Maritime CEOOperations

IMO: The vital role education will play in determining shipping’s future

Ahead of his keynote speaking slot at next week’s World Congress on Maritime Heritage in Singapore, Kitack Lim, secretary-general of the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO), takes some time out of his busy schedule to speak with Maritime CEO on the issue of education.

Lim, 63, has been in the top post at IMO since 2016, presiding over some of the most momentous regulatory changes to hit shipping in generations. Today, however, he is keen to discuss how shipping can engage with the public better and inspire the next generation to enter the business.

“Studies have shown the sector continues to need more trained people, particularly seafarers,” Lim says. “So I am keen to continue to join in efforts to inspire the next generation to learn about the maritime world, to see how shipping really impacts on their lives and their livelihoods – and to consider taking up education, training and a career in the maritime world.”

Promoting maritime heritage can be one way to encourage people to think about careers in shipping, hence the secretary-general’s willingness to fly out to Singapore for the first World Congress on Maritime Heritage kicking off next Wednesday, which will bring a diverse global array of maritime stakeholders together with the aim of securing a sustainable future through better understanding of our common maritime heritage.

“Connecting an interest in heritage with the issues of today, to create the same interest in the maritime future as in the maritime past, could be one way to support greater public awareness of shipping and perhaps plant the seed in a young person’s mind which could grow into a passion to seek a career in the maritime sector,” Lim says.

Still, the industry cannot rely on looking at past glories to attract new talent, something not lost on the IMO boss.

“We also need to showcase shipping as a sector very much in the present, facing up to challenges such as increased automation, dealing with climate change and addressing plastic in the oceans,” the Korean national says.

It is also very important, Lim says, to promote the maritime sector as a career choice for female and male candidates. This year, the IMO World Maritime Day theme is ‘Empowering women in the maritime community’, something the secretary-general discusses in more depth in the video released yesterday and carried at the end of this article.

“Shipping may have been male-dominated in the past, but gender equality is recognised as one of the key platforms on which people can build a sustainable future. Having more women in the workplace in the maritime sector will be beneficial for all,” Lim tells Maritime CEO.

Returning to the subject of maritime heritage, Maritime CEO asks whether the IMO could help pioneer a UNESCO-type preservation award for maritime places.

“That is certainly an interesting idea,” Lim says, adding: “I would say that UNESCO has more experience and expertise in this area.”

IMO has links with UNESCO as a sister UN organisation, and in particular with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO).

There are already links with the IMO designation of protected sea areas, through the Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) designation. Several IMO designated PSSAs encompass UNESCO World Heritage marine sites and IMO adopted associated protective measures such as areas to be avoided or ship’s routeing schemes help to protect those areas.

“I am sure we will continue to explore different ideas in the future,” Lim concludes.


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  1. On one hand we have governmental authorities stressing that the pool of potential mariners is shrinking and that we need to encourage young people to go to sea; – on the other hand we have industry leaders and CEO’s who are actively pushing for autonomous ships and reducing their overall labor costs. It’s a especially disingenuous, especially to young people just starting out – to suggest and encourage them to spend time and money to get a degree, study hard for tests in order to get their licenses to sail; only to have the industry tell them that their days on the ocean are effectively numbered. The coming labor shortage of mariners is a creation of the industry itself!

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