A Brief history of IMO (International Maritime Organisation)

As we all aware that shipping is a global business which deals with 80% of the world cargo transportation, to protect it or to provide safe accesses, we have to develop international regulations that should be followed by all shipping nations. To provide and promote maritime safety effectively, in 1948 an international conference in Geneva adopted a convention IMCO (Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation) and in 1982 the name of IMCO changed to IMO (International Maritime Organisation). The IMO convention entered in force in 1958. Before this, the first international treaty of any kind between the nations was the treaty of Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) which was held in 1914 in response to the sinking of RMS Titanic.

The IMO consists of an Assembly, a Council and five main Committees- 1. Maritime safety committee 2.Marine environment protection committee 3. Legal Committee  4. Technical Co-operation Committee 5.Facilitation Committee.

Mission of IMO

“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, the 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.”

Purpose of IMO                

  • 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, the efficiency of navigation and prevention, control of maritime pollutions from a ship.
  • To deal with administrative and legal matters related to these purposes

To set and promote the highest standards of health, safety and environment protection IMO adopted four pillars in its structure.

  1. SOLAS (Safety of life at sea)
  2. STCW ( Standards of training, certification, and watchkeeping)
  3. MARPOL (Marine pollution)
  4. MLC (Maritime labor convention)

Let’s discuss these four pillars in brief and its importance


To achieve the above purpose IMO’s performs its first task in 1960 by adopting a new version of SOLAS (safety of life at sea). And it was one of the most important steps by IMO among all treaties dealing with maritime safety. By adopting the new version of SOLAS IMO focused on some important matters as the facilitation of international marine traffic, load lines and the carriage of dangerous good and the system of measuring the tonnage of a ship was revised.

Basically, SOLAS deals with the safety of life of seafarers in the sea by setting minimum standards for machinery and types of equipment. To cover all these there are 14 chapters consisting of different codes and regulations.

Let me clear that how SOLAS is protecting lives life. Just think if there are no regulations or minimum standards for machinery and types of equipment then owners of ships may supply cheap and bad quality equipment or fewer numbers of types of equipment and machinery. Then the failure of that will cause us problem while we are at sea. Then seafarers are going to suffer and may cause the loss of life.


Its stands for standards of training, certification and watchkeeping, convention entered into force in 1984, which a sets the minimum standard of training and certification for the masters, officers, watch personnel and seagoing personals in merchant navy. By setting these minimum standards IMO saving the life of seafarers, machinery, ship, and environments because low standards of training of qualification always create problems and that may cause a big loss.

To achieve this STCW having VIII chapters and same is amended as STCW95, and again as STCW2010 in Manila amendments.

MARPOL (73/78)

But while IMO dealing with maritime safety, a new problem began in shipping that emerged of sea pollution. During these days amount of oil transported by sea increases, the size of ships increases that all leads an accident known as the Torrey Canyon disaster of 1967. The supertanker SS Torrey Canyon ran aground on a reef off the South- West coast of the United Kingdom in which 120,000 tonnes of oil was spilled, this was one of the world’s most serious oil spills. After this accident IMO gives its ambitious focus to work on marine pollution prevention and response.

After working a few years IMO introduced a series of measures designed to prevent tanker accidents and to minimize their consequences. IMO introduced most important measures i.e. International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 (MARPOL 73/78), along with oil pollution prevention its also covers prevention of pollution by chemical, goods in packaged form, sewage, garbage and air pollution. This MARPOL 73/78 covers total 6 annexes-

  • Annex I – Prevention of oil pollution by ships, adopted on 2nd October 1983
  • Annex II – Control of pollution by noxious liquid substances in bulk, adopted on 6 April 1987
  • Annex III – Prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form, adopted on 1st July 1992
  • Annex IV – Prevention of pollution by sewage from ships, adopted on 27 September 2003
  • Annex V – Prevention of pollution by garbage from ships, adopted on 31 December 1988
  • Annex VI – Prevention of air pollution from ships, adopted in 19 may 2005

Today, the expanded, amended and updated MARPOL Convention remains the most important, as well as most comprehensive, international treaty covering the prevention of pollution at sea. Due to the ecology and sea traffic, some areas are mentioned as a special area in MARPOL. The special areas are having some addition rule and regulation for discharging of oily water.


In 2006, The International of Maritime Organization brought its fourth and important pillar as MLC (Maritime labor Convention). On August 20th, 2013, it comes into force. It is an international agreement of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which sets seafarer’s rights to a decent condition of work, in other words, it is also called seafarers Bill of Right. On July 2017, a total of 84 countries had accepted the MLC 2006.

To set these rights there are five titles are described-

  1. Minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship
  2. Conditions of employment
  3. Accommodation, recreation, food, and catering
  4. Health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection
  5. Compliance and enforcement.

What should be the

  • Minimum age,
  • Wages
  • Accommodation and recreational facility
  • Food
  • Hours of work and rest
  • Medical care
  • Social security
  • Owners liability
  • Onboard compliance procedure

And more are defined and rules are sets in above titles of MLC.

Some Important steps by IMO-

IMO was also given the task of establishing a system for providing compensation to those who had suffered financially as a result of pollution. Two treaties were adopted, in 1969 and 1971, which enabled victims of oil pollution to obtain compensation much more simply and quickly than had been possible before. Both treaties were amended in 1992, and again in 2000, to increase the limits of compensation payable to victims of pollution. A number of other legal conventions have been developed since, most of which concern liability and compensation issues.

In 1969 and 1971 IMO adopted two treaty, which enabled victims of oil pollution to obtain compensation much more simply and quickly than had been possible before. Same is amended in 1992, and again in 2000, to increase the limits of compensation payable to victims of pollution

in the 1970s IMO initiated a global search and rescue system, with the establishment of the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO), which has greatly improved the provision of radio and other messages to ships.

In 1988 IMO adopted Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and began to be phased in from 1992. In February 1999, the GMDSS became fully operational,

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 tonnages and above

On 1 February 1997, the 1995 amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978 entered into force.

New conventions relating to the marine environment were adopted in the  2000s, including one on anti-fouling systems (AFS 2001), another on ballast water management to prevent the invasion of alien species (BWM 2004)

The 2000s also saw a focus on maritime security, with the entry into force in July 2004 of a new, comprehensive security regime for international shipping, including the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code,

In 2005, IMO adopted amendments to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts (SUA) Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, 1988 and its related Protocol (the 2005 SUA Protocols), which amongst other things, introduce the right of a State Party desires to board a ship flying the flag of another State Party when the requesting Party has reasonable grounds to suspect that the ship or a person on board the ship is, has been, or is about to be involved in, the commission of an offence under the Convention

The IMO Member State Audit Scheme, which became mandatory under a number of key IMO instruments on 1 January 2016, will increasingly play a key role in supporting effective implementation by providing an audited Member State with a comprehensive



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Abhay Kumar

He is working as engineer in Shipping Corporation Of India, member of Nielsons Educational Forum. He is alumni of Marine Engineering & Research Institute(MERI) Mumbai. He loves driving and writing blog in his free time. Specialty : Tanker ship

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