Home Associations IMAREST Founders’ Lecture, 14 June 2016

IMAREST Founders’ Lecture, 14 June 2016

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IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim

Our voyage together:  How IMO has safely navigated the waters of history and stands ready to face the new challenges it faces today

Lecture by Mr. Kitack Lim, Secretary-General
International Maritime Organization

Good evening ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for that warm welcome.

It is a pleasure to be here this evening and an honour to be invited to deliver the 5th Annual IMarEST Founders’ Lecture.

There is no doubt that London is one of the great maritime capitals of the world, and the presence here of some of the great institutions that have shaped maritime history plays a huge part in ensuring that it remains so.

With a proud past that can be traced back to the 19th century, IMarEST is one of the pillars of the London maritime community, yet it remains as vibrant, relevant and forward-looking today as at any time in its distinguished history.

You will be aware, I am sure, that IMO is also headquartered in London – in fact it is the only specialized agency of the United Nations to be based in this country.

On a personal note, this is my third stint of living in London so I have been able to pick up quite a lot of phrases and sayings during my time here. One that I like is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – although I’m told that you engineers prefer to say “if it ain’t broke, that means we haven’t designed enough features for it yet!”


At IMO, our mission is to promote safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient and sustainable shipping through cooperation. Like all good mission statements, this is a simple enough sentiment behind which lies a detailed, multi-faceted and sometimes complex structure designed with the sole purpose of achieving those ends.

Like IMarEST, IMO also has a proud history – but we cannot compete with IMarEst when it comes to longevity and technical expertise.

The Convention by which IMO was founded was adopted in Geneva in 1948 and the Organization actually came into being 10 years later, once the Convention had been ratified by enough Governments to meet its entry into force criteria. Today, IMO has 171 Member States and three Associate Members, and a host of intergovernmental organizations and NGOs also participate actively in its work – of which IMarEST, of course, is an important participant to the IMO meetings.

But let us rewind for a moment and think about why the world needed IMO back in 1948, and why the Organization is still just as relevant today as it was then.

IMO – originally known as the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) – 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, only three years after the creation of the United Nations, a new spirit of global unity was in the air and the first glimpses of a new world order were on the horizon.

It was also gradually becoming generally accepted that a situation in which each shipping nation had its own maritime laws was counterproductive to ensuring the seamless flow of traffic and promoting safety in shipping operations worldwide. Not only were standards different, but some were far higher than others. Conscientious, safety minded shipowners were at an economic disadvantage to their competitors who were spending relatively little money on safety, and this was a threat to any serious attempt to improve safety at sea and to international seaborne trade as a whole.

There was, therefore, an inescapable logic in favour of a framework of international standards to regulate shipping – standards which could be adopted by all and accepted by all.

In fact, the first attempts at such a common approach date back to well beyond the formation of IMO. From the mid-19th century onwards, a number of international maritime agreements were adopted. A treaty of 1863, for example, introduced certain common navigational procedures that ships should follow, when encountering each other at sea, so as to avoid collision, and was signed by some 30 countries and adopted in 1889.

And the infamous Titanic disaster of 1912 spawned the first Safety of Life at Sea Convention, which, albeit completely modified and updated, and nowadays within the responsibility of IMO, is still the most important international instrument addressing maritime safety today.

But it was not until the establishment of IMO that there was a recognized, international body to address such concerns. Since its formation, IMO’s main task has been to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for international shipping. Its mandate was originally limited to safety-related issues, but subsequently its remit has expanded to embrace environmental considerations, legal matters, technical cooperation, as well as issues that affect the overall efficiency of shipping, security, piracy and other maritime crimes.

Today, shipping is perhaps the most international of all the world’s great industries. The ownership and management chain surrounding any particular vessel can embrace many different countries; it is not unusual to find that the owners, operators, shippers, charterers, insurers and the classification societies, not to mention the officers and crew, are all of different nationalities and that none of these is from the country whose flag flies at the ship’s stern.

Clearly there has to be a common approach to regulations and standards, so that ships can ply their trade around the world and countries receiving foreign ships can be confident that, in accepting them, they do not place their safety, security and environmental integrity at an unreasonable risk.

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 designer’s drawing board to the recycling facility.


So much for IMO’s history and track record. Far more interesting, relevant and important, I think, are the challenges we face going forward.

Although IMO was founded as a strictly technical body, there is no doubt that, today, the political and economic dimensions of the Organization’s work are becoming increasingly influential and we are adapting and changing accordingly.

Of course, when it comes to facing the future, I am an optimist. They say that an optimist sees a glass as half full, whereas a pessimist sees the same glass as half empty. A marine engineer, of course just sees a glass that is twice as big as it needs to be!

When we talk of challenges, there are few more urgent or more pressing challenges than addressing global warming and climate change. This is not a problem that is going away – indeed, for some, time may be running out.

It is a problem for the whole world to face, not just shipping, and I think everybody should draw great encouragement from the collective will shown by global leaders during the COP 21 in Paris last December and the subsequent signing ceremony in New York in April.

But, from shipping’s perspective, let’s look at some of the background. According to the estimates in the Third IMO GHG Study 2014, international shipping emitted almost 800 million tonnes of CO2 in 2012, or about 2.2 per cent of the total emission volume for that year. By contrast, in 2007, before the global economic downturn, international shipping is estimated to have emitted 885 million tonnes of CO2, or 2.8 per cent of the global emissions of CO2 for that year.

These percentages are all the more significant when you consider that shipping is the principal carrier of world trade, providing a vital service to global economic development and prosperity.

However, the mid-range scenarios forecast in the Third IMO GHG Study show that, by 2050, CO2 emissions from international shipping could grow by between 50 and 250 per cent, depending on future economic growth and energy developments. Therefore, although shipping is already the most energy-efficient mode of mass transport of cargo, the international community must deliver realistic and pragmatic solutions, both from a technical standpoint and a political perspective in terms of international shipping.

In 2011, IMO adopted a suite of technical and operational measures which, together, provide an energy-efficiency framework for ships; mainly for new ships. These mandatory measures entered into force as a package on 1 January 2013, addressing ship types responsible for approximately 85 per cent of CO2 emissions from international shipping. Together, they represent the first-ever mandatory global regime for CO2 emission reduction in an entire industry sector.

You will be very familiar, I am sure, with the Energy Efficiency Design Index, or EEDI and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan, or SEEMP. These are significant achievements of which IMO is proud, and justifiably so.

And recently, last April, during the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), we agreed to a new mechanism which is related to a data collection system with respect to the fuel consumption of ships. This mechanism has a three-step approach and is significant progress in terms of the climate change issues. It is expected to be adopted at the next MEPC meeting in October this year, and we expect that it will be adopted without any problem. Ships will collect relevant information about their fuel consumption; once collected, the information is reported to the flag State, and then to IMO. Then we analyse this information anonymously and we decide what kind of measures should be taken by the International Maritime Organization and the future work on climate change issues.


I would like now to turn to some thoughts about the fundamental nature of the regulatory imperative. What is the thinking, what is the philosophy that underpins the regulatory framework within which shipping operates?

Do we, for example, regulate in such a way that the latest technology, the best technology currently available, is required across the whole fleet, thereby raising standards universally or equally?

Or do we want regulations that go further? Do we want regulations that challenge the engineers, the naval architects, the designers, to push the envelope of technology ever further? Do we want regulations that stretch the current boundaries of technological possibility?

Looking ahead, I believe that technology really does hold the key to a sustainable future. I’m not suggesting there will be one single breakthrough that will solve the problem at a stroke; no “silver bullet” or “killer app”. But I think what we will see is real progress brought about by the cumulative effect of a world of marginal gains in all areas of human activity. The EEDI and the SEEMP are good examples – they will help to make individual ships themselves significantly more energy efficient. And the data collection scheme approved as I mentioned will provide a proper, statistical basis for decisions to be made about any further actions that may be deemed necessary.

The regulatory framework for shipping, adopted by IMO, embraces what are deemed to be the highest possible standards that can be applied universally. But, of course, that doesn’t stop others from embracing higher standards should they choose to do so.

But in an international context; in the context of an industry that needs to operate within a consistent framework that is recognized, and applied equally wherever in the world a ship may call, those higher standards must be self-applied. By which I mean there is nothing wrong with individual countries applying higher or more stringent standards to their own vessels; but they must also recognize the validity of the universal standards that apply to all ships.

The very essence of international regulation, and one of the foundations on which IMO is built, is that no advantage should be gained either by cutting corners or by unilaterally imposing higher standards.


The enhancement of maritime safety and security and the protection of the marine environment remain at the core of IMO’s objectives and they dictate the broad direction of the Organization’s activities. Other key areas that we are addressing, for example, include:

• the development of goal-based standards for vessel construction
• the safety of passenger vessels – both the giant modern cruise ships of today and the domestic ferries on which so many in the developing world depend
• the implementation of the Ballast Water Management Convention
• the application of the Polar Code, which becomes mandatory from the beginning of next year
• the development of e-navigation, and
• the continuing efforts to address security, piracy and other maritime crime.

Addressing all of these will require the application of technology. The world must invest in technology; and you, as engineers, will be instrumental in ensuring that that technology is available, by continuing to innovate and to develop. Engineering and technology must become the driving forces for a better world.

In the 21st century, more than ever, we rely on technology. Modern technology provides unprecedented opportunities to reduce the chances of human error and, thereby, help enhance maritime safety and reduce casualties.

As engineers, and as members of the shipping community, you are uniquely placed to take a strong lead in ensuring that cutting-edge technology and design are effectively integrated into everyday ship operations, and that the potential benefits they offer are properly harnessed.

They say that “one man’s ‘magic’ is another man’s engineering” and there is no doubt that this is a fascinating time to be an engineer in shipping. The opportunities afforded by new technology place the industry, potentially, on the brink of a new era.

If we think of the technologies emerging around fuel and energy use, automation and vessel management, materials and construction and so many other areas, it is not difficult to envisage new generations of ships that bring step-change improvements in all the areas that IMO regulates – and, yes, in economic viability and profitability too. That, I think, is part of the voyage we are taking together.


As I mentioned at the beginning of this lecture, I believe IMO is as relevant today as it was when it began operations back in 1959. The regulatory framework will need continual adjustment to keep pace with technology. The philosophical shift in favour of goal-based standards, initially for ship construction, is important in this respect, as it allows for innovative new ways to meet the agreed goals to be developed without having to re-write the rule book every time.

But, notwithstanding the need for occasional adjustments, the regulatory framework is now quite comprehensive, and it is well understood that the development of new regulations should only be undertaken if there is a clear and demonstrable need to do so. Indeed, IMO has been actively engaged in efforts to reduce the administrative burdens and red tape associated with regulatory compliance for shipowners and staff.

In the coming years, therefore, IMO will have an increasingly important role to play in the implementation of the existing regulatory framework.

It is a fact that, today, we live in a global society which is supported by a global economy. The potential benefits are clear: growth can be accelerated and prosperity more widespread; skills and technology can be more evenly dispersed, and both individuals and countries can take advantage of previously unimagined economic opportunities.

The broader challenge that we all face is how to ensure future growth can be achieved sustainably; how to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people, and not for just a privileged few.

As part of the United Nations family, IMO is actively working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that world leaders pledged to support in 2015 last year. Most of the elements of that Agenda will only be realized with a sustainable transport sector supporting world trade and facilitating global economy.

Quite apart from the key role shipping plays as the carrier of global trade, maritime activities also provide an important source of income to many developing countries. Indeed, developing countries now lead the world in some of shipping’s most important ancillary businesses, including the registration of ships, the supply of seagoing manpower and ship recycling. They also play a significant part in shipowning and operating, shipbuilding and repair and port services, among others – and their presence in IMO is appropriately strong.

I believe maritime activity can both drive and support a healthy economy and that is why investment, growth and improvement in the shipping and port sectors are also important. It facilitates global commerce and the creation of wealth and prosperity among nations and peoples, creating a wide variety of jobs aboard ships and ashore, with beneficial impacts, both direct and indirect, on the livelihoods of others.

There can be no doubt that transport and communication are crucial for sustainable development in the global environment. If the benefits of globalization are to be evenly spread, all countries must be able to play a full and active part in the distribution system and build strong transport infrastructures. IMO’s contribution towards this goal will be founded on our work surrounding implementation and capacity building.


Ladies and gentlemen, I want to turn now to some thoughts about ocean governance – or the need for integrated ocean management.

Water covers as you know around 70 per cent of our planet’s surface. Not only is it vital – in the strictly literal sense of the word – but it also provides a resource that supports our society in so many different ways. The world’s oceans 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.

The very identity of hundreds of countries and regions around the world is historically and geographically entwined with the sea and the oceans.

There are many industries that rely entirely on access to ocean resources, services and space, such as maritime transport, offshore oil and gas, ports, renewable energy, fisheries, aquaculture, marine tourism, and seabed mining. These, in turn, generate other industries that are also dependent on maritime activities – for example, these include shipbuilding and repair, ship design, ship broking and chartering, vessel traffic management, pilotage, ships’ agency and manyothers.

If all of these are included in what one might call the ‘blue economy’ then it becomes clear that we are addressing a very sizeable industrial sector – and one that is growing, too. Ocean-based industries are already large and they are expanding rapidly.

But this situation has an inherent quandary: for the success and growth of these industries is actually threatening the integrity of the very element that sustains them, supports them and gives them life – the sea.

It has been widely documented that the global marine environment and its resources are being degraded and over-exploited at an ever increasing rate and scale. 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 the coastal regions and communities, worldwide, that depend on marine areas for food and livelihood.

Furthermore, conflicts in the use of ocean space and resources among the various stakeholders are increasing. Although the oceans cover such a large percentage of the earth’s surface, they are becoming increasingly crowded.

So the search for growth in this sector – blue growth – 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. What is needed is collaboration within and across different sectors to address impacts and reduce conflicts.

This clearly suggests an integrated approach, with a long-term focus: an approach that responds to the world’s resource, climate and environmental challenges. As a maritime community, we need to ensure that growth is coordinated and planned, with input from all relevant stakeholders, and that opportunities for synergy are identified and taken.

There is a clear tendency among actors in shipping and transport to operate in silos. Among IMO Member Governments, for example, we often find that areas such as maritime safety and navigation, port and infrastructure development, transport policy, environmental protection, fisheries, security, customs and border control all fall within different departments or different ministries.

And yet, in reality, all these areas are linked to one another and have a mutual influence and bearing on each another. And IMO has a legitimate interest in all of these areas, too.

As I said before, I strongly believe that establishing a sustainable maritime transportation sector is essential to the development and growth of the world’s economy as we move forward. But to achieve it will require a coordinated and integrated approach to maritime policy. I believe IMO is the place to integrate maritime policies on a global scale.


Of course, the business of shipping is not the business of IMO. The business of IMO is to create a framework of standards and regulations that enables shipping to operate safely, securely, cleanly and efficiently; a framework that applies equally to all participants, and which does not allow anyone to gain an advantage either by cutting corners or by imposing unilateral requirements.

But, at the same time, there is a strong belief, within IMO, that shipping and related maritime activities are essential components of future sustainable growth for the earth’s 7 billion-plus inhabitants. And that belief fosters a clear understanding that shipping itself must also be sustainable – and that means economically sustainable, too; profitable, in other words.

After IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee met in April to discuss, among other things, the continuing efforts to address greenhouse gas emissions from ships, I read a comment in the non specialist media which said that “IMO represents shipping at the United Nations.” Now, we all know that is not very true. IMO represents the collective views and decisions of its 171 Member Governments; and Member States represent billions of ordinary people, all over the world, who rely on shipping every day of their lives, whether they realize it or not.

Those people need a viable, profitable shipping industry. Their prosperity, their well-being and, in some cases, their survival, depend on it.

So, when IMO regulates about issues like how ships are designed and built, the reduction of emissions, the use of cleaner fuel, ballast water management, container safety and so on, the overarching objective is to ensure that the people of the world – for whom shipping is indispensable – can continue to enjoy the benefits of this important industry on which they rely. And, in a manner that meets modern expectations about safety, environmental protection and so on.

I get a strong sense that shipowners, by and large, understand that, and are supportive. Of course, their immediate priorities may, from time to time, be different from those of the Organization. But, as I said, when standing for election as Secretary-General, I want IMO, its Member States and the industry to embark on a voyage together: and I think that’s exactly what we are doing.

Ladies and gentlemen, it has been a great pleasure to deliver this lecture to you this evening. It is good to have the opportunity to approach familiar topics from a slightly different angle, and I have enjoyed the process and I thank you for listening so attentively.

I would like to leave you with an observation that I am told many of you are familiar with “If at first you don’t succeed, use a bigger hammer”. I hope my speech tonight does not have you reaching for your hammers!

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for your attention.

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