International Maritime Organization


Flag of IMOShipping is perhaps the most international of all the world's great industries and one of the most dangerous. It has always been recognized that the best way of improving safety at sea is by developing international regulations that are followed by all shipping nations and from the mid-19th century onwards a number of such treaties were adopted. Several countries proposed that a permanent international body should be established to promote maritime safety more effectively, but it was not until the establishment of the United Nations itself that these hopes were realized. In 1948 an international conference in Geneva adopted a convention formally establishing IMO (the original name was the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, or IMCO, but the name IMO Headquarters, London, United Kingdomwas changed in 1982 to IMO).


The IMO Convention entered into force in 1958 and the new Organization met for the first time the following year. The headquarters are based in London, United Kingdom.


The purposes of the Organization, as summarized by Article 1(a) of the Convention, are "to provide machinery for cooperation among Governments in the field of governmental regulation and practices relating to technical matters of all kinds affecting shipping engaged in international trade; to encourage and facilitate the general adoption of the highest practicable standards in matters concerning maritime safety, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of marine pollution from ships". The Organization is also empowered to deal with administrative and legal matters related to these purposes.


IMO's first task was to adopt a new version of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the most important of all treaties dealing with maritime safety. This was achieved in 1960 and IMO then turned its attention to such matters as the facilitation of international maritime traffic, load lines and the carriage of dangerous goods, while the system of measuring the tonnage of ships was revised.

Poster for the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System

But although safety was and remains IMO's most important responsibility, a new problem began to emerge - pollution. The growth in the amount of oil being transported by sea and in the size of oil tankers was of particular concern and the Torrey Canyon disaster of 1967, in which 120.000 tonnes of oil was spilled, demonstrated the scale of the problem.


During the next few years IMO introduced a series of measures designed to prevent tanker accidents and to minimize their consequences. It also tackled the environmental threat caused by routine operations such as the cleaning of oil cargo tanks and the disposal of engine room wastes - in tonnage terms a bigger menace than accidental pollution.


The most important of all these measures was the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78). It Cover of the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006covers not only accidental and operational oil pollution but also pollution by chemicals, goods in packaged form, sewage, garbage and air pollution.


Other measures introduced by IMO have concerned the safety of containers, bulk cargoes, liquefied gas tankers and other ship types. Special attention has been paid to crew standards, including the adoption of a special convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping.


The adoption of maritime legislation is still IMO's most important concern. Around 40 conventions and protocols have been adopted by the Organization and most of them have been amended on several occasions to ensure that they are kept up to date with changes taking place in world shipping.


Two initiatives in the 1990s are especially important. On 1 July 1998 the International Safety Management Code entered into force and became applicable to passenger ships, oil and chemical tankers, bulk carriers, gas carriers and cargo high speed craft of 500 gross tonnage and above. It became applicable to other cargo ships and mobile offshore drilling units of 500 gross tonnage and above not later than 1 July 2002.


On 1 February 1997, the 1995 amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978 entered into force. They greatly improve seafarer standards and, for the first time, give IMO itself powers to check Government actions.

International Memorial to the World's Seafarers by Michael Sandle

With a staff of 300 people, IMO is one of the smallest of all United Nations agencies. But it has achieved considerable success in achieving its aim of "safer shipping and cleaner oceans". Ship casualty rates have declined and the amount of oil entering the sea from ships has been cut.


In front of the IMO Headquarters is the International Memorial to the World's Seafarers (photo: Frank Mueller) to commemorate all seafarers who have been lost at sea, but it is also a reminder of the pivotal role seafaring plays in world trade and development. The statue is made by sculptor Michael Sandle.


In 1983 the IMO established the World Maritime University. It offers postgraduate education in maritime affairs. The University is based in Malmö, Sweden.





The official IMO website.

IMO in Wikipedia.

Flag of IMO in Flags of the World.

Website of the World Maritime University.



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Niger                                                29 March 1989









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last revised: 13 February 2008