By Koji Sekimizu, Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization
The incidents over the holiday period involving the vessels Norman Atlantic and Blue Sky M have reminded us once again how perilous a voyage at sea can be. Although fundamentally different in nature, both saw human lives placed at risk in difficult and challenging circumstances.
My deepest condolences go to all those who have been caught up in these incidents, especially those who have lost their loved ones. I should also like to express my sincere appreciation for all those who have been, and continue to be, involved in the rescue operations, notably the Italian and Greek authorities, and especially the two Albanian seafarers who tragically lost their own lives during the operation to secure the stricken ferry Norman Atlantic. As we begin the new year, we must all rededicate ourselves to ensuring the safety if all those who live, work and travel on the world’s oceans.
2014 will be remembered as another year of very serious maritime casualties involving passenger ships, with the tragedy of Sewol and the fire aboard the Norman Atlantic. IMO must take action to investigate these maritime accidents and improve safety standards of passenger ships. In this context, I urge IMO member governments to review the current level of safety standards of passenger ships at the Maritime Safety Committee in June and discuss how we could strengthen our system and prevent such very serious maritime accidents involving passenger ships in future. I urge the authorities of Italy and Greece to accelerate the process of the casualty investigation and submit findings to IMO as soon as possible.
On the issue of maritime migrants on board Blue Sky M, the international community must take action now to address the people-smugglers that are behind this sort of migration and consider ways to prevent similar incidents of sending hundreds of migrants on unlawful and unregulated sea passages. As I declared at the High Level Dialogue organised by the UN High Commission for Refugees in December, I am convening an inter-agency meeting at IMO Headquarters in March to address smugglers behind maritime migrants and consider effective measures to prevent migrants taking unlawful and unregulated sea passages.
The international community must take action to address maritime migration in the twenty-first century.