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IMO Secretary-General speech to ICS conference

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Koji Sekimizu delivering his speech - picture credits LISW15 FLICKR

Koji Sekimizu delivering his speech – picture credits LISW15 FLICKR

Speech by Koji Sekimizu, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organizationat the ICS during LISW 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here today and I would like to thank you for the invitation once again to address such an auspicious gathering. I always find it inspiring to share views and spend time with representatives of the industry and I am sure that today will be no exception. You have a busy day and a packed agenda before you so I will not take too much of your time. But, as this is the last opportunity I will have to speak to you as Secretary-General, there are, as I am sure you would expect, some key topics that I would like to raise in this forum today.

Let me say at the outset that I am well aware that shipping today is faced with many challenges; and that several of these stem from the regulatory scheme adopted by IMO and which you, the industry, play such an important part in shaping. But these higher standards are a clear reflection of the increasingly higher expectations that society as a whole now has, in terms of safety and environmental performance. And we see these higher expectations in nearly all areas of human endeavour; shipping is not immune, but neither is it alone.

In issues such as:
.1  the move towards cleaner fuels;
.2  the progressive reduction of CO2 emission levels;
.3  the steps to prevent the transfer of invasive species by managing ships’ ballast water; and
.4   the adoption of stringent technical standards surrounding polar navigation, we can see how effectively shipping, and governments, respond to these expectations.

Measures such as these are important, not just for shipping, but for the wider community as well. That is why these are the issues that will determine the public’s opinion of shipping; these are the yardsticks by which the industry’s reputation will be gauged – and I am encouraged to see that most of them will be discussed during the course of today.

Shipping’s public reputation is important on so many levels, not least in the impact it has on the industry’s ability to recruit and retain the workforce it needs to continue meeting the future demands of expanding global trade.

Shipping’s public perception and reputation is vital in the context of bringing new generations into seafaring. It must be seen to appeal as a rewarding and fulfilling career option because, without a quality labour force, motivated, trained and skilled to the appropriate international standards, the industry cannot survive.

Of course, implementation of IMO measures is, ultimately, the responsibility of the Member States. The forthcoming mandatory audit scheme for IMO Member States, which will be implemented from the beginning of 2016, 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.


In the context of implementing IMO measures, I cannot let the opportunity pass to speak once again about the Ballast Water Management Convention. This convention was adopted in 2004; but 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.

As you know, I have been very clear in stating my firm view – ballast water management measures are vital for the health of the global environment: and they must be implemented under the IMO Ballast Water Management Convention, and with this convention in force.

Earlier this year, I welcomed the fact that the industry, through this body, had declared it was now no longer actively discouraging governments from ratifying it. I genuinely hoped and expected that, with this endorsement, this truly important environmental measure could enter into force and begin to produce the beneficial effect for which it was adopted.

However, as we enter the Autumn period, it dismays me to see that it has still yet to receive sufficient ratifications to trigger its entry into force. If the industry really has stopped discouraging Governments from ratifying it, then what, I wonder, is now holding them back? It was, after all, Governments that collectively adopted the measure back in 2004. I am still encouraging IMO Member Governments to ratify. What I want from the industry is your voice to support me.

Once the Convention is in place, no State should impose national standards more stringent than IMO standards; any state that wishes to apply different national standards, perhaps more stringent than those of the Convention itself, should then come to IMO, discuss the matter and, if agreed at IMO, amend the international standards through the mechanism contained in the Convention itself. They should not be imposed unless the Convention is amended. But until the Convention is in force, the door is left open to such unilateral action against the vacuum of international regulations, which will be undesirable and damaging – damaging to the value of IMO and damaging to the whole of the maritime community.

It is, therefore, absolutely vital that IMO’s Ballast Water Management Convention is activated now. And shipping can help speed up this process by not just ceasing to discourage states from ratifying it, but by actively encouraging them to do so. I think that is the responsible course of action if you support IMO and our universal system and I would urge ICS to take a stronger stance on this.


Ladies and gentlemen, despite the current global economic downturn, demand for shipping services over time will continue to rise. Today, international trade has evolved to the point where almost no nation can be fully self-sufficient. Every country is involved, at one level or another, in the process of selling what it produces and acquiring what it lacks: none can be dependent only on its domestic resources. Globalization has transformed international trade and new powers have emerged in shipping.

To secure a successful and sustainable future, shipping needs to attract investment, to attract high calibre people and to stimulate creative thinking and technological innovation. Shipping needs to be safe, secure, efficient and environment-friendly. What is more, it needs to be seen to embrace those qualities. Taking a responsible, leadership position on matters of vital environmental importance would send a strong message in that respect.

Global standards, developed and adopted by IMO, provide the framework within which shipping can develop in the way that it needs to do. But IMO needs the support and backing of the industry itself if it is to continue to perform this function effectively, to the benefit of all its stakeholders – governments, shipping and, of course, global society as a whole.

Over the past half century or so, a very effective system of global maritime governance has evolved. This is a system of shared responsibilities, in which flag States, coastal States, port States, States responsible for ensuring the competence of seafarers and the industry all have a stake in developing and, subsequently, implementing the global measures adopted through IMO. This is a system that we should seek to strengthen, not weaken.

In the shipping world of today, shipowners have the luxury of being able to register ships anywhere, as long as the flag State administrations fully implement IMO regulations. They can also recruit seafarers from any country, as long as its training institutions fully implement the STCW requirements, and its seafarers are holders of the appropriate certificates.

Shipping is international and global, not national and not regional. That is why it needs a global system, for the implementation of global standards adopted at IMO. No State should seek, unilaterally, to impose national, or regional, requirements or standards. In the maritime context, every State has international responsibilities and obligations. Without IMO, we could not have developed or maintained this very effective system of maritime governance.

The possibility of unilateral action has always been a major threat to the sustainability of shipping. Global standards provide transparency and a level playing field on which the industry can move forward, safe in the knowledge that no advantage can be gained by cost-cutting or turning a blind eye to enforcement or implementation. If unilateral action is threatened to be taken in the future, we must redouble our efforts to counter it, because global standards, adopted by IMO, are essential if shipping is to have a sustainable future.

In the context of the Ballast Water Management Convention, my real concern now is that, putting aside the collective failure in environmental stewardship, the lack of a global regime to regulate ballast water management may lead to the situation where we would see exactly the sort of unilateral and regional actions that I have repeatedly warned against and which will, quite rapidly, undermine the ability of international shipping to operate effectively. I am confident that, with the BWM Convention in force, we can collectively avoid unilateral actions at IMO. IMO and the maritime community will never fail on this point.


In this short speech, I cannot sufficiently address the matter of current debate on climate change issues and discussions towards COP 21 in Paris, but I can assure you that IMO is closely monitoring the developments and, once COP 21 is over, I can also assure you that IMO will continue our efforts to contribute to the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, taking into account the outcome of the Paris meeting.

But before I conclude, I would like to touch upon the current humanitarian crisis – that is unsafe migration by sea.

In Syria, the refugee crisis was created by war. Millions of people have been displaced in Syria and millions of refugees and migrants are moving. Hundreds of thousands have died and currently thousands and thousands of migrants are waiting on coasts for the process to move to European countries.

Sea passage for such large numbers of people cannot be achieved merely by small boats and crafts, without involving passenger ferries and I understand that a large number of people were considered to be provided with relatively safe means of sea crossing.

Against this background, I have no intention to intervene in political affairs on conflicts and refugee crisis, but still, I should raise my voice to demand safe means of sea crossing for migrants.

The right of people to leave their country and seek asylum must be upheld and, if such migration is done by sea,   it is the duty of all nations to ensure that it is done as safely as possible.

Ideally, they should be by passenger ships which fully meet all international requirements on safety, if sea routes are selected.

As reflected in the SOLAS Convention, our noble tradition of extending help to anyone in distress at sea, in the maritime community and the shipping industry in particular, is well established. It is deeply rooted in the humanity of everyone and I am sure we will firmly maintain this humanitarian tradition with pride. I am sure the shipping industry will continue rescuing migrants in distress at sea, in any circumstances and at considerable costs to the industry, and this is our small contribution from the shipping community to the efforts of the international community at large in addressing the current crisis of migration, not only in the Mediterranean but also any parts of the globe.

However, as the recent tragic images and heart-breaking stories remind us, migration by sea in the Mediterranean on board unseaworthy and overloaded small craft is not safe, and the practice of putting migrants on such fundamentally dangerous and high risk voyages of death must be stopped.

IMO has established the global maritime safety regime for shipping together with maritime authorities of Member Governments. IMO and its Member Governments should be proud of our achievements to enhance maritime safety in the shipping industry.

IMO has extended activities to cover maritime security and anti-piracy measures.

Maritime authorities should now take more positive actions to safeguard lives of migrants by monitoring ports and coastlines in their own sea areas and taking action with coast guards and navies to prevent risky, unsafe voyages from happening in the first place and not to allow fundamentally dangerous sea passages of large numbers of migrants arranged by smugglers.

If required and possible, alternative means of sea passage should be provided and I understand that responsible authorities are now considering this.

Upon my request, the MSC at its last session held a special session on unsafe passages of migrants. I welcomed the decision of MSC to include an agenda item on unsafe mixed migration by sea and I wish MSC to seriously discuss what the maritime authorities, coast guards and navies could do facing the problems of fundamentally dangerous navigation of migrants and consider ways to provide alternative safe means of transport, in addition to any issue related to the activities of the shipping industry and commercial merchant ships in dealing with this crisis.


Looking ahead, there are, of course, many challenges to be faced. From IMO’s perspective;

.1 we need to work towards the activation of all IMO conventions that have been adopted but which are not yet in force;

.2  we need to prioritise the implementation of the mandatory audit scheme that I touched upon earlier;

.3  we need to strengthen our work in the area of technical cooperation, helping those countries that lack resources or expertise to fulfil their obligations under IMO conventions and thus participate fully in maritime activities; and

.4  we need to strengthen our cooperation with other UN agencies that also have a legitimate interest in maritime matters – there are so many cross-cutting issues that demand a collaborative approach, not least the humanitarian crisis surrounding unsafe mixed migration by sea.

No one can doubt that shipping, too, faces strong challenges today – financial, technical, and regulatory. But this is nothing new: indeed, I have said before that the industry seems to be in a period of adjustment and transition, after the economic contraction 6 years ago. The expansion of the Panama Canal and Suez Canal and potential opening of a new era of navigation in Arctic sea routes will provide shipping with new opportunities. In my view, the key is again new technology and I believe that new technology, in particular in information and communication, will bring to us significantly different modes of ship operation we have not yet seen. Shipping will find a sustainable and viable way forward. Indeed, I genuinely believe that the challenges shipping faces also represent tremendous opportunities; opportunities to explore new technology to create a new industry that is leaner, fitter, cleaner and more efficient, at every level.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you.

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