IMO works through a number of specialist committees and sub-committees. All of these bodies are composed of representatives of Member States. Formal arrangements for co-operation have been established with more than 30 inter-governmental organizations, while nearly 50 non-governmental international organizations have been granted consultative status to participate in the work of various bodies in an observer capacity. These organizations represent a wide spectrum of maritime, legal and environmental interests and they contribute to the work of the various organs and committees through the provision of information, documentation and expert advice. However, none of these organizations has a vote.
The initial work on a convention is normally done by a committee or sub-committee; a draft instrument is produced, which is submitted to a conference to which delegations from all States within the United Nations system – including States which may not be IMO Members – are invited. The conference adopts a final text, which is submitted to Governments for ratification. An instrument so adopted comes into force after fulfilling certain requirements, which always include ratification by a specified number of countries. Generally speaking, the more important the convention the more stringent are the requirements for entry into force.
Implementation of the requirements of a convention is mandatory on countries which are parties to it. Codes and recommendations which are adopted by the IMO Assembly are not binding on Governments; however, their contents can be just as important, and in many cases they are implemented by Governments through incorporation into domestic legislation.