Dec 2, 2009

Address to the 26th Assembly of the International Maritime Organization

ADDRESS TO THE 26TH ASSEMBLY OF THE INTERNATIONAL MARITIME ORGANIZATION

London

2 December 2009

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport,

Regional Development and Local Government

Leader of the House

Member for Grayndler

Secretary-General,

Your Excellencies Ministers,

High Commissioners and Ambassadors,

President of the IMO Assembly and Chairman of the IMO Council,

Distinguished Delegates and Observers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

It is my great honour to address the 26th Assembly of the International Maritime Organization.

I thank the President of the Assembly for his introduction, and congratulate the IMO and its members in its 61st year.

I am sorry I was not able to join you at the opening of the Assembly. Parliamentary responsibilities kept me in Australia last week.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Assembly for their support in re-electing Australia to the Council of the IMO.

It is a great privilege and a responsibility we take seriously.

The safety and efficiency of international shipping is critical to the social and economic prosperity of Australia.

Australia’s exclusive economic zone is the third largest in the world and covers all five of the world’s ocean temperature zones.

Our search and rescue area is even larger, covering one-tenth of the earth’s surface. Many sailors in distress owe their lives to the courageous men and women in our search and rescue teams.

Nearly 4,000 ships carry goods and commodities to and from our shores each year, carrying 99 per cent of Australia’s imports and exports.

These ships represent nearly 10 percent of world seaborne trade by mass – the 5th largest shipping task in the world.

Activity at our ports has continued to increase over 2009 due to growth in demand for exports – largely from our key Asian markets.

We expect this trend to continue with new resource developments over the next 10 years.

Australia’s sea freight task is forecast to double by 2025.

Our future prosperity is closely linked to efficient and safe shipping and those men and women who spend many months at sea, working in isolated and difficult conditions.

 

Mr President, Secretary-General.

We were here at the beginning.

In 1948, Australia was one of 13 nations on the Working Party at the United Nations Maritime Conference in Geneva that was asked to recommend the scope and purpose of the proposed Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, which later became the IMO.

Australia has respectfully and diligently served on the IMO’s Council and committees for over 40 years.

This is my third visit to IMO headquarters since becoming a Minister 2 years ago.

Australia is party to almost all IMO Conventions and is progressing several critical domestic reforms.

These include a long overdue re-write of our national maritime safety legislation, reforming the safety regulation of coastal vessels and revitalising our shipping industry.

Whilst our shipping task is huge, less than 1% of our international trade is carried on Australian flagged ships.

The Government recognises that many developed and developing economies regard a safe, reliable, and competitive shipping industry is a key feature of national economic infrastructure.

This will be the most substantial reform to Australian shipping legislation in a century.

Our reform initiative will also create a genuine national system of maritime safety regulation within Australia and is expected to deliver a consistent and centralised system for delivering maritime safety initiatives to all commercial vessels, including operators of small craft along the coast.

 

Mr President, Secretary-General.

The personal safety of seafarers and the security of the cargo they transport are vital and Australia appreciates the strong leadership role the IMO has taken on international maritime security.

We have a common understanding that the piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia and elsewhere are generally symptoms of more complex domestic problems that are beyond the remit of the IMO.

I applaud the significant efforts of the Secretary-General through the United Nations framework in ensuring that while those more sustainable land-based solutions are being developed, our seafarers and shipping businesses are protected.

Australia is doing our bit through participation in international efforts to defend and deter piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden.

I thank the IMO for the formal recognition of Australia’s contribution to these international efforts.

Whilst the current incidents of piracy and hijacking for ransom in the Gulf of Aden pose a serious threat to world trade, the potential threat to international shipping from piracy and robbery at sea has global proportions.

I am pleased to announce that in close co-operation with the IMO, the Australian Government has developed Advisory Guidelines to provide a broad range of advice for dealing with piracy on the high seas and robbery at sea in the territorial waters of a State.

These guidelines outline the recommended preventative measures to detect, deter and prevent piracy and robbery at sea attacks across the world’s oceans, seas and ports.

The Advisory Guidelines will be made available to the IMO, governments and industry as a means of expanding the piracy and robbery at sea awareness and preventive message to all seafarers around the world.

 

Mr President, Secretary-General.

Like many nations, the Australian maritime industry is experiencing significant skills shortages.

The forecasts of a global officer shortfall of about 43,000 in 2013 is of real concern.

We know that should this shortage be allowed to continue it could have negative long term consequences for our country, which is so reliant on shipping.

We know that today’s seafarers, Masters and Chief Engineers are tomorrow’s marine pilots, harbour masters and maritime safety regulators.

We are acting to improve the career path for Australian seafarers – streamlining their progression from the smaller commercial vessels in the near coastal trade to the international fleet.

This is our nation’s most significant reform in seafarer certification in our history – we call it the ‘Tinny to Tanker’ program.

These new certificates will be STCW compliant and complement the IMO’s Go to Sea campaign, which Australian industry has also strongly supported.

 

Mr President, Secretary-General.

We are committed to ratifying and implementing IMO conventions in Australia, and to being tested against these standards.

Last year we participated in the IMO’s Voluntary Member State Audit Scheme and recently received the final report.

It complimented the effective way Australia administers and implements the IMO’s ship safety and environment protection standards.

This positive assessment by the IMO is reward for Australia’s long-term commitment to achieving high standards in ship safety and environment protection.

Australia supports the institutionalisation of the scheme, recognising the benefits that can flow from greater transparency and compliance in relation to the IMO’s standards.

We strongly encourage other member states to participate in the audit. Australia has provided auditors to the scheme, and we are willing to share our experience and provide assistance.

The Australian Government continues to adopt IMO Conventions.

The International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage entered into force in June this year and the Supplementary fund Protocol in October.

We are also working towards ratification of the Ballast Water Management Convention and are committed to assisting with the adoption of the proposed Hazardous and Noxious Substances Protocol when it is considered next year.

Before I move away from the subject of critical international maritime instruments, I should mention the International Labour Organisation’s Maritime Labour Convention.

This Convention is the "fourth pillar" of the international regulatory regime for quality shipping, complementing the key IMO Conventions by providing comprehensive rights and protection at work for the than 1.2 million seafarers the shipping industry depends upon.

The Australian Government is working hard to progress ratification of the convention recognising the role that the convention will play in strengthening the global regulatory framework in which shipping is conducted.

 

Mr President, Secretary-General.

Australia strongly supports the principle that the polluter should pay for pollution clean-up costs. And our resolve has been tested close to home on two recent occasions.

On 11 March, 2009, the general cargo ship, the Pacific Adventurer, lost 31 containers overboard and 270 tonnes of bunker fuel oil in rough seas, just north of Brisbane.

Oil washed ashore on the pristine coastline of South-east Queensland, significant for its white sandy beaches and natural habitat. Despite the relatively small amounts of oil discharged, the resulting clean-up costs were in the tens of millions of dollars, due to the location of the spill.

In this instance, the provisions under the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims proved inadequate to cover clean-up costs.

This has led our government with no alternative but to consider an increase the Protection of the Sea Levy on the Shipping industry to cover the shortfall arising from the clean-up costs.

This is unacceptable to Australia.

I am very pleased that the most recent meeting of the IMO Legal Committee agreed to Australia’s proposal to add to the work program consideration of revising those limits to ensure the convention remains relevant to current incidents.

This Assembly’s ongoing efforts to maintain the currency of international standards is critical to ensuring that member states see the practical value of membership.

Our second serious incident began on 21 August this year, when an uncontrolled release of hydrocarbons occurred at a mobile drilling unit located 140 nautical miles off the north Western Australian coast.

As a result, light crude oil escaped to the ocean surface and released gaseous hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.

The work of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in responding to this incident has drawn international attention. The success of a clean-up operation of this kind, using booms and recovering significant amounts of oil so far off-shore, is highly unusual.

We have been proud of our response and management of this clean-up operation, led by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and demonstrated that our preparation and planning have been more than up to the task.

However these incidents are a sobering and highly public reminder that we need to do more to prevent and effectively respond to pollution in our marine environment.

Prevention is better than cure.

 

Mr President, Secretary-General.

Next week, the United Nations Climate Change conference will meet in Copenhagen.

Australia’s Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd, MP, recently stated that Australia’s objective is to see substantive agreement between all countries. During his recent visit to New York to address the UN General Assembly he said:

We can no longer afford to wait for action on climate change; the time for action is now. Let’s never forget the basic fact on climate change. Australia is one of the hottest and driest continents on the planet. Climate change will hit Australia hardest, and will hit Australia earliest.

Addressing climate change will be one of the defining challenges of this century.

International shipping must play its part by reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions.

It is for this reason that Australia supports the negotiation of a global agreement that is comprehensive in its coverage of all operators, environmentally effective, equitable and practical.

I congratulate the progress that the IMO has made to date in facilitating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from shipping. Australia has been actively involved in this work through the Marine Environment Protection Committee and also provided funds for past studies.

However more must be done, and quickly, as the consequences of global warming are dire and anything less than resolute action simply will not be enough.

Australia believes it essential that an agreement on binding global and meaningful action on international maritime emissions must be completed.

In Australia’s view, the IMO has a central part to play in future processes and we look forward to substantial progress within this timeframe.

 

Mr President, Secretary-General.

In June this year, Australia was proud to host the 10th Asia Pacific Heads of Maritime Safety Agencies meeting in Sydney, bringing together 27 countries in the region.

This meeting developed cooperative technical assistance projects to facilitate the adoption and implementation of IMO instruments in our region.

Eleven technical assistance projects are either completed or underway. Seven more projects are in the early stages of planning.

Before I conclude, I wish to convey the Australian Government’s appreciation to the Secretary-General for his steely determination in pursuing the goals of the IMO, and congratulations on his success over the last two years.

Australia has always felt warmly welcomed and valued as a member of the Council and the Assembly due to your consideration.

 

Mr President, Secretary-General, Honourable Delegates, friends.

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Assembly

I respect and admire the work of this body in addressing current issues and its ongoing work in ensuring the regulatory framework for world shipping can deal effectively with the challenges we will face in the future.

Thank-you.