a beneficial effect on the safety of navigation, the protection of life at sea and the preservation of the environment; and that, together, these elements have a significant impact on the overall well-being of all the citizens of east Europe and west Asia.

Your programme will focus on the identification of barriers to compliance with several liability conventions and environmental protection conventions. That's why I am pleased to inform you that, on 14 April 2014, one of these instruments, namely the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007, was ratified by Denmark and, as a result, has now fulfilled the criteria for its entry into force. Accordingly, this Convention will enter into force on 14 April 2015. I am also glad to report that another of these instruments, the Protocol of 2002 to the 1974 Athens Convention relating to the Carriage of Passengers and their Luggage by Sea, has very recently entered into force, on 23 April 2014 – albeit some 12 years after its adoption. But, despite this good news, I firmly believe that we can, indeed must, do more.

Top of my personal agenda in this respect is the Ballast Water Management Convention, which was adopted a decade ago and currently has been ratified by 41 States with an aggregate capacity beyond 30 per cent of the world's merchant fleet tonnage. But this is still not quite enough to bring it into force – that requires 35 per cent of world tonnage. However, it is widely anticipated that the entry-into-force criteria will be met very soon, and that the pace of ratifications will accelerate following entry into force enabling the Convention to quickly become a powerful, truly global, legal instrument.  

Although the Convention itself is not yet in force, nevertheless a great deal of progress has been made. There is an ever-growing number of type-approved ballast water management systems now available, including for ships with high capacity and high flow rate, and these are being fitted in increasing numbers. A multi-million dollar project, GloBallast, has been funded by the Global Environment Facility and executed by IMO with constant support from UNDP, which served as implementing agency. The wider UN family, the shipping industry, equipment manufacturers, researchers and developers have all demonstrated goodwill and collaboration. 

The need to prevent the global spread of harmful invasive species via transfers of unmanaged ballast water and sediments is undisputed. Europe and Asia are no strangers to such invasions and have witnessed the harm caused by, among others, mitten crabs and zebra mussels. And, because these harmful transfers are inherently linked to the expansion of shipping, which in turn is a direct result of global trade growth, action must be taken now. Such action will be most effective if taken under the auspices of the Ballast Water Management Convention, in force; and all IMO Member Governments that have not yet ratified the BWM Convention are urged to do so as soon as possible. 

Our regulatory work continues to promote better safety standards for shipping. And, in a year when we are focusing on the implementation of existing instruments, I was very encouraged to note that MSC 93 completed the legal framework for the implementation of the mandatory IMO audit scheme, with the adoption of amendments to several treaties to make mandatory the use of the IMO Instruments Implementation Code (III Code) and the auditing of Parties to those treaties. 

The IMO Council approved my proposal for resource requirements for the commencement of the mandatory audit in January 2016 and I have introduced a new support system in the Secretariat to ensure that all preparatory work will be completed before the end of 2015.

The ever-increasing pressures on the environment of mankind’s activities, including shipping, oil exploration, fishing and climate change, and the risk associated with increased vessel traffic and the threat of invasive species, underscores the continued importance of IMO instruments in the protection of the marine environment. IMO conventions, as prime instruments for the protection of east Europe and west Asia's sensitive resources, are essential components for ensuring sustainability – not only in the present, but also for future generations.

IMO has long been a strong advocate and supporter of the safety and security of shipping activities, globally and in the east Europe and west Asia region. Through our long-standing support and close collaboration with all countries represented at this meeting, we have delivered a wide array of workshops and training courses, thus developing capacity at both national and regional levels for the implementation of the various IMO treaties.

In the area of preparedness and response to oil pollution, for example, IMO has supported and assisted in the development of national and regional contingency plans, the training of personnel and promoting cooperation among all countries within the east Europe and west Asia region.  

But a safety culture in shipping will not be achieved through legislative measures alone. We must generate a new impetus to go beyond compliance with regulations and explore industry-wide mechanisms to ensure the safety culture is embedded throughout the entire industry.

Ladies and gentlemen, 

In order to better assist developing countries, the Secretariat of IMO is adopting a more targeted approach when planning technical cooperation activities. This, we believe, enables our activities to be even more closely aligned to the real needs of developing countries. To ensure the effectiveness of the IMO's Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme (ITCP).

I recently initiated the development of Country Maritime Profiles, to identify capacity-building needs not only of the developing countries but also of any IMO Member State. This initiative was supported by the last session of the Technical Cooperation Committee, held in June of this year. It is expected that IMO Member States would play a key role by providing information and feedback in the process of producing country maritime profiles. In this regard, a presentation, to be delivered by IMO colleagues, is planned during this meeting on the country maritime profile template.

Furthermore, in order to provide a springboard for the development of effective maritime clusters in developing countries, assistance from IMO in the formulation of national maritime transport strategy and policy should be enhanced. I am pleased that, during this meeting, my IMO colleagues will also give a presentation on the Global Integrated Shipping Information System and I hope that you will find it useful.

I am very pleased to note that, in addition to the many country representatives who have come here to share information and experiences, several regional organizations and banks are also represented here. I am grateful to them for their presence and look forward to the contributions they will make to the meeting.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have a heavy agenda before you. I have no doubt that the discussions that will take place and any outcome you may achieve during this event will make a very positive contribution to the safer and cleaner seas around east Europe and west Asia and to sustainable international shipping.

My special thanks go to the staff of the Bulgarian Maritime Administration, particularly Captain Petrov and his colleagues, for shouldering the heavy task of dealing with all the logistics for this event. The provision of such excellent facilities and services should ensure the successful running and outcome of the meeting in the best traditions of IMO, and I wish you every success with the meeting.  

Thank you.