Report 125th Anniversary Antwerp Conference
The Comité Maritime International’s 125th anniversary (and XLIII) Conference was held in Antwerp, Belgium (the CMI’s birthplace) between the 18th and 21st of October 2022. The meeting took place in the Elisabeth Hall of the Flanders Meeting and Convention Centre with approximately 400 delegates in attendance. It was wonderful to see so many good friends in person, and in such a beautiful venue, after three years of pandemic.
The formal opening session to inaugurate the Conference took place on the morning of Thursday, 20 October 2022. However, those delegates who arrived early on 18 October 2022, had the opportunity to visit CMI headquarters in the impressive Belgian Shipowners’ Association Building, as well as tour the Eugene Van Mieghem Museum on the ground floor of the building. Thereafter, delegates had the pleasure of attending a pre-conference “welcome aboard” champagne and oyster reception at La Riva, a striking and unique marble and velvet private function venue which at one point served as the “soup kitchen” for dock workers in the Port of Antwerp.
On 19 October 2022, delegates had the opportunity to observe and participate in CMI International Working Group and Standing Committee meetings. The meetings were opened to all delegates and took place at various law firms and shipping companies in Antwerp. Delegates were able to witness first-hand the relevant and useful work which is performed by maritime law experts who volunteer countless hours to promote uniformity of maritime law (as they have done so for the last 125 years — incidentally, the theme of the XLIII Conference), which continues to be the raison d’etre of the CMI.
The opening speeches on the morning of 20 October 2022 were delivered by CMI President Christopher O. Davis, Belgian Maritime Law Association President, Vincent Fransen, International Maritime Organization Secretary General Kitack Lim, and Belgian Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Justice and the North Sea, Vincent Van Quickenborne. The speeches focused on the illustrious history of the CMI, the just published 50-year history of the CMI which delegates received a copy of during the Conference registration process, the continued relevance of the CMI and its recent collaboration with IMO and UNCITRAL on important subjects of interest to the international maritime community, and the close bond which continues to exist between the CMI and Port of Antwerp (as evidenced by the seven international conferences which have been held there between 1897 and 2022).
The opening speeches were followed by the Berlingieri Lecture which was delivered by Past President Patrick Griggs and provided an abbreviated history of the CMI during its 125 years of existence (which can be found on the CMI’s website and is included as a prologue to the 50-year history). At the conclusion of the Berlingieri Lecture, Past President Griggs was conferred the honour of President Ad Honorem for his numerous contributions to the CMI and the international maritime community, and Past Vice President Giorgio Berlingieri was conferred the honour of Vice President Honoris Causa for his many contributions to the CMI, including co-authoring the CMI’s 50-year history (along with Immediate Past President Stuart Hetherington). Both were presented with inscribed silver salvers to commemorate the honours bestowed.
The formal Conference work programme was held on 20 and 21 October 2022, and included sessions on Judicial Sales of Ships, Polar Shipping, Electronic Transport Records, Maritime Law Issues in Courts, Young CMI sessions on Wrongful Arrest and Sanctions, Fair Treatment of Seafarers, Unified Interpretation on the Standard to Break Limitation of Liability, Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships, and presentations by Young CMI Essay and IMLI Prize Winners.
Additional social events for delegates and accompanying partners included a wonderful welcome reception at the Botanic Sanctuary on 19 October 2022, the traditional Gala Dinner on 20 October 2022 at the beautiful Marble Hall in the Flanders Meeting and Convention Centre, and a memorable farewell cocktail reception at the Felix Pakhuis on Friday evening, 21 October 2022.
A Plenary was convened on Friday morning, 21 October 2022, to approve the new General Average Guidelines and Security Wordings, following up on the work of the GA Standing Committee in New York in 2016. Both the GA Guidelines and Security Wordings were unanimously approved by the Plenary and Assembly which followed immediately after lunch. The Assembly also approved important amendments to the CMI’s Constitution which will allow us to remain compliant with Belgian law and provide more flexibility to conduct Assemblies virtually and by correspondence. The Assembly received updated reports from IWG/SC Chairs and Treasurer and Head Office Director Peter Verstuyft (who stepped down after 7 years of faithful and invaluable service, and received an inscribed silver salver as a token of our appreciation), elected 18 new Titulary Members, and approved the Nominating Committee’s report recommending the election of Ann Fenech as President, John O’Connor as Vice President, Funke Agbor as Executive Councillor, Frank Stevens as Treasurer, Tomotaka Fujita as a member of the Nominating Committee, and the reappointment of Lawrence Teh as Administrator.
We thank the Belgian MLA, its Board of Directors, Organising Committee, and President, Vincent Fransen, for hosting the CMI’s 125th anniversary Conference, which by all accounts was a memorable and successful meeting. Our thanks also go to Sofie Philips and Astrid Dedrie of Medicongress, the Ghent-based professional conference organiser, and our Head Office Manager, Evelien Peeters, who spent countless hours ensuring the success of this Conference.
Finally, I wish to express my gratitude to the current and past members of the Executive Council with whom I have had the pleasure of serving as Councillor, Vice President and President over the past 17 years. It has been an honour and a privilege, and certainly the highlight of my 43-year legal career. As mentioned at the conclusion of my opening remarks inaugurating the CMI’s 125th anniversary Conference, I very much look forward to seeing you again in Antwerp 25 years from now, in 2047, when we gather to celebrate the CMI’s 150th anniversary!
Christopher O. Davis