Kitack Lim: The Essence of International Regulation

Kitack Lim

By MarEx 2016-06-30 18:55:09

Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary-General, delivered an IMarEST Founders lecture in June where he outlined how he views the regulatory environment that IMO of the future.

“IMO – originally known as the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) – was born into a world weary from war and in which the old colonial powers still held sway in terms of global prosperity and trade. As a consequence, these were also major powers in shipping and, as the leading maritime nations, they tended to create their own standards with regard to vessel construction, safety, manning and so on. 

“But, in 1948, only three years after the creation of the United Nations, a new spirit of global unity was in the air and the first glimpses of a new world order were on the horizon.

“It was also gradually becoming generally accepted that a situation in which each shipping nation had its own maritime laws was counterproductive to ensuring the seamless flow of traffic and promoting safety in shipping operations worldwide,” says Lim.

“There was, therefore, an inescapable logic in favor of a framework of international standards to regulate shipping – standards which could be adopted by all and accepted by all.”

Lim spoke on the fundamental nature of the regulatory imperative. “What is the philosophy that underpins the regulatory framework within which shipping operates? Do we, for example, regulate in such a way that the latest technology, the best technology currently available, is required across the whole fleet, thereby raising standards universally or equally?

“Or do we want regulations that go further? Do we want regulations that challenge the engineers, the naval architects, the designers, to push the envelope of technology ever further? Do we want regulations that stretch the current boundaries of technological possibility?

“Looking ahead, I believe that technology really does hold the key to a sustainable future. I'm not suggesting there will be one single breakthrough that will solve the problem at a stroke; no silver bullet or killer app. But I think what we will see is real progress brought about by the cumulative effect of a world of marginal gains in all areas of human activity.”

The regulatory framework for shipping, adopted by IMO, embraces what are deemed to be the highest possible standards that can be applied universally, says Lim. But, of course, that doesn't stop others from embracing higher standards should they choose to do so.

“There is nothing wrong with individual countries applying higher or more stringent standards to their own vessels, but they must also recognize the validity of the universal standards that apply to all ships. The very essence of international regulation, and one of the foundations on which IMO is built, is that no advantage should be gained either by cutting corners or by unilaterally imposing higher standards.”

Lim believes that the IMO’s regulatory framework will need continual adjustment to keep pace with technology. “The philosophical shift in favor of goal-based standards, initially for ship construction, is important in this respect, as it allows for innovative new ways to meet the agreed goals to be developed without having to re-write the rule book every time.”

Lim also highlighted key areas of IMO activity including:

•    Climate change and vessel data collection 
•    the development of goal-based standards for vessel construction
•    the safety of passenger vessels – both the giant modern cruise ships of today and the domestic ferries on which so many in the developing world depend
•    the implementation of the Ballast Water Management Convention
•    the application of the Polar Code, which becomes mandatory from the beginning of next year
•    the development of e-navigation, and
•    the continuing efforts to address security, piracy and other maritime crime.

As part of the United Nations family, IMO is actively working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that world leaders pledged to support in 2015 last year. Most of the elements of that Agenda will only be realized with a sustainable transport sector supporting world trade and facilitating global economy, says Lim.

The full lecture is available here.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.