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26th IMO Assembly opens

26th IMO Assembly opens
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has worked diligently and thoroughly towards the goals and objectives identified in its Strategic and High-Level Action Plans.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has worked diligently and thoroughly towards the goals and objectives identified in its Strategic and High-Level Action Plans.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has worked diligently and thoroughly towards the goals and objectives identified in its Strategic and High-Level Action Plans, and has also been able to react swiftly and decisively to whatever new problems and unforeseen challenges have emerged, Secretary-General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos told delegates at the opening (on Monday, 23 November) of the 26th session of the Organization's governing body, the Assembly. The meeting is being attended by more than 1,000 delegates from IMO Member States as well as international governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Reviewing the previous biennium, he added that, in spite of the inherent difficulties of a continuously and rapidly changing landscape, the Organization had displayed an ability to master situations as they emerge rather than allowing itself to be mastered by them.

In his opening address, Mr. Mitropoulos said that the alarming escalation in incidents of piracy and armed attacks on merchant ships had been a dominant and unwelcome theme throughout the past biennium, with the recent upsurge in pirate activity off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, and now beyond the Horn of Africa and in the wider expanses of the western Indian Ocean, turning this phenomenon into a global issue.

In repressing acts of piracy and robbery against ships in the affected waters, IMO has worked closely with the United Nations (including the Security Council, the World Food Programme and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime) and with various intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (both global and regional, such as the African Union and the League of Arab States), as well as with political and defence entities (such as the European Union, NATO and the Combined Maritime Forces). "I consider it imperative that we, in the maritime community, re-double our efforts to combat piracy in all its forms, bearing in mind that it is not a cause, but a symptom," Mr. Mitropoulos said.

Referring to the forthcoming Copenhagen conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Secretary-General reminded delegates that, in July, IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) progressed work on a package of technical and operational measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping, which, together with a parallel consideration of market-based instruments, will be refined in the coming year with a view to defining their scope of application and enactment. "I am confident that, through a combination of carefully crafted measures and instruments, shipping can enhance its energy efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint to the benefit of the environment," he said.

"It is my hope that, when transport emissions are discussed in Copenhagen, the peculiarities of shipping (as an industry uniquely international in character, which is, to a great extent, registered in developing countries) are taken fully into account - and also that, against IMO's excellent track record on environmental issues, the Organization continues to be entrusted with the regulation of shipping while pursuing, with consistency and an admirable sense of responsibility, its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping operations," he added.

Mr. Mitropoulos urged delegates to consider favourably a draft resolution on the further development of the Organization's Member State audit scheme, principally aiming at moving the scheme from its current voluntary form to an institutionalized process within the respective IMO treaty instruments, thus providing an opportunity for all Members to enhance their capacity to implement and enforce all the relevant IMO treaties.

"So far, the audit scheme has proven its worth in many ways and I am convinced that a decision to make it universally applicable to all Member States will enhance safety and environmental protection, while contributing substantially to their improving their performance as flag, port and coastal States and to the Organization attaining its objectives," Mr. Mitropoulos said.

Looking ahead, Mr. Mitropoulos said that a Diplomatic Conference was scheduled to be convened in Manila in June 2010, to adopt revisions to the STCW Convention and Code, to ensure that both meet the challenges facing the shipping industry today and those anticipated in the foreseeable future. Appropriately, he added, "2010: Year of the Seafarer" has been chosen as the theme for next year's World Maritime Day, to provide, first and foremost, an opportunity for tribute to be paid to seafarers for their unique contribution to society; to show them what good care the Organization takes of them; and bring home the message that they should be treated fairly in the event of an accident.

"The theme will also complement the "Go to Sea!" campaign, which we launched in November 2008, in association with the International Labour Organization, the "Round Table" of shipping industry organizations and the International Transport Workers' Federation, to help address the industry's looming labour supply crisis. Our specific aim is to promote seafaring as an attractive option for young people of the right calibre, one which can provide them with rewarding, stimulating and long-term prospects, not only at sea but also in the broader maritime industry," Mr. Mitropoulos said.

Mr. Paul Clark, Shipping Minister, United Kingdom, welcomed delegates to the Assembly on behalf of the host Government.

The outgoing President of the Assembly, His Excellency Mr. Gehad Madi, former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Egypt, and the incoming President, His Excellency Mr. Georg Boomgaarden, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Germany, also addressed the meeting.

The 26th session of the IMO Assembly runs until 4 December 2009 at IMO Headquarters.

Election of Officers

The Assembly elected His Excellency Mr. Georg Boomgaarden, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Germany, as President of the Assembly.

The Vice-Presidents elected are:

1st Vice-President: His Excellency Mr. Paul Farquharson, QPM, High Commissioner of the Bahamas; and 2nd Vice-President: Her Excellency Mrs. Hamida M'rabet Labidi, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Tunisia.

The Assembly elected the following to chair the two Committees of the Assembly:

Committee 1 (dealing with administrative, financial, legal and technical co-operation matters): Mr. Graham Peachey, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Maritime Safety Agency; and Committee 2 (dealing with technical matters): Mr. Sveinung Oftedal, Senior Adviser, Royal Ministry of the Environment, Norway.
Background.

The Assembly is IMO's governing body. All 169 Member States and three Associate Members are entitled to attend, as are the intergovernmental organizations with which agreements of co-operation have been concluded, and non-governmental organizations in consultative status with IMO. The Assembly normally meets once every two years in regular session. It is responsible for approving the work programme, voting the budget and determining the financial arrangements of the Organization. It also elects the Council.

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