International Maritime Organization

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A technical agency under the United Nations, the International Maritime Organization (IMO is concerned with improving the safety and security of ships, and preventing pollution from ships. It develops safety rules under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention, and works on maritime legal issues.

The SOLAS treaty preceded the IMO, but the need became more apparent with each SOLAS update. The IMO was created March 1948 and met for the first time in January 1959. It currently has 167 Member States. Ots is carried out by the Maritime Safety, Marine Environment Protection, Legal, Technical Co-operation and Facilitation Committees and a number of sub-committees.

The IMO slogan sums up its objectives:

Safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans.


IMO, and the maritime industry generally, tries to learn from experience. It was the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic that led to the first SOLAS in 1914. In like manner, it was a major pollution event, the 1967 oil spill from the TV Torrey Canyon, that convinced the community that the 1954 oil pollution treaty not only needed to be enforced, but new measures were needed.

Until the Torrey Canyon spill, "many people had believed that the seas were big enough to cope with any pollution caused by human activity."

Since 1967, new IMO conventions for pollution control addressed:

  • preparedness and response to incidents involving oil and hazardous and noxious substances
  • prevention of use of harmful anti-fouling systems
  • international convention on ballast water management to prevent the spread of harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water.
  • preventing general safety improvements to avoid accidents with consequential spills.

A Technical Co-operation Programme shares resources and expertise in matters including:

  • sensitivity mapping to identify which parts of a coastline are particularly vulnerable; training in oil spill response and contingency planning
  • the GloBallast project which is addressing ballast water management issues
  • Marine Electronic Highway in the Strait of Malacca.