IMO's Chief Remembers Titanic Victims

International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu's video message for April 14 recalls the great ship's sinking a century ago.

In a video message, International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu remembered the more than 1,500 people who died when the Titanic sank 100 years ago while acknowledging the need for continual improvement in the safety of ships at sea. The video is available here.

"One hundred years ago today, 14th of April, Titanic struck an iceberg while on her maiden voyage between Europe and the United States. Within a few hours, more than 1,500 people had perished in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic, transforming what was then the world's most celebrated ship into a name forever associated with disaster," Sekimizu says in the video.

"The Titanic disaster prompted the major shipping nations of the world at that time to take decisive action to address maritime safety. It led to the adoption of the first international convention on safety of life at sea, SOLAS, in 1914. The International Maritime Organization can trace its own roots back to the Titanic disaster. In its aftermath, the requirement for an international standard-setting body to oversee maritime safety became apparent, and the safety at sea remains the core objective of IMO.

"Today, in 2012, although much updated and revised, the SOLAS is still the most important international treaty instrument addressing maritime safety. It now forms part of a comprehensive regulatory framework covering almost every aspect of ship design, construction, operation, and manning. The spirit and determination of all those who have labored to create this framework should be acknowledged and given credit.

"Over 100 years, we have seen tremendous improvements in the safety record of shipping. But new generations of vessels bring fresh challenges and, even today, accidents still occur, reinforcing the need for continual improvement. Our efforts to promote maritime safety and, in particular, to avoid such disasters befalling passenger ships as Titanic, will never end. Today, on the 100th anniversary of that disaster, let us remember those who lost their lives in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic on that fateful night of 14 April 1912 and reflect on the dangers and perils still associated with sea voyages today.

"I urge IMO member governments and the shipping industry as a whole to refresh our determination to improve and enhance the safety of passenger ships, today and into the future."

Lloyd's also noted the gains in maritime safety in an April 13 article about the impact of both Titanic and the Costa Concordia. (Titanic was insured for £1 million by Lloyd's market and became one of its biggest losses.)

"Certainly if you consider the number of fatalities or cases of bodily injury by passenger mile, shipping is an extremely safe method of transport," Mark Edmondson, chairman of the joint hull committee and hull class underwriter at Chubb Syndicate 1882, said in the article. "However, there are of course territories where local regulation is looser than in others, in some parts of the Far East and Middle East for example. This often results in a significantly worse safety regime and culture in those territories, and unfortunately over the years we have seen a number of major casualties, including significant loss of life."

Shipping losses have decreased from one ship per 100 per year in 1912 to one ship per 670 per year in 2009, according to the article.

"The Costa Concordia casualty will of course raise a number of issues as to cause and the management of serious cruise vessel incidents, and many of these will no doubt be highlighted through formal and industry investigations," Edmondson said. "In fact, there is precedent within the cruise vessel industry that shows operators adopting an active response by learning from its casualty experience. Modifications that were introduced following the Star Princess fire in 2006 are one example of the industry undertaking decisive risk management action, while the new muster policy adopted by vessel operators post-Concordia is a more recent example." The muster policy requires cruise ships to conduct lifeboat drills before departing from shore.

"It is a widely quoted statistic that over 50 percent of maritime casualties are caused through human error," Edmonson said. "Improving the training, retention and performance of deck and engineering staff is, to my mind, a priority for the shipping and insurance industries."

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