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The International Maritime Organization

(IMO) known as the Inter-Governmental
Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO)
until 1982 is a specialised agency of the
United Nations responsible for regulating
shipping. The IMO was established following
agreement at a UN conference held in
Geneva in 1948 and the IMO came into
existence ten years later, meeting for the
first time in 1959.Headquartered in London,
United Kingdom, the IMO currently has 174
member states and three associate

The IMO's primary purpose is to develop

and maintain a comprehensive regulatory
framework for shipping and its remit today
includes safety, environmental concerns,
legal matters, technical co-operation,
maritime security and the efficiency of
shipping. IMO is governed by an assembly
of members and is financially administered
by a council of members elected from the
assembly. The work of IMO is conducted
through five committees and these are
supported by technical subcommittees.
Other UN organisations may observe the
proceedings of the IMO. Observer status is
granted to qualified non-governmental

IMO is supported by a permanent

secretariat of employees who are
representative of the organisation's
members. The secretariat is composed of a
Secretary-General who is periodically
elected by the assembly, and various
divisions such as those for marine safety,
environmental protection and a conference


Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative

Organization (IMCO) was formed in order to
bring the regulation of the safety of
shipping into an international framework,
for which the creation of the United Nations
provided an opportunity. Hitherto such
international conventions had been initiated
piecemeal, notably the Safety of Life at Sea
Convention (SOLAS), first adopted in 1914
following the Titanic disaster. IMCO's first
task was to update that convention; the
resulting 1960 convention was subsequently
recast and updated in 1974 and it is that
convention that has been subsequently
modified and updated to adapt to changes
in safety requirements and technology.

When IMCO began its operations in 1959

certain other pre-existing conventions were
brought under its aegis, most notable the
International Convention for the Prevention
of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (OILPOL) 1954.
The first meetings of the newly formed
IMCO were held in London in 1959.
Throughout its existence IMCO, later
renamed the IMO in 1982, has continued to
produce new and updated conventions
across a wide range of maritime issues
covering not only safety of life and marine
pollution but also encompassing safe
navigation, search and rescue, wreck
removal, tonnage measurement, liability
and compensation, ship recycling, the
training and certification of seafarers, and
piracy. More recently SOLAS has been
amended to bring an increased focus on
maritime security through the International
Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code.
The IMO has also increased its focus on
smoke emissions from ships.

In January 1959, IMO began to maintain and

promote the 1954 OILPOL Convention.
Under the guidance of IMO, the convention
was amended in 1962, 1969, and 1971
Maritime pollution

IMO held an emergency session of its

Council to deal with the need to readdress
regulations pertaining to maritime
pollution. In 1969, the IMO Assembly
decided to host an international gathering
in 1973 dedicated to this issue.The goal at
hand was to develop an international
agreement for controlling general
environmental contamination by ships
when out at sea.

During the next few years IMO brought to

the forefront a series of measures designed
to prevent large ship accidents and to
minimise their effects. It also detailed how
to deal with the environmental threat
caused by routine ship duties such as the
cleaning of oil cargo tanks or the disposal of
engine room wastes. By tonnage, the
aforementioned was a bigger problem than
accidental pollution.

The most significant thing to come out of

this conference was the International
Convention for the Prevention of Pollution
from Ships, 1973. It covers not only
accidental and operational oil pollution but
also different types of pollution by
chemicals, goods in packaged form, sewage,
garbage and air pollution.

The original MARPOL was signed on 17

February 1973, but did not come into force
due to lack of ratifications. The current
convention is a combination of 1973
Convention and the 1978 Protocol. It
entered into force on 2 October 1983. As of
May 2013, 152 states, representing 99.2 per
cent of the world's shipping tonnage, are
involved in the convention.In 1983 the IMO
established the World Maritime University
in Malmö, Sweden.

The IMO headquarters are located in a large
purpose-built building facing the River
Thames on the Albert Embankment, in
Lambeth, London. The organisation moved
into its new headquarters in late 1982, with
the building being officially opened by
Queen Elizabeth II on 17 May 1983.The
architects of the building were Douglass
Marriott, Worby & Robinson. The front of
the building is dominated by a seven-metre
high, ten-tonne bronze sculpture of the bow
of a ship, with a lone seafarer maintaining a
look-out. The previous headquarters of IMO
were at 101 Piccadilly (now the home of the
Embassy of Japan), prior to that at 22
Berners Street in Fitzrovia and originally in
Chancery Lane.


To become a member of the IMO, a state

ratifies a multilateral treaty known as the
Convention on the International Maritime
Organization. As of 2020, there are
174member states of the IMO, which
includes 173 of the UN member states plus
the Cook Islands. The first state to ratify the
convention was the United Kingdom in
1949. The most recent members to join
were Armenia and Nauru, which became
IMO members in January and May 2018,

current members with the year

they joined
Albania (1993)
Algeria (1963)
Angola (1977)
Antigua and Barbuda (1986)
Argentina (1953)
Armenia (2018)
Australia (1952)
Austria (1975)
Azerbaijan (1995)
Bahamas (1976)
Bahrain (1976)
Bangladesh (1976)
Barbados (1970)
Belarus (2016)
Belgium (1951)
Belize (1990)
Benin (1980)
Bolivia (1987)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (1993)
Brazil (1963)
Brunei Darussalam (1984)
Bulgaria (1960)
Cabo Verde (1976)
Cambodia (1961)
Cameroon (1961)
Canada (1948)
Chile (1972)
China (1973)
Colombia (1974)
Comoros (2001)
Congo (1975)
Cook Islands (2008)
Costa Rica (1981)
Côte d'Ivoire (1960)
Croatia (1992)
Cuba (1966)
Cyprus (1973)
Czechia (1993)
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Democratic Republic of the Congo (1973)
Denmark (1959)
Djibouti (1979)
Dominica (1979)
Dominican Republic (1953)
Ecuador (1956)
Egypt (1958)
El Salvador (1981)
Equatorial Guinea (1972)
Eritrea (1993)
Estonia (1992)
Ethiopia (1975)
Fiji (1983)
Finland (1959)
France (1952)
Gabon (1976)
Gambia (1979)
Georgia (1993)
Germany (1959)
Ghana (1959)
Greece (1958)
Grenada (1998)
Guatemala (1983)
Guinea (1975)
Guinea-Bissau (1977)
Guyana (1980)
Haiti (1953)
Honduras (1954)
Hungary (1970)
Iceland (1960)
India (1959)
Indonesia (1961)
Iran (1958)
Iraq (1973)
Ireland (1951)
Israel (1952)
Italy (1957)
Jamaica (1976)
Japan (1958)
Jordan (1973)
Kazakhstan (1994)
Kenya (1973)
Kiribati (2003)
Kuwait (1960)
Latvia (1993)
Lebanon (1966)
Liberia (1959)
Libya (1970)
Lithuania (1995)
Luxembourg (1991)
Madagascar (1961)
Malawi (1989)
Malaysia (1971)
Maldives (1967)
Malta (1966)
Marshall Islands (1998)
Mauritania (1961)
Mauritius (1978)
Mexico (1954)
Monaco (1989)
Mongolia (1996)
Montenegro (2006)
Morocco (1962)
Mozambique (1979)
Myanmar (1951)
Namibia (1994)
Nauru (2018)
Nepal (1979)
Netherlands (1949)
New Zealand (1960)
Nicaragua (1982)
Nigeria (1962)
North Macedonia (1993)
Norway (1958)
Oman (1974)
Pakistan (1958)
Palau (2011)
Panama (1958)
Papua New Guinea (1976)
Paraguay (1993)
Peru (1968)
Philippines (1964)
Poland (1960)
Portugal (1976)
Qatar (1977)
Republic of Korea (1962)
Republic of Moldova (2001)
Romania (1965)
Russian Federation (1958)
Saint Kitts and Nevis (2001)
Saint Lucia (1980)
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1981)
Samoa (1996)
San Marino (2002)
São Tomé and Príncipe (1990)
Saudi Arabia (1969)
Senegal (1960)
Serbia (2000)
Seychelles (1978)
Sierra Leone (1973)
Singapore (1966)
Slovakia (1993)
Slovenia (1993)
Solomon Islands (1988)
Somalia (1978)
South Africa (1995)
Spain (1962)
Sri Lanka (1972)
Sudan (1974)
Suriname (1976)
Sweden (1959)
Switzerland (1955)
Syria (1963)
Thailand (1973)
Timor-Leste (2005)
Togo (1983)
Tonga (2000)
Trinidad and Tobago (1965)
Tunisia (1963)
Turkey (1958)
Turkmenistan (1993)
Tuvalu (2004)
Uganda (2009)
Ukraine (1994)
United Arab Emirates (1980)
United Kingdom (1949)
Tanzania (1974)
United States of America (1950)
Uruguay (1968)
Vanuatu (1986)
Venezuela (1975)
Viet Nam (1984)
Yemen (1979)
Zambia (2014)
Zimbabwe (2005)
The three associate members of the IMO
are the Faroe Islands, Hong Kong and

In 1961, the territories of Sabah and

Sarawak, which had been included through
the participation of United Kingdom,
became joint associate members.In 1963
they became part of Malaysia.

Most UN member states that are not

members of IMO are landlocked countries.
These include Afghanistan, Andorra,
Bhutan, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi,
Central African Republic, Chad, Kyrgyzstan,
Laos, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Mali, Niger,
Rwanda, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tajikistan
and Uzbekistan. However, the Federated
States of Micronesia, an island-nation in the
Pacific Ocean, is also a non-member, as is
the same for similar Taiwan, itself a non-
member of the UN.

The IMO consists of an Assembly, a Council
and five main Committees: the Maritime
Safety Committee; the Marine Environment
Protection Committee; the Legal
Committee; the Technical Co-operation
Committee and the Facilitation Committee.
A number of Sub-Committees support the
work of the main technical committees

Legal instruments
IMO is the source of approximately 60 legal
instruments that guide the regulatory
development of its member states to
improve safety at sea, facilitate trade
among seafaring states and protect the
maritime environment. The most well
known is the International Convention for
the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), as well as
International Convention on Oil Pollution
Preparedness, Response and Co-operation
(OPRC). Others include the International Oil
Pollution Compensation Funds (IOPC). It
also functions as a depository of yet to be
ratified treaties, such as the International
Convention on Liability and Compensation
for Damage in Connection with the Carriage
of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by
Sea, 1996 (HNS Convention) and Nairobi
International Convention of Removal of
Wrecks (2007).

IMO regularly enacts regulations, which are

broadly enforced by national and local
maritime authorities in member countries,
such as the International Regulations for
Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG). The
IMO has also enacted a Port State Control
(PSC) authority, allowing domestic maritime
authorities such as coast guards to inspect
foreign-flag ships calling at ports of the
many port states. Memoranda of
Understanding (protocols) were signed by
some countries unifying Port State Control
procedures among the signatories.
Conventions, Codes and Regulations:
MARPOL Convention
Marpol Annex I
SOLAS Convention
ISM Code
STCW Convention
International Code of Signals
International Regulations for Preventing
Collisions at Sea
HNS Convention
International Convention on Civil Liability
for Oil Pollution Damage
International Convention on the
Establishment of an International Fund for
Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage
International Ballast Water Management

Current issues
Recent initiatives at the IMO have included
amendments to SOLAS, which upgraded fire
protection standards on passenger ships,
the International Convention on Standards
of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping
for Seafarers (STCW) which establishes basic
requirements on training, certification and
watchkeeping for seafarers and to the
Convention on the Prevention of Maritime
Pollution (MARPOL 73/78), which required
double hulls on all tankers.
In December 2002, new amendments to the
1974 SOLAS Convention were enacted.
These amendments gave rise to the
International Ship and Port Facility Security
(ISPS) Code, which went into effect on 1 July
2004. The concept of the code is to provide
layered and redundant defences against
smuggling, terrorism, piracy, stowaways,
etc. The ISPS Code required most ships and
port facilities engaged in international trade
to establish and maintain strict security
procedures as specified in ship and port
specific Ship Security Plans and Port Facility
Security Plans.

The IMO has a role in tackling international

climate change. The First Intersessional
Meeting of IMO's Working Group on
Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ships took
place in Oslo, Norway (23–27 June 2008),
tasked with developing the technical basis
for the reduction mechanisms that may
form part of a future IMO regime to control
greenhouse gas emissions from
international shipping, and a draft of the
actual reduction mechanisms themselves,
for further consideration by IMO's Marine
Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).
The IMO participated in the 2015 United
Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris
seeking to establish itself as the
"appropriate international body to address
greenhouse gas emissions from ships
engaged in international
trade".Nonetheless, there has been
widespread criticism of the IMO's relative
inaction since the conclusion of the Paris
conference, with the initial data-gathering
step of a three-stage process to reduce
maritime greenhouse emissions expected to
last until 2020. The IMO has also taken
action to mitigate the global effects of
ballast water and sediment discharge,
through the 2004 Ballast Water
Management Convention, which entered
into force in September 2017.

The IMO is also responsible for publishing

the International Code of Signals for use
between merchant and naval vessels. IMO
has harmonised information available to
seafarers and shore-side traffic services
called e-Navigation. An e-Navigation
strategy was ratified in 2005, and an
implementation plan was developed
through three IMO sub-committees. The
plan was completed by 2014 and
implemented in November of that year.
IMO has also served as a key partner and
enabler of US international and interagency
efforts to establish Maritime Domain

Governance of IMO
The governing body of the International
Maritime Organization is the Assembly
which meets every two years. In between
Assembly sessions a Council, consisting of
40 Member States elected by the Assembly,
acts as the governing body. The technical
work of the International Maritime
Organization is carried out by a series of
Committees. The Secretariat consists of
some 300 international civil servants
headed by a Secretary-General
The current Secretary-General is Kitack Lim
(South Korea), elected for a four-year term
at the 106th session of the IMO Council in
June 2015 and at the 27th session of the
IMO's Assembly in November 2015. His
mandate started on 1 January 2016.

Previous Secretaries-General:

Denmark 1959 Ove Nielsen (Denmark)

United Kingdom 1961 William Graham
(United Kingdom; acting, following death of
Mr Nielsen)
France 1963 Jean Roullier (France)
United Kingdom 1968 Colin Goad (United
India 1974 Chandrika Prasad Srivastava
Canada 1990 William O'Neil (Canada)
Greece 2003 Efthimios E. Mitropoulos
Japan 2011 Koji Sekimizu (Japan)
South Korea 2015 Kitack Lim (South Korea)

The technical work of the International
Maritime Organisation is carried out by a
series of Committees.These include:
The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC)
The Marine environment Protection
Committee (MEPC)
The Legal Committee
The Technical Cooperation Committee, for
capacity building
The Facilitation Committee, to simplify the
documentation and formalities required in
international shipping.

Maritime Safety
It is regulated in the Article 28(a) of the
Convention on the IMO:

(a) The Maritime Safety Committee shall

consider any matter within the scope of the
Organization concerned with aids to
navigation, construction and equipment of
vessels, manning from a safety standpoint,
rules for the prevention of collisions,
handling of dangerous cargoes, maritime
safety procedures and requirements,
hydrographic information, log-books and
navigational records, marine casualty
investigation, salvage and rescue, and any
other matters directly affecting maritime

(b) The Maritime Safety Committee shall

provide machinery for performing any
duties assigned to it by this Convention, the
Assembly or the Council, or any duty within
the scope of this Article which may be
assigned to it by or under any other
international instrument and accepted by
the Organization.

(c) Having regard to the provisions of Article

25, the Maritime Safety Committee, upon
request by the Assembly or the Council or, if
it deems such action useful in the interests
of its own work, shall maintain such close
relationship with other bodies as may
further the purposes of the Organization

The Maritime Safety Committee is the most

senior of these and is the main Technical
Committee; it oversees the work of its nine
sub-committees and initiates new topics.
One broad topic it deals with is the effect of
the human element on casualties; this work
has been put to all of the sub-committees,
but meanwhile, the Maritime Safety
Committee has developed a code for the
management of ships which will ensure that
agreed operational procedures are in place
and followed by the ship and shore-side

The MSC and MEPC are assisted in their
work by a number of sub-committees which
are open to all Member States.[23] The
committees are:
Sub-Committee on Human Element,
Training and Watchkeeping (HTW)
Sub-Committee on Implementation of IMO
Instruments (III)
Sub-Committee on Navigation,
Communications and Search and Rescue
Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and
Response (PPR)
Sub-Committee on Ship Design and
Construction (SDC)
Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and
Equipment (SSE)
Sub-Committee on Carriage of Cargoes and
Containers (CCC)
The names of the IMO sub-committees
were changed in 2013.[23] Prior to 2013
there were nine Sub-Committees as follows:
Bulk Liquids and Gases (BLG)
Carriage of Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes
and Containers(DSC)
Fire Protection (FP)
Radio-communications and Search and
Rescue (COMSAR)
Safety of Navigation (NAV)
Ship Design and Equipment (DE)
Stability and Load Lines and Fishing Vessels
Safety (SLF)
Standards of Training and Watchkeeping
Flag State Implementation (FSI)