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Kenya’s Amb. Nancy Karigithu could be the next IMO Secretary General

With the tenure of IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim ending this year, the agency has set in motion the process of searching for a successor. One of the contenders for the position is Nancy Karigithu, currently Kenya’s Ambassador and Special Envoy for Shipping and Blue Economy.

Both Kenya’s President and the African Union have already endorsed Amb. Karigithu’s IMO candidacy. However, her endeavor to lead IMO comes at a time the agency is facing backlash from some maritime stakeholders. There is a feeling that IMO is failing to foster a global consensus on some of the critical issues troubling the shipping industry.

Amb. Nancy Karigithu recently met with TME contributor Brian Gicheru to discuss her grand plans for IMO, including her proposals for accelerating the decarbonization of shipping.

What is your campaign strategy to revitalize IMO?

For Member States and the industry, my vision is to undertake actions to ensure that IMO remains as a member state-driven organization, in line with the dreams of its founding members. Overall, I will maintain IMO as neutral, transparent, proactive and efficient, based on mutual respect, fairness, equity and justice. The output should be greater confidence and satisfaction with the organization from Member States, industry and stakeholders.

For the secretariat and staff, I will ensure promotion of merit, recognition of talent and hard work as well as equal treatment for all staff while working together as one United Nations family. This is because a more vibrant, happy and engaged workforce will be both productive and motivated and thus deliver over and above what is expected.

The maritime industry is on the cusp of a transition to cleaner fuels. How will you ensure this transition is accelerated and in a manner that is fair to all IMO member states?

Incentivizing the availability and scalability of low and zero-carbon marine fuels and technologies is paramount. This should be coupled with the ability of all Member States to take part in the transition. In parallel, we must not lose sight of safety, and therefore there is a need to examine all measures required to address emerging safety concerns related to the use of alternative fuels.

Human capital in this subject, supported by capacity building and training is of utmost importance. The maritime workforce ought to be well equipped as we chart the way forward towards decarbonizing international shipping.


The availability of viability gap funding is crucial. Developed regions hosting international financial institutions and corporations aiming to invest in the shipping sector should endeavor to support region-specific pilot trials. This will also support bankable pilot projects. In so doing, uptake will be accelerated and first movers can be incentivized.

I further propose promoting pilot trials of alternate fuels and studies looking at the safety of these fuels as soon as possible. This could be done by forging partnerships between fuel producers, shipping companies, class societies and engine manufacturers. The Global MTCC Network (GMN) spearheaded by the IMO could be a significant player in supporting this transition.

As Secretary General, defining and achieving a just, fair, and equitable energy transition will be my utmost priority. IMO, as the United Nations global agency responsible for the regulation of shipping, has the best means of convening the right stakeholders. I have the willingness and drive to make this happen.

How do you plan to make the IMO regulatory process faster to respond to challenges like climate change?

I can appreciate the concern as it relates to the slow regulatory process. However, I do not think it is deliberate considering the diverse national interests of the 175 Members States of the IMO.

As to how I will make the process faster, I will firstly impress on Members the impact of climate change and the need for urgent action.

Secondly, I will encourage countries with more resources to provide the needed support to developing countries and LDCs (Least Developed Countries) for a speedy transition to renewable and low carbon fuels.

Thirdly, I will encourage industry to come up with pragmatic and affordable technology to support medium to long-term measures towards decarbonization.

Lastly, I will continue the review and reform of the IMO to respond speedily to issues, including decarbonization, especially bearing in mind the impacts on LDC and SIDS (Small Island Developing States).

IMO is still one of the most effective UN agencies. By default, it has to be effective and fast since the sector it regulates supports the world trade.

I am open to discuss this further in detail.

For over three decades, you have served in various high-level policy positions in the maritime industry. What are some of your proudest achievements?

I have wide experience both within government and at the IMO – first as a consultant, then as a delegate, thus giving me an in-depth understanding of IMO structures.

At the national level, I was instrumental in setting up the Kenya Maritime Administration (KMA), becoming the first Director General (DG) of the organization, a position I held for nine years. During that period, comprehensive legal frameworks for maritime activities in Kenya were established. I also set up the State Department for Maritime and Shipping Affairs, serving as the Principal Secretary, where I dedicated myself towards championing the country’s maritime agenda for economic growth.

Regionally, I spearheaded the Kenyan government’s efforts and contribution to the suppression and prevention of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships within the West Indian Ocean Region, as well as the implementation of the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC) and its amendments.

Recently, I also initiated and led a global initiative for the protection of wildlife that resulted in the adoption of Guidelines for the Prevention & Suppression of the Smuggling of Wildlife on Ships engaged in International Maritime Traffic. The International Maritime Organization endorsed the Guidelines in May 2022.

At the peak of Somali Piracy in 2010, you were serving as the Director General of the Kenya Maritime Authority. During the period, the Kenyan government entered into an agreement with EU to prosecute and imprison suspected Somali pirates. What are some of the lessons you learnt on maintaining maritime security, and how do you intend to apply this expertise at the global scale if elected the next IMO Secretary General?

I am proud to have led initiatives in Kenya at a time when piracy had resulted in disruptions that threatened the shipping industry. As you have rightly observed Kenya was the first country to lend her institutions in supporting the prosecution and incarceration of pirates, with the support of the United Nations.

First, the experience was a learning curve in showing that the maritime sector has no boundaries, and action in one geographical area can have spillover negative impacts many miles away. Transboundary problems must be solved with transboundary solutions.

The experience showed us that we could not afford to have patchwork regimes in legislative measures for the security of global shipping. It is therefore imperative for me to deepen collaboration between member states to ensure IMO has access to knowledge, information and intelligence, which must be utilized to the full in tackling maritime security problems.

If elected Secretary General, you will become the first woman to occupy the position. How will the ongoing IMO gender balance program benefit?

IMO has long been a champion of gender equality and the empowerment of women in the maritime sector. Since 1988 through the Women in Development capacity-building program, IMO has been helping women access maritime training and employment opportunities. Indeed, I was myself a beneficiary of this program for my post-graduate studies at the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta.

In this regard, I believe that a well-qualified, and experienced female Secretary General would serve as a strong pillar and mentor in propelling the career advancement of women in the sector, in line with IMO’s ideals in the Women in Development program.

My active involvement in the efforts to champion the integration of more women in the maritime sector in both Kenya and the region has borne sustainable business models in a variety of ways. The efforts earned me two terms as the Chairperson of the Association for Women in the Maritime Sector in Eastern & Southern Africa (WOMESA), a partnership between IMO and maritime administrations in 24 countries in the region. WOMESA is aimed at encouraging the participation of women in the maritime sector through mentorships and training sponsorships.

As part of IMO’s gender and capacity-building program, an institutional framework (Women in Development) has helped to incorporate a gender dimension in the maritime sector, facilitating access to maritime training and employment opportunities for women. I aim to support the implementation of key gender balance-oriented policies that are actionable and effective, coupled with a support structure that is keen on the use of modern technology.

Credit: Maritime Executive.

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