Day of the Seafarer 2016

As part of celebrations of the International Maritime Organization Day of the Seafarer 2016 the ITF has interviewed IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim.

How can the ITF and the IMO work together to improve the safety of seafarers?

By working with non-governmental organizations like ITF, IMO and its membership can benefit from specific expertise and gain insight into the human element from the experiences of the seafarers themselves.

 I have frequently referred to a "voyage together" and the need for communication between all stakeholders when it comes to adopting and implementing IMO measures, and the valued input of seafarer organizations to discussions on the human element is a good example of that.

 In fact, I would encourage ITF to ensure that the voice of the seafarer is heard and made stronger in the Organization. That can be through ITF's active participation in many of the technical meetings and their respective working, drafting and correspondence groups, submitting ideas, proposals and providing welcome specialist advice, ITF contributes greatly to IMO’s work. But also, through strengthening the interaction with both delegates and the IMO Secretariat. I am very keen to ensure that the decisions we take at IMO are always taken based on inputs from seafarers and to ensure that what we do has a positive impact in the real world.

I would further encourage ITF to continue the long-standing process under which it has worked with IMO on seafarer matters, through the consultative status granted to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), since 1961, and then to ITF itself, since 2007.

ITF can provide the seafarer viewpoint to Member States to support the decision‑making process, as it has done in the past in matters such as the revisions to the STCW Convention and Code; liability and compensation regarding claims for death, personal injury and abandonment of seafarers; and fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident.

With regard to the latter, I fully welcome ITF's participation in IMO's Legal Committee, and specifically its offer to organize regional and national workshops on the implementation of the Guidelines on fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident.

Finally, I think we need to focus on utilizing the data available to IMO. We need to think more about how we manage and use the data we already have – and the data we will collect in the future. I would emphasize the importance of analysing statistics related to maritime casualties and incidents and to deal proactively with safety issues. Also in this respect, I would welcome the assistance from ITF and seafarers.


If you could only achieve one major win on safety during your time as Secretary General of the IMO what would it be?

Although it is hard to single out one specific safety issue since all are interlinked and interdependent, I believe that the human element deserves to be placed uppermost on our agenda. The human element needs to be meticulously considered, based on real communication with seafarers. Ship safety relies on good ship building, appropriate equipment and technology, which are dependent on the development of the correct standards. But above all, safety depends on the interaction between the seafarers and the ship and the way external factors are handled.

Current work that I would highlight includes the modernization of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, the work on e-navigation, and the implementation of the Polar Code for ships trading in the harsh and pristine environments of the Arctic and Antarctic regions.

We have just seen the adoption by the Maritime Safety Committee of the crucially important amendments to SOLAS to make mandatory the requirements for maintenance, thorough examination, operational testing, overhaul and repair, of lifeboats and rescue boats, launching appliances and release gear. This marks the culmination of a great deal of work by IMO Members, ITF and others to address the injuries and loss of life which have occurred during lifeboat operations, including during their testing. So the full implementation of these requirements by the entry‑into-force date of 1 January 2020 is a really important step I would like to see during my term.

Fatigue has been increasingly recognized by the industry as a major human element hazard that affects most aspects of a seafarer's ability to perform effectively and safely. The effects of fatigue can lead to undesirable situations with devastating effects. I am therefore looking forward to the completion of the review of the Guidelines on Fatigue.


You have spoken about your desire to improve the public's understanding of the maritime industry. Why is this important and what impact would it have on safety and security for seafarers?

By improving the general public's awareness of shipping we will also raise the profile among key influencers and policymakers outside of our regular sector.

In the maritime community, we are well aware that maritime activity can both drive and support a growing national economy, by promoting trade by sea, nurturing national shipping lines and promoting seafaring as a career; by improving port infrastructure and efficiency, by developing and strengthening inter-modal links and hinterland connections; by managing and protecting fisheries, exploring offshore energy production and even by fostering tourism.

But there is a tendency among our stakeholders to operate in silos. 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 other.

IMO has a legitimate interest in all of these areas, too. So I am keen to raise our visibility not just among those who already know us, but also among those who do not. I want to raise awareness among officials, ministers and decision-makers outside of our regular community, and I want to do this in the interests of joined-up thinking, joined-up planning and collaboration.

This, directly and indirectly, can ultimately help improve safety and security for seafarers.

That is why the annual Day of the Seafarer campaign on 25 June is so important. This year's campaign slogan is "At Sea For All". We want people in shipping to use it to tell seafarers that they are essential to the industry. We want seafarers themselves to use it to say they are proud to serve a wider cause than their own careers. And we want members of the general public to use it to signal their own appreciation of the importance of seafarers. We want everyone to say that seafarers are "At Sea For All".


75 states have now ratified the ILO Maritime Labour Convention. How does this instrument of protection for seafarers complement IMO conventions?

By covering the areas relating to seafarers' working conditions which are not directly covered by IMO's treaties, the MLC can be considered the 'fourth pillar' of the most important maritime regulations covering international shipping, complementing IMO's International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), and International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).

IMO and ILO have a long history of cooperating on issues which come under the remit of both Organizations, insofar as they relate to seafarers, and have established joint ILO/IMO ad hoc expert working groups on issues such as hours of work and rest, seafarers' medical examinations, fair treatment of seafarers in the event of a maritime accident, and liability and compensation regarding claims for death, personal injury and abandonment of seafarers.


You've worked on ships yourself - what was the hardest thing about being at sea?

It is often said that seafaring must be one of the hardest and loneliest jobs. It is true that the long periods without contact from home were difficult – and of course this was in the times before there was any chance of connecting with family and friends over the internet. I thought quite often during sailing about my future career development, based on the operational experience I had at sea.

But my experience was that the difficulties and challenges were far outweighed by the rewards of an exciting and fulfilling period of my life. During my time at sea I was constantly learning new skills and I really enjoyed travelling, seeing different ports, experiencing the changes in weather and having to confront the beauties and the harshness of the sea. That is something you don't forget.

I think that today's seafarers face challenges but I also believe that modern, well run ships, particularly where operators ensure there is good access to the internet for communication with loved ones and friends, and to keep up-to-date with current events, can provide a great working place for today's seafarers.

One thing I think has an influence on safety, is the seafarers’ relationship to the vessel and the company. Today, as is the case ashore, seafarers will be employed on many different ships and therefore will be part of many different crews throughout their careers. Though the rules established by IMO ensure that safety and protection of the environment (for example through the ISM code) are at the core of seafarers’ duties, I do believe that familiarity with your colleagues, the vessel you are working on and indeed the company you work for, does mean that you take a little more pride in your work and even go the extra mile. I believe it is important to develop a culture of community and pride in belonging to the maritime community. It is also something I intend to nurture within the IMO Secretariat itself.


The IMO recently developed a strategic implementation plan for e-navigation that could alter the legal authority and responsibility of people in navigation. What is your opinion on the relationship between man and machine when it comes to navigation?

The overall goal of the e-navigation strategy is to improve safety of navigation and to reduce errors by equipping users, on ships and ashore, with modern, proven tools, optimized for good decision-making, to make maritime navigation and communication more reliable and user-friendly 

Ultimately, the aim is always to support the user – the human – in decision-making, so we have to utilize technology for the benefit of the seafarers and particularly the master of the ship.

When we think back to 20th century advances such as radar, technology has served to enhance human capacity to navigate the ship. Now we are looking to harness more holistic and advanced e-navigation tools.

I do not believe you can take the human away from the ship when it comes to navigation, particularly in busy waters where the eyes of the officer of the watch are still critical. The unpredictability of the high seas will always be an issue requiring human oversight, no matter how advanced the navigational technology is.

But the future "smart ships" may help seafarers to an even greater degree when it comes to navigation, offering ever greater support for decision-making. At the same time, the social life and culture of seafarers on board ships need to be carefully taken into consideration in the course of implementing e-navigation and other technologies.


You come from a part of the world with great maritime tradition but also with room for further development when it comes to shipping and protection of the marine environment. How would you like to see the IMO be more active around, for instance, piracy, fisheries and supporting dockers?

Implementation of IMO measures and capacity building are two of the key themes that I have been stressing since I took up the role of IMO Secretary-General. Effective and universal implementation of IMO measures can ensure they have a tangible impact. The Member State Audit Scheme became mandatory at the beginning of this year and will be of great benefit in this respect, as the lessons learnt are analysed and acted upon. Capacity building, especially to help developing countries, can help ensure that the ability to participate effectively in maritime activities is not just confined to the traditional maritime countries and that the benefits are more evenly and fairly spread.

IMO has worked, and continues to work, extensively with partners in Asia and the Pacific Islands to build capacity and has a regional office in the Philippines. Asia plays a key role in international shipping, although we recognize that countries in the region vary significantly in terms of maritime infrastructure and resources, level of governance and need for external assistance to implement IMO treaties.

On piracy, IMO helped support the adoption of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), which has proved a successful model for agreements concluded elsewhere.

I believe we also need to look beyond piracy at broader security concerns. Effective maritime security can provide the backbone for sustainable maritime development. I think we need to be more proactive in expanding a relatively narrow focus on piracy and armed robbery against ships, and "traditional" terrorist threats to ships or ports, and embrace a wider range of threats, including cyber attacks. We should also increase our work with national authorities to develop holistic national maritime transport policies and a multi-agency response to developing the port and maritime sector, encompassing security issues but also broader port issues.

We have already been working with a number of countries in Asia and the Pacific region to develop, adopt and review national maritime transport policies and this is an area I would like to see further developed. This includes focusing increasingly on the port area and the ship/port interface, within IMO's remit but also working with others such as the World Customs Organization.

On the fishing side, IMO has approved the principles and scope for the review of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F), 1995, which entered into force in 2012. So this will help with the training side.

We are also working to promote the ratification of the 2012 Cape Town Fishing Vessels Safety Agreement, in order to implement the provisions of the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol, and have been working with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to address illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. Helping Governments find ways to stamp out this practice will ultimately help us work towards a safer fishing industry for all.


There have been improvements made with regard to ferry services in national waters, but problems do still exist. How would you propose to address these?

The public expects safety standards on domestic passenger ferries to be as strong as those on international vessels. Of course, it boils down to the development of adequate national laws, regulations and rules for domestic ferries and their effective implementation.

IMO can assist with that, by building on the capacity-building programmes already implemented. We can work with States that request assistance, to support them in developing the relevant regulations, making use of IMO model legislation which is available and ensuring it is fine-tuned to meet the specific needs of the country concerned.

We have already worked with States to develop guidelines on the safe operation of coastal and inter-island passenger ships not engaged in international voyages, which were adopted in the Philippines in April 2015. The guidelines address purchasing, converting or modifying second-hand ships for use in domestic passenger services, changes in operating limits, counting passengers and voyage planning. They can also be used to check the daily operation of ships already providing passenger services.

We could also focus more on enhancing a safety culture and raising awareness, within the public sector and business entities, of the essential safety issues, such as avoiding overcrowding and promoting awareness of the management of emergency situations.


Watch a message from Kitack Lim: 




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