Challenges facing IMO

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

By IMO Secretary-General, Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos

The first months of my tenure as Secretary-General of the international Maritime Organization have seen an extremely busy and productive period at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and in this yearbook I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the past six months in general and also to look forward to some of the challenges that lie ahead.

During the first half of 2004, three senior technical bodies have held meetings: the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) and the Legal Committee. IMO has also hosted five sub-committee meetings, a meeting of the Working Group on the Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme and a diplomatic conference which succeeded in adopting a major new piece of international legislation, the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments.

Much of the work that goes on at IMO is highly technical, thorough, inevitably time-consuming and, by its very solid character, unlikely to capture the attention of the headline writers. Since the beginning of the year, for example, definitions and functional requirements have been agreed for "safe havens" with respect to fire aboard large passenger vessels; competency, training and certification requirements for ship security officers have been approved; guidance to Governments and to shipmasters relating to the treatment of persons rescued at sea has been developed and approved; and substantial revisions to the regulations on additional safety measures for bulk carriers and tankers have been agreed. These and countless other significant and substantial items form a body of always important but frequently unsung work, of which all those connected with the Organization can feel justly proud. One recent and innovative development is the concept that IMO should develop "goal-based" standards for ships' construction and equipment which was examined in detail by the MSC in May. There is, of course, no intention that IMO would take over the detailed work of the classification societies, but rather that IMO would state what has to be achieved, leaving classification societies, ship designers and naval architects, marine engineers and ship builders the freedom to decide on how best to employ their professional skills to meet the required standards. At present there is no legislation to control or guide these matters so the introduction of a mechanism to ensure harmonised, internationally agreed standards, under the umbrella of IMO, will be a positive step in the right direction.

At any given moment, the immediate and particular challenges facing IMO are subject to change. But the over-riding challenges always remain the same:

• how do we improve global maritime safety still further?

• how do we continue to reduce any negative impact shipping has, or may have, on the environment?

And since September the 11th:

• how do we ensure that shipping is as secure from the threat of terrorist intervention as it can possibly be, without compromising, at the same time, the smooth flow of international maritime traffic?

Focusing first on the latter, interest and activity surrounding maritime security have naturally become particularly intense in the first half of 2004, leading up to the 1 July 2004 implementation deadline for the measures adopted by IMO at the end of 2002, including the new International Ship and Port Facility (ISPS) Code which is made mandatory under amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The terrorist atrocities on trains in Spain in March and the attacks on a port installation off Iraq in April served as a grim reminder of the vulnerability of all modes of transport to acts of terrorism.

But putting the regulatory framework in place is just part of the overall picture. Governments and the industry were under no illusions from the outset that proper implementation of the new security measures was key. The Organization adopted a multi-faceted approach with a strong emphasis on practical work in the field, through regional and national seminars and workshops, which began in 2002, even before the security measures were formally adopted. Advisory and assessment missions have been organized, a Maritime Security Trust Fund established and model training courses developed for the Port Facility Security Officer, the Company Security Officer and the Ship Security Officer.

The implementation process was well under way during 2003 and into 2004. In the IMO Secretariat, we have done all we can to urge and assist Members to move ahead and ensure compliance with the deadline set by the SOLAS Contracting Governments. The defences must be raised as high as possible and as early as possible. Terrorism is not a matter of concern to one country or a group of countries - it is a global issue and must be addressed as such. Prevention is so much better than cure, and the comforting yet complacent argument that some of us may hope never to become victims of a terrorist act is of no value here. With the interdependence of the world's economies today, the chain reaction that such an act may trigger will have a major negative impact on trade and the global economy — we will all be victims. In the marine environment field, February 2004 saw the adoption of an important new convention to address the issue of the management of ships' ballast water and sediments to combat the insidious problem of transporting marine micro-organisms across the world and depositing them in alien environments where they may upset the natural equilibrium and cause havoc with the local ecosystem. This is a major milestone in our quest to protect the maritime environment and we must now turn our attention to ensuring that the Ballast Water and Sediments Management Convention is both ratified and implemented. Only then can we be confident that the problem has been properly addressed.

We must also ensure that MARPOL* annex VI on Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships and the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships come into force and are widely and effectively implemented.

When we consider our main goals of safety, security and pollution prevention, it is hugely important to ensure the preservation of the unity among the IMO membership which has served international shipping and the international community as a whole so well. There is no doubt that an international industry like shipping, in which the prime physical assets - the ships themselves - actually move between countries and continents and therefore between different legal jurisdictions, simply has to be regulated internationally.

Conventions such as SOLAS and MARPOL derive much of their strength from the fact that they are applicable to nearly 100 per cent of the international fleet and are accepted universally. They give to each and every Party the confidence that the same, mutually acceptable standards are being applied on foreign vessels that visit their ports, and the right to take action whenever these agreed standards are not met. The alternative is impossible even to contemplate.

To expect ship operators to navigate through an archipelago of different standards and contrasting requirements would be completely impractical and the resulting confusion and misunderstanding would, I am sure, be detrimental to safety and environmental protection overall.

Given the universality of the IMO standards, another key challenge that the Organization is facing now and will continue to face in the future is to shift the focus of our Members and of the shipping community as a whole onto the implementation of existing regulations, rather than the formulation and adoption of ever more new standards.

Wherever changes in the existing regulatory regime are needed, they will, of course, be made and IMO, through its structure of sub-committees and working groups, is ideally placed to make sure that the framework we now have keeps pace with advancing technology and changing expectations. But, by and large, shipping accidents do not occur because of major gaps in the regulatory structure; in the main, they occur because what we already have has not been implemented effectively or because of human error.

Implementation of proper safety standards requires the development of a safety culture that embraces everyone involved in shipping, from the seafarers at the "sharp end" and those who work for shipping companies through to the officials and policy-makers in Governments and shipping administrations. At IMO, we are doing all we can to develop and promote that safety culture, and we have quite consciously focussed our efforts on the human element. The revised STCW* Convention, for example, lays down standards for training and certification, and is designed to ensure the industry's human resources can actually perform the tasks that their certificates suggest they can. The International Safety Management (ISM) Code provides a blueprint for best practice at the managerial level within shipping companies. Our program of technical co-operation and assistance is designed to ensure that developing countries can get the help they need to develop their own maritime infrastructures and their own pool of able and qualified people. The Organization is also currently responding to the increasingly vociferous calls to offer assistance to our Members in assessing to what extent they are implementing and enforcing applicable IMO instruments, with a view to enhancing their performance as flag, port and coastal States.

The development of the Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme is progressing well towards the target of adoption of such a scheme by the IMO Assembly in 2005. The scheme is envisaged to address such issues as conformance of the Member State in enacting legislation for the applicable IMO instruments to which it is a Party; the administration and enforcement of the applicable laws and regulations of the Member State; the delegation of authority by a Member State in terms of the implementation of convention requirements; and the control and monitoring mechanism of the Member State's survey and certification processes and of its recognized organizations.

Such a scheme would bring many benefits. Identifying where capacity-building activities would have the greatest effect and targeting the appropriate action would be greatly improved; the Member States themselves would receive valuable feedback, intended to assist them in improving their own capacity to put the applicable instruments into practice, and generic lessons learnt from audits could be provided to all Member States so that the benefits could be widely shared.

I see the audit scheme as a tool to enable us to make even further progress in eliminating sub-standard shipping. It will satisfy our friends and silence those who label IMO as a "toothless tiger" with no real control over the implementation of the rules and regulations it develops. My vision is of a scheme which, rather than causing embarrassment to those to be audited by exposing their weaknesses, will instead bring us closer together - the one helping the other in pursuit of our common goals of enhanced safety and environmental protection.

For the future, I am also concerned by a number of other issues which we cannot afford to ignore. It is essential that we find a way of addressing the question of safety standards aboard non-convention ships. The tragic ferry accidents in the Philippines and the Maldives this year have highlighted how devastating these incidents can be in terms of loss of life. IMO has already promoted the development, adoption and implementation of safety codes for non-convention vessels in Asia and the Pacific, Africa, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and will continue to explore initiatives to assist countries in avoiding these tragedies in the future. Much has been written and spoken about introducing new legislation to criminalize those found responsible for causing pollution from ships through negligence. Even though I fully understand the anger felt by victims and those whose coasts and livelihood are damaged by pollution, the concept of such legislation causes me serious concern.

Criminal prosecution for non-compliance was never envisaged when IMO Conventions were drafted and any moves in that direction should be weighed very seriously against the impact they will have on serving seafarers as well as on youngsters we try to attract to the maritime profession, particularly at a time when the statistics on the international maritime workforce paint a gloomy picture. Moreover, the criminalization of individuals might also jeopardize effective response to a major incident, including by salvors, as it might lead to fear and indecision at crucial times. Another serious concern is with regard to seafarers detained ashore following accidents involving ships on which they were serving. It is a complex issue and I understand and respect the independence of the judiciary in countries that have suffered in many ways as a result of accidents. However, I am very alarmed at the impact prolonged detention may have on the morale of the seafarers under detention and of the seafarers of the world as a whole who may justifiably fear for their future. There is no doubt that an international industry like shipping, in which the prime physical assets - the ships themselves - actually move between countries and continents and therefore between different legal jurisdictions, simply has to be regulated internationally. IMO must add its weight to the global efforts of Governments and industry to prevent accidents happening in the first place and, consequently, remove any perceived incentive for unilateral or regional measures. IMO has succeeded in improving standards in the past because it has never rested on its laurels and is always looking to move the agenda forward. IMO today continues to provide a professionally sound and well considered regulatory mechanism which balances the demands of governments and civil society with the needs and capacity of industry. Moreover, IMO has increasingly demonstrated its agility and its ability to fast-track consideration of issues that are considered urgent, but remain complicated. It repeatedly shows itself to be capable both of reacting to events in an appropriate and timely manner and of anticipating and mitigating potential problems before they arise. The goal for the standards that IMO adopts is that they be the highest practicable, which means that they should not only be of the highest level but capable of being implemented globally. The best possible witnesses to their success are the casualty and pollution statistics, which show continued improvement. Overall, IMO is moving confidently towards further and greater achievements in the future, in order that we might move ever closer towards the goals encapsulated in our mission statement — safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans.

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