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Politics & press news – Embassy 63

Voyage together

In his first interview since taking over the helm at IMO, Secretary-General Kitack Lim tells Elizabeth Stewart of his vision to bridge the gap between the maritime nations of the developed and developing world to achieve safer and cleaner seas for all.

A career in shipping seemed inevitable for Kitack Lim. The new Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organisation, who took office in January, grew up within earshot of the fog horns of Masan, Korea, and its bustling port was his playground.

Shipping destiny
A graduate of the Korea Maritime and Ocean University (KMU) in Busan, Lim is the ideal all-rounder to take on the challenges facing the shipping world today. After his service in the Korean Navy, he spent time at sea working as a merchant mariner, returning to terra firma for a stint in port administration.

Describing his next move as “destiny”, Lim joined the Korean civil service around the time that Korea was emerging as a shipping giant. Rising through the ranks, he was appointed Director General for the Maritime Safety Policy Bureau at the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs and later led the ROK delegation to the IMO Assembly in 2009. He also spent a year as Commissioner for the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal.

On the radar
During his long career Lim attended many IMO meetings and was posted as a Maritime Attaché at the Korean Embassy (2006-09) in London.

“Over the years I have grown to appreciate the value of this organisation,” says Lim. It puzzles him, therefore, that shipping, an industry that carries more than 80% of world trade, still has a low profile, both in government and among the general public.

Lim plans to set that straight, starting with a bold theme for this year’s World Maritime Day: Shipping – Indispensable to the World.

His compatriot, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, recently addressed the IMO, where he said shipping played a critical role in reaching the emissions targets agreed in the Paris deal on Climate Change. He also praised the maritime industry for saving the lives of thousands of refugees making perilous journeys across the Mediterranean sea.

Putting the IMO on the radar of London’s diplomatic missions is another priority. The Secretary-General aims to have an “open door” policy for embassies and their visiting ministerial delegations.

“Our industry touches on many key issues in government so we would like to hear from visiting senior ministers – whether they are responsible for trade, transport, environment or home affairs,” says Lim, who also has ambitions to host a top-level global maritime summit.

Lim is also keen to reach out to women in diplomacy, politics and business to explain how the maritime world is shedding its image as a male-dominated industry. Women now train alongside men, they can compete for top posts on land and sea and the IMO has supported women’s shipping associations in seven regions. “Someday soon I hope we will have our first woman Secretary-General,” smiles Lim.

Increasing contacts with IMO’s host city is also part of the strategy and Lim plans to invite MPs and ministers to hop over to the Albert Embankment, to acquaint themselves with the multilateral diplomacy that keeps the maritime world in ship shape.

To increase IMO’s visibility among the public, Lim is planning creative campaigns with schools, museums and the media to generate a buzz around dates such as World Maritime Day, International Day of the Seafarer and the IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea – not to mention ideas for 2019, marking 60 years since the organisation first convened.

Bridge builder
Another priority for the Secretary General is to be a bridge builder: “I would like IMO to play a bridging role between developed and developing shipping nations,” he says. “We need to improve communication between our members, as well as between IMO and its member states and IMO and the shipping industry and the seafarers.”

As the maritime world faces multiple challenges – and embraces the technology to overcome them – it has never been more important to work together, he says.

Safer seas
It was the tragedy of the Titanic more than a century ago that spurred the first attempts to create a global regulatory framework to protect life at sea. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) was adopted in 1914 and the first SOLAS treaty under the auspices of IMO was adopted in 1960. (Later, the 1974 SOLAS treaty incorporated an amendment procedure to enable the treaty to be kept up to date).

Today, shipping tragedies involving luxury liners are rare; it is the thousands of deaths of refugees and migrants in overcrowded unseaworthy boats that now grab headlines. 

Mixed migration at sea
“This is a huge, global challenge, not just for shipping,” remarks the Secretary-General. “Many of the ‘pull and push factors’ for migrants – conflict, poverty, lack of opportunity as well as the criminal activities of the smugglers who prey on the migrants – fall outside of IMO’s remit, but we are working with other UN agencies, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to promote a coordinated approach.”

Rescue at sea is a centuries old tradition, but the existing Search and Rescue infrastructure was not designed to cope with mass migration, points out Lim. IMO, in partnership with UNHCR and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has issued guidance to shipmasters on largescale rescue operations.

IMO can offer support to States of ‘migrant exit’ with capacity building and training of their coastguard agencies. Gathering and sharing intelligence with law enforcement authorities and neighbouring coastguards will increase the chances of apprehending and prosecuting the people traffickers and to put their illegal and unseaworthy vessels beyond use. But success will depend upon the willingness and capability of those States to take action, says Lim.

Piracy and terrorism
IMO has been very proactive in combatting piracy since the 1980s. When the critical shipping lanes in the Straits of Malacca became a hotspot for piracy in the 1990s, IMO brought the littoral states together to broker a tripartite agreement. This included points such as information sharing, joint patrolling, pursuing pirates into each other’s waters, repatriating captured pirates and jurisdictional issues.

The basics of that agreement have been adapted to other regional agreements, including the Djibouti Code to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean. IMO is working with West and Central African states to build capacity to combat piracy and other maritime crimes such as drug smuggling, stowaways and illicit fishing in the waters of the Gulf of Guinea.

IMO has produced and adapted guidance to help shipmasters and governments prevent and suppress piracy, investigate the offences and address sensitive issues relating to the use of armed guards at sea to defend seafarers.

The threat of terrorism also affects shipping and in 2002 IMO adopted the mandatory International Ship and Port Facility Security Code which requires ships and port facilities to develop plans to deal with security threats.

Protecting seafarers
Once a seafarer himself, Lim wants to focus on the welfare of mariners. “The world relies on shipping but shipping relies on seafarers,” he says. IMO already works closely with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to ensure seafarers work under humane conditions, are well trained, fairly treated and are compensated should the worst happen at sea.

“But the reality is that the seafarers on container ships are exhausted and fatigue can lead to catastrophic human error. We need to examine their experiences and see if the codes governing their welfare are fit for purpose,” adds Lim, who would ideally like IMO staff to spend time at sea to experience life on board a ship.

Smart ships
E-navigation or smart ships – which integrate maritime, navigational and safety data on board and exchange this with other vessels and the shore – has the potential to greatly reduce the risk of collisions at sea. It may even one day translate into some use of drone ships.

Deploying this technology requires high standards of cyber security, adds Lim, to avoid criminals hacking into the system and creating false data and even so-called ‘phantom ships’.

Cleaner Seas
An important aspect of IMO’s mission is to ensure the shipping industry cleans up after itself. In the old days a ship’s waste would be tipped overboard in the ‘Davy Jones locker’.

But these days the IMO’s International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) imposes strict rules on everything from operational oil pollution, accidental spills, sewage and garbage discharge to the dumping of harmful waste, especially in ecosystems that are designated as ‘Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas’.

Emissions reduction
Significant effort have been made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of ships. The IMO is the only organisation to have adopted energy-efficiency measures that are legally binding across an entire global industry, applying to all countries.

By 2025 all new ships will have to be 30% more energy-efficient than those built in 2013-2015. Existing ships also have to put measures in place to cut down on their emissions. Also in the pipeline is a global data collection system for ship’s fuel consumption.

Although there was no explicit mention of shipping in the text of the Paris Climate Change Agreement last year, IMO Member States are expected to put additional proposals forward to address the ambitious goals outlined in the deal, possibly further emissions reduction targets.

Because of the cost implications for refitting ships, it is slow going. Some regions, for example the EU, are eager to move forward more quickly on emission reduction measures, but shipping standards that go beyond what has been internationally agreed tend to “complicate matters” says Lim. “Shipping is a global industry so standards imposed regionally can affect the level playing field. We are asking for a little patience so that we can balance the needs of everyone.”

There are provisions in IMO treaties where stricter standards can be imposed but these proposals should be brought to the IMO so that all countries can discuss and agree them. “Communication is key in everything,” he stresses.

Ballast management
The other major environmental hazard linked to shipping is the spread of aquatic species. These stowaways hitch a ride in the ballast water of ships and have the potential to cause havoc as invasive species when accidentally introduced to new ecosystems.

The Ballast Water Management Convention addresses this serious issue and is very close to reaching its entry into force. So far 47 countries having ratified the agreement, representing 34.35% world merchant shipping tonnage, a mere 0.65% away from the 35% required for the Convention to become law.

Once it enters into force, all ships will be required to manage their ballast water.

Port management
Another priority for Lim is improving port management, hardly surprising for a man who spent three years as President of Busan Port Authority, one of the busiest ports in the world.

“Well run ports are critical to logistics,” says the Secretary-General, who wants to focus on efficient port design, as well as traffic control, navigational aids and the training of sea pilots.

Red tape at ports also holds up shipping, he adds. To ease this administrative burden,  IMO has developed amendments to the Facilitation Convention which will be adopted this April.

It is hoped technology such as the Maritime Single Window, which allows all a ship’s pre-arrival documentation to be transmitted to the port authorities through a single web portal, will speed up processing. But proper cyber security measures need to be in place to keep this sensitive data safe.

On the horizon
There are other challenges on the shipping horizon that are concentrating minds on the Albert Embankment. For instance, global warming has made it possible to navigate  Arctic and Antarctic waters.

Due to the hazards of these waters, IMO has devised a Polar Code, which is due to come into effect in 2017. This code has specific requirements in terms of ship design, construction and equipment, which has to function in low temperatures. Crew need additional training in search and rescue protocols.

The code also looks to protect the unique eco-systems of the polar regions.

For Lim, the Polar Code is just a starting point. “IMO needs to do more. We need to bring the littoral states together to look at the wider aspects of managing these waters, which include scientific research, environmental protection and safe navigation.”

Another area requiring attention is ferries, where the loss of life remains unacceptably high. IMO has issued guidelines on the safe operation of coast and inter-island passenger ships, which were adopted last year.

There will also be new regulations on container weight verification (coming into force in July) to address the dangers caused by overweight containers.

Mind the gap
Implementing these regulations comes at a cost and developing nations may lack the technology, finance and skilled manpower to keep up.  For this reason IMO has introduced a new Member State Audit Scheme, which came into effect this January.

The member state being audited will be given an objective assessment of how effectively it is implementing IMO regulations and identify any gaps.

In this way the IMO can target its assistance and build capacity through its Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme. Already the IMO has a number of technical cooperation projects to assist developing countries.

This includes GloBallast to assist them in implementing the Ballast Water Management Convention. A global network of Maritime Technology Centres is also being established to help with the implementation of energy-efficient measures.

Voyage together
IMO should play a coordinating role, says the Secretary-General, where wealthier members can offer technical assistance to developing Member States, so that the rising tide lifts all the boats and no-one is left behind.

Smiling, Lim repeats the popular slogan that swayed the vote and won him the election. “We are all partners in this voyage.” He is wasting no time turning that vision into a reality.


Secretary-General Kitack Lim


MO wants more women to take up a career in shipping


MO’s Regional Training Centre in Djibouti helps to combat piracy


Rescuing migrants at sea


More than 80% of world trade is carried by ships


Taking ballast water samples


Seafarers are the backbone of the shipping industry

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