International Symposium on Safety and Protection of the Marine Environment in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Your Excellency Dato’ Sri Ong Tee Keat, The Honorable Minister of Transport of Malaysia, Distinguished representatives of the littoral States, the International Maritime Organization and the shipping industry, Ladies and gentlemen.

As one of the organizers of this international symposium on safety and protection of the marine environment in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, I extend a very warm welcome to all of you.
It is a great honour to address you this morning.

I also express my thanks to the Round Table of International Shipping Associations for their efforts, and particularly to Mr. Spyros Polemis, who is representing them today.

I am convinced that this symposium is unique in the sense it is organized by non- State entities, namely The Nippon Foundation and the Round Table for the first time under support from the IMO and the littoral States and that the Round Table is proactive in seeking solutions to enhance safety and protection of the marine environmental in the Straits.

I commend the Round Table for its clear-sighted decision to take part, and express my delight at The Nippon Foundation’s own participation. This symposium will be a significant step toward enhancing safety and protection of the marine environment in the Straits, and will contribute to the stability of the global economy.

Some 400 years ago, the Dutch jurist, Grotius, advocated the principle of “the freedom of the seas.”
He saw the seas as an infinite resource that anyone could exploit freely and no-one could regulate its usage. International trade had flourished at the expense of the marine environment.
However, such thinking is becoming outdated.

The oceans are where life on earth began. They sustain us today. Yet as human activity expands, our insatiable desires threaten to turn them into a garbage dump.

We who utilize and benefit from the oceans must start to think of them as a finite resource.
If we are to pass on safe and healthy seas to future generations, we must reduce the burden on the marine environment. We must stem the deterioration of the natural eco-system.

Managing safety and protection of the marine environment in the Straits is a vital part of this.
It is of critical importance for the sustainable development of both the regional and global economies.

About 94,000 vessels transit the Straits annually. This greatly exceeds the number passing through the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal. The Straits are the busiest stretch of water in the world.

Year on year, the volume of traffic for each user states is increasing. Vessels are getting bigger and faster. The volume of oil, gas and chemicals being transported is rising. With traffic in the Straits expanding, the risk of accidents still remains, although the shipping industry has made commendable efforts to comply with the international regulations.

The Straits are long and narrow, and present many challenges for navigational safety. However, they are the main artery of international trade between Asia and Africa and the Middle East. Other routes for oil and gas require more time, cost more and are riskier. Keeping the Straits open and efficient is crucial for the common benefits for the global community. To ensure this, safety and protection of the marine environment are fundamental.

Most of the Straits’ area is the territorial waters of the littoral States. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, the littoral States are responsible for ensuring navigational safety by maintaining aids to navigation. But as more ships pass through, the burden of this responsibility is becoming too great to be borne by the littoral States alone.

If there were an accident in which lives were lost, cargoes destroyed and the seas polluted, the value of the Straits to the global community along with the shipping company’s credibility would deteriorate. An oil spill would require vast sums of money to be spent on cleaning up the environment. The disruption of oil and gas transport would affect millions of people in energy-importing nations.

Users of the Straits must also keep in mind the potential impact of their activities on the local economies. I had a chance to observe this waterway from the deck of a ship.I was surprised by the large number of fishing boats operating alongside the passing tankers. In the Straits, many coastal communities work and live.Users of the Straits must be mindful that their actions affect local lives and livelihoods, such as fisheries or tourism.

Should users of the Straits like to ensure navigational safety, cooperation between the littoral States, user States and non-State entities is increasingly needed. As corporate activities expand globally, there is a need to more subjectively address problems along with regional communities.

Companies have a duty to respond if their activities affect the coastal communities of the littoral States. More to the point, they need to take preventive measures against accidents with an aim to ensure peaceful local lives by contributing to safety and the protection of the marine environment.

I have long been urging them to become involved in this field from the standpoint of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Nowadays, many companies see CSR as an investment with long-term benefits, rather than as an expenditure. This is particularly true where protection of the marine environment is concerned. I believe that by cooperating voluntarily with regional stakeholders in this way, users of the Straits can make the Straits safer.

But can users of the Straits practice CSR simply by complying with existing norms and conventions?
Can they fulfil their obligations merely by spending money to meet international standards and regulations?

The Nippon Foundation has long cooperated with the littoral States on safety and protection of the marine environmental. If this has helped to make them safer to navigate, then we are glad. But it would be a great disappointment if our efforts have enabled users to avoid their own responsibilities.

I believe that the shipping industry should not only comply with the existing customs and regulations, but must also consider the effects their activities on the marine environment.

It is too late to act once a serious accident occurs. Timely intervention today will prevent the possibility of a disaster tomorrow. It will assure that the life of the coastal communities is not disrupted. Users of the Straits must acknowledge their Corporate Social Responsibility and act. They must not leave the task to future generations.

In terms of what users can do to cooperate with the littoral States, the obvious area is in the maintenance and replacement of aids to navigation. Because companies actually use these aids to navigation, they are also the most likely to damage them.

CSR activities contribute to profits in the long run. Thus, I suggest that contributions by the shipping industry to safety and protection of the marine environment in the Straits be seen as benefit sharing rather than burden sharing. As the benefits to the international community become apparent, this will further enhance cooperation between the littoral States, user States, and non-State entities.

The Co-operative Mechanism was established in 2007 through collaboration between the IMO and the littoral States. The Co-operative Mechanism has also established the Aids to Navigation Fund as a means to receive voluntary contributions from various non-State entities besides user States. This represents a significant step toward the establishment of an international framework of cooperation for navigational safety in the Straits.

To make the Co-operative Mechanism really work, strengthened cooperation between the littoral States, user States, and non-State entities is needed. As the Straits are a unique international crossroads, I believe we can arrive at a common understanding over their future.

It may not be possible to directly copy our Co-operative Mechanism and Aids to Navigation Fund in other international straits. This is because of the special characteristics of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Yet I believe that we are providing an example that can be applied in other fields, showing how to solve problems through the voluntary contributions of stakeholders.

The Nippon Foundation has already announced it will cover one third of the operating costs of the Aids to Navigation Fund for the first five years, in order to play an active role as a non-State entity. Early next year, we are planning to contribute two point five million US dollars, based on the results of the assessment survey conducted by the littoral States. This assumes that all arrangements for the Aids to Navigation Fund have been completed. I would be happy if our contribution accelerates the realization of the common goal for the Straits.

Before I close, I should note that preparations for this symposium began just one year ago with a meeting in Athens in October 2007 with Mr. Fistes, chairman of Intertanko, and a meeting in London in December 2007 with the Round Table of International Shipping Associations.

I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has made this symposium possible, and to all of you for participating today.