TBY talks to Kitack Lim, Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), on overcoming economic headwinds in 2016, creating a forum for a more sustainable sector, and strategies to be expected in the future.

 Kitack Lim
Kitack Lim is the Secretary-General of the IMO. Born in Masan, Lim graduated from the Korea Maritime and Ocean University (KMOU), Busan and worked on ships before joining the Korea Maritime and Port Administration in 1985. From 1986, Lim participated in the Republic of Korea delegation to IMO meetings. In 2006, he was appointed as Maritime Attaché, Minister-Counselor at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in London, and served as Deputy Permanent Representative to IMO until August 2009. In 2012, he became President of Busan Port Authority. Lim holds master’s degrees from the Graduate School of Administration, Yonsei University, and the World Maritime University (WMU).

2016 saw a difficult period for the companies and ports that operate within the seaborne trade. How has the IMO incentivized activity while margins continue to be squeezed?

We can all recognize that in these uncertain times, the only real certainty is that the way ahead will be challenging. As a United Nations agency, our role is not to incentivize activity but to develop and adopt a global regulatory regime for shipping that embraces the highest practicable standards of maritime safety and security, efficiency of navigation, and prevention and control of pollution from ships. This is backed by an extensive program of technical assistance and capacity building, to ensure that, once adopted, the standards can be implemented evenly and effectively. There is no room to cut corners when it comes to safety and protecting the environment. Statistics show a continuing upward trend in trade by ship. In 2015, estimated world seaborne trade volumes surpassed 10 billion tons according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development Review of Maritime Transport. Nonetheless, over-capacity has kept freight and charter rates low.

How can the IMO ensure efforts toward sustainability are unified and bridge vested interests?

IMO provides a forum where all stakeholders can come together to review proposed regulations and guidance. All member states have equal status at IMO meetings. And international non-governmental organizations, representing a wide variety of interests from ship owners to environmental groups, can participate fully in meetings as observers. When a technical sub-committee is discussing a very specific piece of technical regulation, all interests can be considered during the decision-making process. Shipping does need to meet the challenge of remaining sustainable while meeting the increasingly stringent demands of global society in terms of safety and environmental performance. The world is no longer prepared to accept services or industries that are simply cost-effective. We now demand them to be safe, green, and clean, as well as efficient. Through IMO, governments have sought to ensure that shipping responds to this challenge and the significant improvements in casualty and pollution figures from ships over several decades clearly show that we have achieved considerable success in this regard. What we see at IMO is a common interest in developing regulations that are applied globally to all ships, and we see a strong desire to work together so that no one is left behind.

What can we expect from the thrust of the IMO's 2018-2023 strategic framework?

The IMO has been undertaking an important strategic planning exercise to present the next IMO Assembly, to be held at the end of 2017 with a proposed new strategic framework for the 2018-2023 period. So far, a number of specific strategic directions for the organization have been identified. The first is a continued focus on improving implementation. IMO has developed more than 50 international treaties and related standards, which must be implemented by member states as they have the obligation to ratify and implement the international treaty instruments that are adopted as IMO conventions. We need to ensure that regulations are effectively, efficiently, and consistently implemented and enforced. A second major priority is new technology, so balancing the benefits against careful regulatory consideration, as mentioned already. In the future, I do expect technology will create a more interconnected and efficient industry, more closely integrated with the whole global supply chain. Responding to climate change will continue to be a vital strategic direction for IMO. IMO will continue to develop appropriate, ambitious, and realistic solutions to minimize shipping's contribution to air pollution and its impact on climate change. A further strategic goal will be to help international shipping operate more effectively from an administrative perspective. By this, we mean addressing things like arrival and departure formalities, documentation, and certification, and generally reducing the administrative burdens that surround ship operation. Finally, we plan to increase the overall effectiveness of IMO, and in this I include the member states,NGOs, donors, and the secretariat—indeed all the many stakeholders in the organization as a whole.