Goodbye message from IMO Secretary General Efthimios Mitropoulos

YEARS ago, at the beginning of my tenure as secretary-general, I made use of the hospitable columns of Lloyd’s List to send a message to the maritime community. This time, I do the same as the year is coming to a close and with it my time as secretary-general.

Predictably, my message has the character of a farewell.

During my many years in the service of the International Maritime Organization and, in particular, during my time as secretary-general, I have been afforded many unique opportunities for which I consider myself extremely fortunate.

I have travelled a great deal; visited countries, attended meetings, delivered speeches, laid foundation stones for training institutes and commissioned rescue co-ordination centres.

I have visited missions to seafarers, conferred with people in hostels, addressed cadets at naval and maritime colleges, met dignitaries and people from all walks of life. I have exchanged views with maritime experts, enriching my knowledge and experiences of the mysteries and intricacies of the wonderful, multi-faceted world that is shipping.

Above all, my greatest reward has been to meet people. To share experiences and concerns, exchange views and ideas.

To discuss — and agree — how to move things forward, how to add stones, no matter how big or small, to the edifice of understanding and reconciliation. To bridge gaps and build bridges.

The IMO appetite for reconciliation and the thirst for consensus-made decisions has been evidenced on many occasions. It has drawn the admiration of many, and not necessarily those who spend most of their working life in the confines of the Albert Embankment.

Reporting a recent example of members putting aside political differences to reach optimal technical solutions, even this esteemed newspaper was moved to observe that such attitudes “represented the IMO at its best, with its intended focus on technical safety issues so that wider political differences between states are put aside in the pursuit of improved maritime safety, even if there are genuine disagreements over some aspects. It might be too much to expect political adversaries to be on the same side in the other UN forums, but some people might say it shows how the global village of shipping can rise above the partisan political fray”.

That is a testimony that gives me enormous satisfaction; that sums up what I have long been striving for.

Another source of immeasurable pleasure to me has been my association with the World Maritime University and the International Maritime Law Institute, which I have served as chancellor and chairman of the governing board, respectively.

Ensuring they both operate on solid ground, both from the academic and financial viewpoints, has not been easy. But I believe they are now well-equipped to function even better in the future.

Meeting graduates of these fine institutes around the world, seeing them prosper in their respective fields in the service of shipping, has always given me enormous pleasure.

It has also given me enormous joy and satisfaction to witness the tremendous changes and developments in shipping over the last 50 years and to be able to watch, from the vantage position that is the IMO, the progress it has continuously made in serving the largest percentage of the transport needs of mankind — in particular, its improving safety record and the continuous reduction in pollution of the marine environment.

As one would expect, it has not always been plain sailing. During these long years, we have suffered some serious accidents with heavy loss of life and environmental disasters. Our response has always been prompt, decisive, comprehensive and thorough.

The results are there for all to see.

On a personal level, I have been fortunate enough to see one of my dreams made reality: an organisation capable of making decisions by consensus and delivering on its mandate in the service of safety of life at sea, maritime security, efficiency of navigation and protection and preservation of the marine environment.

I sincerely hope that next year’s work on market-based measures to add their contribution to the world’s efforts to stem climate change will be concluded by consensus decisions.

Throughout my long career, I sought to add my modest contribution to the IMO’s mission to achieve a comprehensive, co-ordinated approach to the regulation of safety and security in maritime transportation and to the shipping industry’s environmental standards.

Whether I succeeded in this is, of course, for others to judge.

It has, however, been a source of immense satisfaction for me to see how, during that time — indeed over many decades — shipping has become measurably safer, cleaner and more cost-effective.

I have no doubt that the good results that have been achieved should be attributed to the efficiency of IMO legislation and the largely consensual manner in which it has been developed; not forgetting, of course, the robust implementation and enforcement of the IMO’s standards by governments and the industry alike.

That said, we should never allow ourselves to rest on our laurels or become complacent in any way. Much remains to be done and challenges come our way every day. Let us turn them into opportunities for even better results and move on. There is no end to the road.

Merry Christmas to all and a happy new year. May, in its course, all the seafarers held captive by pirates in Somalia be released unharmed and returned to their families.

Goodbye and au revoir.