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IMO Secretary-General, Mr. Efthimios Mitropoulos reflects on critical decisions adopted for the futu

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In an exclusive interview with Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide, the long-serving Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, looks back at the decisions adopted by the organization during his term

and talks about the most significant current issues of the shipping industry, from the problem of piracy to the issue of shipping emissions and what measures the industry has undertaken to deal with those topics. Mr. Mitropoulos will be serving as Secretary General until the end of the year, when his second four-year term ends. He will be succeeded by Mr. Koji Sekimizu of Japan), with effect from 1 January 2012, for an initial term of four years.

As it turns out, the IMO’s decisions have never been more crucial to the future of the shipping industry, than during the past few years. The challenges that shipping faces are ever so big. Could you highlight the most important decisions that the IMO has adopted during the past few years?

Every decision made at IMO is significant, whether the adoption of new or updated guidance on a technical matter, the adoption of a new convention or the adoption of amendments to existing conventions. These decisions are made after thorough discussion and often painstaking technical analysis, with the input of experts from Member States as well as from international industry organizations, which have consultative status at IMO.
The most recent adoption, in July 2011, of mandatory measures relating to the energy efficiency of ships, representing the first ever mandatory global greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction regime for an international industry sector, represent an example of a key technical decision which willΒ  impact on shipping and above all will have a positive impact on the environment.
Other decisions are broader than the relatively straightforward technical matters.
The decision by the IMO Council in 2004 to add the protection of vital shipping lanes onto its agenda has proved hugely topical, not least in the context of the increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia, threatening trade through the Gulf of Aden.Β  IMO has grasped the problem of piracy with both hands and, to progress its resolution, dedicated this year’s World Maritime Day theme to “Piracy: orchestrating the response“, taking a leadership role in coordinating efforts to alleviate the problem from the maritime perspective. This will remain one of the Organization’s primary focuses for as long as the situation continues.
If I have to highlight just a few of the other most important decisions made in the past few years, I would single out:
“ΆΒ Β Β  The adoption of the 2010 Manila Amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and the STCW Code, updating and revising the 1978/1995 Convention and Code, thereby ensuring that the necessary global standards will be in place to train and certify seafarers to operate technologically advanced ships for some time to come;
“ΆΒ Β Β  the adoption, in 2009, of the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009, providing, for the first time, comprehensive international regulations for the ship recycling industry;
“ΆΒ Β Β  the adoption, in 2008, of a completely revised Annex VI of MARPOL, providing much stricter regulations on the control of emissions from ships, including sulphur oxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, which are expected to have a significant beneficial impact on the atmospheric environment and on human health, particularly for those people living in port cities and coastal communities;
“ΆΒ Β Β  the adoption, in 2010, with entry into force in 2012, of International Goal-based Ship Construction Standards for Bulk Carriers and Oil Tankers, along with amendments to SOLAS Chapter II-1 to require new oil tankers and bulk carriers of 150m in length and above to be designed and constructed for a specified design life and to be safe and environmentally friendly, in intact and specified damage conditions, throughout their life;
“ΆΒ Β Β  the adoption, in 2006, and entry into force, in 2010, of a comprehensive package of regulations affecting new passenger ships, placing increased emphasis on reducing the chance of accidents occurring and on improved survivability, and embracing the concept of the ship as “its own best lifeboat’, following a thorough review of passenger ship safety, initiated in 2000, to focus on whether existing regulations were adequate, in particular for new and larger passenger ships; and
“ΆΒ Β Β  the introduction of the Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme, with the first audits completed in 2006, and the agreement by the Organization to move the scheme forward to a mandatory scheme.

Piracy, especially off the coast of Somalia, has grown over the years to a grave concern for shipping. Do you think that the EUNavFor has succeeded in its role?

EUNAVFOR, and the other naval assets and military aircraft from many different countries, play a crucial role in supporting shipping through piracy-infested areas.Β  The success of the operation can be seen in the fact that the number of successful piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) has been reduced to almost zero.Β  Overall, the percentage of attempted attacks that proveΒ  successful for the pirates has dropped, from more than 40 per cent historically, to less than 20 per cent this year ““ testimony, no doubt, to the effectiveness both of the naval presence in the region and of the best management practices for ships developed by the industry and promulgated through IMO.
Moreover, none of the cargo ships chartered by the World Food Programme to carry humanitarian aid to Somalia has fallen in the hands of pirates thanks to the protection provided by EUNAVFOR units.
Clearly, the problem remains in the vast expanses of the Indian Ocean, and this is a reflection of the size of the area concerned, rather than any lack of success on the part of the naval forces operating therein.

What more steps are necessary to end this growing problem, which is endangering the lives of hundreds of seafarers on a daily basis?

Piracy and kidnapping have blighted the maritime community for too long ““ indeed, it was as long ago as 1984 when IMO started to deal with the problem systematically; and 2005 that the Organization first drew the attention of the United Nations Security Council to the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia.
The reality today is that piracy is too complex and has become too entrenched for any one entity to deal with it effectively. The United Nations, political and defence alliances, Governments acting collectively or individually, shipping companies, ship operators, ships’ crews, among others, all have a crucial part to play if shipping is to be rid of this crime and the integrity of strategically important shipping lanes maintained. What is needed is a collective effort, and that is why IMO chose “Piracy: orchestrating the response” as its theme for World Maritime Day 2011 and to underpin its own work in this area during this year and beyond.
We are seeking solutions in three distinct time horizons.Β  In the immediate term, our aim is to contain piracy, thwart pirate attacks and punish those responsible for such attacks; in the mid-term, our strategy is to undermine organized crime gangs to plan and mastermind pirate operations and make it harder for them to engage in, and conduct, such operations; while, the long term solution should be for the international community to help the people of Somalia to rebuild their country, including establishing law and order conditions such that crime will no longer be a preferred option for many of them.
It is crucial that the political will among those Governments that have the potential to make a difference is translated into reality in a manner that matches their political ambition and the severity the issue demands. Resources (in the form of naval vessels and military aircraft) being made available; legislation to ensure pirates do not escape prosecution being expeditiously adopted and rigorously enacted; and ensuring that all ships sailing through piracy-infested areas comply with the recommended best management practices and, while transiting the Gulf of Aden, keep within the internationally recommended corridor ““ all these need to maintain a high priority on the agenda of all those concerned.

The Year of the Seafarer was held in 2010. What steps do you think are necessary towards improving seafarers’ fortunes?

Seafarers and the human element are at the heart of what IMO does. The Year of the Seafarer, which we promoted in 2010 ““ as well as the Day of the Seafarer, on 25 June annually ““ were designed in order to remind us of the indispensable role seafarers play in helping to achieve safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans ““ the goals that IMO has set for itself and for the shipping industry.
Initiatives like the Day of the Seafarer serve to raise awareness and may impact on the political will needed to ensure that seafarer issues continue to be kept at the forefront of the agendas of Governments.
Into the future, seafarers will be served well by thorough and proper implementation of the 2010 Manila amendments to the STCW convention and Code as well as by implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention, adopted by the International Labour Organization in 2006. Indeed, IMO works closely with ILO on those issues which involve both agencies. As an example, the forthcoming IMO Assembly will have before it a draft Assembly resolution aimed at promoting compliance with the 2006 IMO/ILO Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident.
We need to redouble our efforts to address those matters that adversely affect seafarers, from the broader issues such as piracy and their criminalization, through taking positive action with regard to the implementation of new or amended regulations aimed at protecting their lives during their work, such as the measures introduced to prevent accidents with lifeboats and those to protect seafarers working in enclosed spaces.Β 
Continued wide and effective implementation of IMO standards relating to safety and security at sea, ultimately contributes to safeguarding seafarers and improving their working conditions on board ships.

The IMO has been criticized in the past for being slow in adopting necessary steps towards addressing major issues, like pollution from ships. Do you think that the IMO reacted soon enough to international calls?

If you look back, you can see that IMO has always acted as expeditiously as possible to respond to major issues.
Following accidents, IMO takes steps as soon as is feasible within the workings of the Organization (sometimes even calling, at short notice, extraordinary meetings) to set the wheels in motion to address any needed change in existing regulations or to adopt new regulations.
Examples here would be the complete, in less than 14 months, the thorough review of ro-ro ferry safety following the Estonia disaster of 1994, leading to significant changes in the design and construction for these vessels, and the moves to amend the oil tanker single-hull phase out schedule in the wake of the Erika and Prestige disasters of 1999 and 2002.
And IMO also acts pro-actively: the comprehensive review of passenger safety initiated in 2000 and resulting in a whole package of amendments, which entered into force in 2010, stemmed from a need to respond to the larger size of passenger ships being built and to ensure the regulations were adequate for these vessels ““ before any major accident occurred.Β 
IMO has also responded to the challenge of climate change and air pollution, adopting the 1997 Annex VI regulations on the prevention of air pollution from ships, which was revised in 2008; and developing technical and operational measures to address GHG emissions from international shipping, adopted as mandatory measures in July this year.

With many institutional delegates threatening unilateral action to curb pollution from ships, do you think the IMO’s latest initiatives will be enough to put their concerns at ease?

Referring specifically to the recently adopted mandatory regime for GHG reduction from international shipping ““ the first ever, for an entire industry sector ““ this is a major breakthrough and has been almost universally recognized as such.
It has been welcomed by stakeholders as disparate as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, environmental lobby groups, the shipping industry itself and, of course, the Governments that adopted it.
Moreover, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has written personally to me to convey his own congratulations on the Organization’s success, welcoming the “significant outcome reached at the 62nd session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee of IMO”. He added “this underscores the fact that IMO is best positioned to play a leadership role in addressing GHG emissions from international shipping. This is indeed very welcome progress”.
I have, many times, referred to the need for international shipping to be regulated, in all technical respects, on a global basis, avoiding unilateral or regional measures that would hinder the industry’s operations and development, and may impact on the effectiveness of measures intended to improve safety and/or protect the environment.
I do believe that IMO’s initiatives ““ particularly in the climate change arena ““ should indeed serve to emphasise the role of IMO in this regard and to, perhaps, persuade all involved that unilateral action is not in the best interests of international shipping, of the broader community, nor in the interests of the environment and the future of our planet for the coming generations.
Sometimes, unilateral or regional action is proposed as a quicker solution to a problem. But I would argue that it is always important to proceed with due diligence and make decisions only after the debate, on the basis of well-founded argumentation, has been exhausted.

The Union of Greek Shipowners has been a long advocate of the introduction of a shipping emissions levy, versus other approaches. Is this proposal likely to move forward in the international agenda?

This is something that will be up to the IMO Membership. I believe that thorough debate amongst the Membership will result in the right choice being made when it comes to the third, and final, pillar of the agreed work plan to reduce GHG emissions from international shipping, i.e. the market-based measures, following the adoption in July of the first two pillars, calling for technical and operational measures.Β 
Here I would again caution that we must thoroughly exhaust the debate in coming to a final decision on which measure or measures to adopt. Decisions made in a rush may impact adversely the good legislation we should aim at.Β  If we opt for a fast-track process, then we may run the risk of a legislation which, while not achieving its objective of reducing CO2 emissions, may prove unnecessarily costly to shipping.Β  Prudence would dictate that we aim for substance rather than a half-baked bureaucratic solution.

How would you evaluate your 8-year term as Secretary General of IMO, now that it’s close to the finish line? Did you achieve everything you set out for?

I have a very long affiliation with IMO, spanning over 45 years and for me, it has been a pleasure to watch, from the vantage position that is IMO, the progress shipping has continuously made in serving the largest percentage of the transport needs of mankind ““ doing so, in particular, by continually improving the industry’s safety record and environmental performance.Β 
As Secretary-General ““ the chief executive of the Organization ““ I have strived to lead by example, set my priorities right and to motivate and inspire the Secretariat; and provide strategic and policy direction of the Organization’s work, to ensure that the Organization can meet changing challenges.
As to achievements, if there were any during my time in office, this is for others to say. When my time comes, at the end of this year, to bid farewell, I shall take with me the fondest memories of the wonderfully rewarding time I have had in the service of this Organization and shipping. I have been able to live my dream: that of a united IMO, making decisions by consensus, serving the industry well, addressing the needs of the developing countries, and achieving its objectives to the fullest extent possible.

Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide

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