A Student Perspective: the Past, Present and Future of IMO

The IMO was established in Geneva in 1948 and came in to force ten years later, meeting for the first time in 1959. It is a specialize Agency of the United Nations with 170 member states and 3 associate members, and its headquarters is located in London.

The IMO operates on a structural pattern; it 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. The operations of IMO are supported by a permanent secretariat of employees who are representatives of its 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 section.

During the past decades the main concern of IMO was to: (a) improve safety at sea (SOLAS), (b) facilitate trade among seafaring states, and (c) protect the maritime environment. Nowadays, IMO aims to enact regulations, which are broadly enforced by national and local maritime authorities in its member countries, such as the COLREG (International Regulation for the Prevention of Collision at Sea), the PSC (Port State Control), which is the inspection of foreign ships in national ports to verify that the condition of the ship and its equipment comply with the requirements of international regulations and that the ship is manned and operated in compliance with these rules. Furthermore, new amendments to the 1974 SOLAS Convention were enacted in December 2002. This development gave rise to the new International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, which went into effect on July 2004. The latter is a new amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention (1974/1988) on minimum security arrangements for ships, ports and government agencies.

But what are the plans of IMO for the future? As most countries of the world are signing the Memoranda of Understanding (protocols), this leads to a unification of the Port State Control procedures among all the signatories. As a result, the enactment and implementation of IMO’s maritime policies will bring about significant development in the maritime sector in a world-wide scale. To be more specific, the future role and responsibility of IMO is to work on and develop technical marine safety, security, and pollution prevention with global standards. However, for this to happen: (a) the governments have the duty to implement and enforce IMO’s safety and security standards, (b) the shipping companies are responsible for the safety of their ships, which means applying safe standards to their ships, (c) the shipboard personnel has the task of putting into operation the various safety, security and anti-pollution measures applicable to the ship on which they serve. In a nutshell, every member of the global maritime and shipping community should be part of the implementation process for IMO to function well.

Raymond Irekhore, MA International Maritime Policy Student