What is International Maritime Organisation (IMO)? |

What is International Maritime Organisation (IMO)?

Written by Amit Sharma

IMO is a technical organization and most of its work is carried out in a number of committees and subcommittees.

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) is the most senior of these. The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) was established by the Assembly in November 1973. It is responsible for co-ordinating the Organization’s activities in the prevention and control of pollution of the marine environment from ships.From the very beginning, the improvement of maritime safety and the prevention of marine pollution have been IMO’s most important objectives.

A conference held by the United Nations in 1948 adopted a convention establishing the International Maritime Organization(IMO) as the first ever international body devoted exclusively to maritime matters.The Organization is the only United Nations specialized agency to have its headquarters in the United Kingdom. It currently (October 2015) consists of 171 Member States and three Associate Members. Its governing body, the Assembly, meets once every two years. Between sessions, the Council, consisting of 32 Member Governments elected by the Assembly, acts as IMO’s governing body.

The original name was the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, or IMCO, but the name was changed in 1982 to IMO. There are a number of sub-committees whose titles indicate the subjects they deal with:

  • Safety of Navigation (NAV);
  •  Radio communications and Search and Rescue (COMSAR); Training and Watch keeping (STW);
  • Carriage of Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers(DSC);
  • Ship Design and Equipment (DE);
  • Fire Protection (FP);
  • Stability and Load Lines and Fishing Vessel Safety (SLF);
  • Flag State Implementation (FSI);
  •  Bulk Liquids and Gases (BLG).

 All the committees of IMO are open to participation by all Member Governments on an equal basis.

IMO’s  Mission  :

“The mission of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as a United Nations specialized agency is to promote safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient and sustainable shipping through cooperation. This will be accomplished by adopting the highest practicable standards of maritime safety and security, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of pollution from ships, as well as through consideration of the related legal matters and effective implementation of IMO’s instruments with a view to their universal and uniform application.”

IMO has promoted the adoption of some 40 conventions and protocols and adopted well over 800 codes and recommendations concerning maritime safety, the prevention of pollution and related matters.The IMO Secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, who is assisted by a staff of some 300 international civil servants. The Secretary-General is appointed by the Council, with the approval of the Assembly.

How does IMO work/ function?

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.

What is role of  MEPC (Marine Environment Protection committee) in IMO?

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) considers any matter within the IMO’s scope that is concerned with prevention and control of pollution from ships. All Member States can sit on this committee. Several sub-committees report to this committee.

What is role of MSC (maritime safety committee ) in IMO?

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) is the highest technical body of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). All Member States can sit on this committee.

The functions of the Maritime Safety Committee are to consider any matter within the IMO’s scope that is 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 investigations
  • salvage and rescue
  • ships and port security
  • piracy and any other matters directly affecting maritime safety.

Several sub-committees report to the Maritime Safety Committee.

What is technical co-operation committee of IMO?

The Technical Co-operation Committee is responsible for co-ordinating the work of the Organization in the provision of technical assistance in the maritime field, in particular to developing countries.

What is facilitation committee of IMO?

 The Facilitation Committee is responsible for IMO’s activities and functions relating to the facilitation of international maritime traffic. These are aimed at reducing the formalities and simplifying the documentation required of ships when entering or leaving ports or other terminals.

What is  International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC)?

In 1990 IMO adopted the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC). It is designed to improve the ability of nations to cope with a sudden emergency. It entered into force in May 1995.


About the author

Amit Sharma

Graduated from M.E.R.I. Mumbai (Mumbai University), After a brief sailing founded this website with the idea to bring the maritime education online which must be free and available for all at all times and to find basic solutions that are of extreme importance to a seafarer by our innovative ideas.