An Industry Initiative for Pollution Prevention and Safety at Sea: the Helmepa Model

The Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association of Greece is willing to assist towards the establishment of a similar organisation in Russia with the title «Rosmepa». Helmepa plans to participate in the NEVA 2005 Exhibition and is co-operating closely with the organisers to maximise their presentation and intends to offer a Key-Note Paper to the NEVA 2005 Conference Programme.

More than two decades ago environmental concerns were neither as widespread nor as fashionable as they are nowadays. This fact makes the creation of the Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association, known as Helmepa, in 1982 and its subsequent development even more remarkable.

Helmepa is both a creation and an integral part of the Greek maritime community. It was founded on 4th June 1982, when the Panhellenic Seamen's Federation and the Union of Greek Shipowners, representing the human element in Greek shipping, signed a Declaration of Voluntary Commitment «To Save the Seas».

In their Declaration, seafarers and shipowners publicly accepted their industry's share of responsibility. They declared that «Ship-generated marine pollution is only a component of the total marine pollution problem but one that can be virtually eliminated with sufficient care and effort». They further stated that even the most widely accepted International Conventions and national laws couldn’t be effectively implemented until every sector of the shipping industry is committed to a joint effort. Such a commitment, they declared, would be effective only through a concerted voluntary effort to educate, inform and motivate all involved, «from shipowner to the last seafarer».

This Declaration, which announced Helmepa to the world and provided the Association with its founding charter, was very much the brainchild of a single man, the late Greek shipowner George P. Livanos. He strongly believed that protection of the oceans could not be attained without the personal involvement and commitment of all those prospering from the marine environment. Thus, he managed to convince Greek seafarers and shipowners to set aside their differences and join forces in the protection of the marine environment.

To ensure that this initiative would remain true to its objectives, the following five international organizations endorsed the document as sponsors of the idea: Club of Rome, IUCN, WWF, IOI and IIED.

Supported by its volunteer members, Helmepa has been implementing its Declaration since 1982 with consistency and transparency. True to its basic principles to operate as a non-governmental and non-profit making organization, the Association focuses on the education and motivation of the human element in shipping, keeping its distance from politics and business promotion.

The financial operation of Helmepa is sustained only by the annual fees of its members, 500 ocean-going vessels and 170 companies and organizations in Greece and abroad. The 13,000 Greek seafarers-members, being the driving force of Helmepa, do not contribute financially.

Helmepa promotes the International Maritime Organization's objective for «Safe, Secure and Efficient Ships in Clean Seas» and supports the requirements of all International Conventions addressing marine environment protection and safety at sea that Greece has ratified. The Association participates in all MSC and MEPC meetings at IMO as a member of the Greek Delegation.

The Association offers its members voluntary refresher training programs both ashore and onboard ships. The syllabus of these programs is constructed annually based on IMO legislation, maritime accidents, relevant data from port state control and MoUs, as well as the experience of participants themselves. The Association's 2005 training program, which is being implemented with the support of Lloyd's Register, one of Helmepa's oldest Associate Members, is titled «Complying with Pollution Prevention, Safety and Security Requirements».

About 15,000 persons have attended Helmepa seminars between 1983 and 2004 and have received the Association's Certificate of Attendance, which enjoys the respect of Port States and shipping organizations worldwide and is regarded by the holder as a reward for his/her proactive spirit.

Helmepa provides its members with a wide variety of special audiovisual material, such as motivational posters and placards, operations checklists, videos, software programs and publications on MARPOL and SOLAS. Moreover, in cooperation with major PSC authorities, such as the US Coast Guard and AMSA, the Association has produced a number of bilingual publications to Helmepa member vessels to fully comply with national requirements when trading in these countries.

Leading in an international effort to combine rules and regulations with voluntary will towards pollution prevention and enhanced safety at sea, Helmepa promoted the establishment of the following sister Organizations based on the Association’s Declaration: Cymepa in Cyprus, Britmepa in the UK, Turmepa in Turkey, Urumepa in Uruguay, Philmepa in the Philippines and Ausmepa in Australia. Currently there is interest in the founding of similar Associations in the Black Sea region.

Aiming at the widest possible motivation within the Greek community, Helmepa has been conducting since 1983 annual public awareness campaigns using means such as environmental exhibitions in various parts of the country, voluntary beach cleanups, TV spots, printed material and schoolchildren poster contests.

The symbol of this initiative is the Helmepa «Seagull», which every year reminds the general public in Greece to keep the country's seas and beaches clean from garbage. Helmepa's 2004 summer campaign was conducted with the support of UNEP and included a Seagull poster and an informative pamphlet in Greek and English titled «Be a Champ in the protection of our seas from pollution».

The Association operates two environmental Exhibitions hosted by member-companies in Athens and Piraeus, which are visited by schoolchildren on Helmepa's expenses. Based on the schoolchildren's request to help in the protection of the marine environment, in 1993 the Association initiated Helmepa Junior, an environmental education program operating on an annual basis throughout Greece with the participation of 3,500 schoolchildren, aged 5-13, divided in Groups of 10.

Helmepa Junior offers volunteering schoolchildren the opportunity to obtain a «hands-on» environmental education by performing a wide range of activities concerning the protection of the marine environment. At the same time, through the activities they perform and with their enthusiasm and directness, these children become the best couriers of sound environmental messages within their local communities throughout the country.

The next step forward for Helmepa Junior is to lead the way for the creation of a network of schoolchildren from countries where other Mepas exist. Within this context, joint drawing contests have been implemented with the junior programs of Cymepa and Turmepa. Furthermore, in October 2004 an exchange of visits took place between children-members of Helmepa Junior and Turmepa from the island of Chios in Greece and Cesme in Turkey.

The following remarks of the Secretary General/IMO Mr. E. Mitropoulos on the latter initiative, in his opening address at 52 MEPC (11 October 2004), are indicative: «…. The latest information from the MEPA movement highlighting the friendly ties between its associations, according to which Greek children cleaned up a beach in Cesme in Turkey and Turkish children reciprocated by cleaning a beach on the Greek island of Chios, throws a new light on, and adds a new dimension to the campaign to save the seas and preserve the beaches in a pristine condition – and, therefore, deserves a special mention. It also shows the way we should see and use the seas: as bridges to unite and keep peoples together. May the example of the Greek and Turkish children find followers, not only in the two countries, but in the entire world. We will then be able to say that there is hope – and with the hope, the vision and dream of a better world, a world of peace and love, will come closer to fruition – for our children and the children of their children».

For further information on the aims and activities of Helmepa you may visit the Association's website.

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# 4(10), 2004
Shipping