IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim shone a spotlight on the rights of seafarers and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on recruitment and retention when speaking at the La Rochelle Maritime Symposium on ‘Employment and skills challenges in the European maritime transport and services sector’, held on 09 February, 2022.
“We must not relent in our efforts to facilitate international travel for crew change purposes, including getting vaccinations and boosters as well as access to medical facilities when needed. If we do not assure the rights and well-being of seafarers, we will not be able to retain the existing seafarers in the profession and certainly not be in a position to attract any new additions to the industry,” he told listeners.
His speech also touched upon the annual International Day for Women in Maritime, as well as this year’s IMO World Maritime Theme of “New technologies for greener shipping”.
The whole speech: La Rochelle Maritime Symposium – Employment and skills challenges in the European maritime transport and services sector
Opening remarks by Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General
Minister, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to address this important and timely symposium.
Maritime transport is the most economic and environmentally sustainable mode of transportation of large volumes of cargo. As the industry examines ways to continue to do this even more efficiently and sustainably, we must ensure that we keep the human element – the critical component in this important supply chain at the heart of all that we do.
At this pivotal time in history the maritime industry is contributing to the efforts of the entire world to significantly reduce our environmental impact by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time in a bid to increase efficiency and sustainability, the industry has embraced digitalization and automation. All these efforts mean the industry is undergoing complex and substantial change.
This change has considerable repercussions for the maritime workforce. The maritime workforce needs to be ahead of the evolution. It is imperative that education, training and skills evolve with the industry. The IMO continues to engage with Member States and industry towards that end.
Prior to the COVID 19 pandemic efforts were underway at IMO and within industry to attract talent into the industry. However, the pandemic and its impact on seafarers has meant that the task to attract new talent is made even more difficult.
This audience is well aware that despite the ongoing pandemic and the difficult circumstances, the global maritime transport sector has continued to deliver vital goods.
Unfortunately, the price for the continued service was largely paid by seafarers who, in a significant number of cases, continue to have difficulties in being repatriated to join their families after sometimes extremely long times at sea or not being able to join ships with the resulting loss of income.
IMO continues to work tirelessly to deal with the challenges by means of its multi‑pronged approach, including policy development, working together with UN agencies and industry partnerships.
Although there have been significant improvements, some difficulties persist. The evolving situation with the Omicron and other variants has shown that we need to continue to collaborate to address crew change issues and ensure seafarers’ health and wellbeing.
We must not relent in our efforts to facilitate international travel for crew change purposes, including getting vaccinations and boosters as well as access to medical facilities when needed. If we do not assure the rights and well-being of seafarers, we will not be able to retain the existing seafarers in the profession and certainly not be in a position to attract any new additions to the industry.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Seafarers truly are at the core of shipping. Without them – shipping simply does not function. However, it is important to remember that employment in the maritime transport sector spans many careers in addition to the seafarers who work on board ships.
There are many and diverse maritime specializations and skills that support the industry and the global supply chain ranging from law, economics, engineering, piloting, administration and beyond. The challenges to employment and skills in the European maritime transport and services sector are shared globally.
Together we can work to overcome the challenges including advocating the many laudable professions in the industry as well as the advantages of the transferability of maritime training and skills to jobs on land and in other industries to attract more interest in maritime training.
To ensure the human element is fully integrated in our work and given the importance it deserves, the IMO Assembly, in December 2021, revised the Organization’s Strategic Plan to now include the Human Element as a key Strategic Direction, providing a framework for enhanced engagement. I urge all stakeholders to join us in ensuring that the people working in our industry remain at the centre of everything we do.
We all know that training seafarers is crucial and that their skills need to be continually updated to adapt to evolving trends.
IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee will be considering a proposal to comprehensively review the convention on Standards for training and certification of seafarers.
The review will provide an opportunity to consider the requirements as shipping transitions to become more sustainable, with the introduction of new fuels to meet emission targets and increasing use of new technologies.
The maritime professionals must be trained to the high level of skills needed for this transition. Addressing employment and skills gaps requires concerted and collaborative efforts. The maritime professional of the future will need new and different skills than in the past.
We must rise to the challenge and create that workforce that will operate the green ships of the future safely, and securely. I am sure that together, we can do it.
The lack of diversity in the shipping sector is another matter that has to be addressed with priority. While there are positive signs of improvement, the reality is that women still make up a very small proportion of all seafarers.
We all need to delve further into the reasons why this is so and seek solutions. IMO has been working to improve the number of women participating in the industry with our flag-ship women in maritime programme.
IMO has also recently designated the 18th of May as the annual International Day for Women in Maritime.
The inaugural day in May of this year will kickstart IMO’s push to promote the recruitment, retention and sustained employment of women in the maritime sector; raise the profile of women in maritime; strengthen IMO’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 – gender equality – and support work to address the current gender imbalance in maritime industry.
I invite all stakeholders to support this day with appropriate activities and events, affording it the publicity it deserves in order to catalyze positive action in this regard.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This year’s World Maritime Theme is “New technologies for greener shipping”, highlighting IMO’s commitment to support the transition of the maritime sector to a sustainable green future through technological innovation.
“New technologies for greener shipping” opens up a bigger conversation about the direction of shipping’s future and how technologies can be harnessed for a more sustainable shipping, as we work to build back better and greener in a post-pandemic world.
The contribution and importance of the people at the centre of shipping cannot be ignored and will be essential for the global recovery and renewal as we look to the future.
Let’s all work together for a better future of all maritime personnel and for the industry.