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An introduction into the IMO

Posted on 11th April 2022

The sea is a rich resource of trade and an essential means of travel, even today (shipping transports around 90% of global trade). Yet the dangers of the sea are well-documented – and can pose a significant threat to life both human and otherwise should something go wrong. 

In 1948, the International Marine Organization was created to consolidate a number of key regulations designed to protect seafarers and ocean ecosystems, significantly enhancing safety and security at sea. A great number of the regulations we are bound by today were conceived during the IMO’s early years, with many more measures added along the way. 

What is the IMO?

The IMO is a specialised agency which is part of the United Nations (UN). Since its inception it has remained the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental responsibilities of the shipping industry. 

Prior to the conception of the IMO, many countries had adopted their own shipping regulations and treaties in an effort to enhance ship safety. But due to the international nature of our oceans and the global shipping industry, one centralised solution was required.

When the UN was formed in 1945, the IMO swiftly followed, adopted by 51 member nations. As of 2021 there are 193 member nations bound by the legislative power of the IMO. 

What does the IMO do? 

The IMO’s jurisdiction is huge and covers many areas concerningmodern shipping, including personal safety, environmental concerns and crime. Its scope is so vast and so complex that it’s not possible to cover in one article. 

IMO measures are extensive and concern all aspects of international shipping including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, operation and disposal – to ensure that this vital sector for remains safe, environmentally sound, energy efficient and secure.

The three main areas IMO measures and regulations can be grouped into include:

Shipping safety: The sea is a naturally challenging environment to operate within. Ever changing, always unpredictable – even the most experienced crews can fall foul of the risks attached to navigating the world’s oceans. Before the IMO, a number of regulations existed, but they tended to be isolated within certain territories and jurisdictions and didn’t always match up, making compliance difficult and confusing. Crews predominantly relied upon the knowledge and expertise of those on board to navigate tricky situations – sometimes with deadly consequences. Now the IMO’s dedicated teams actively work to monitor and reduce the risks faced by crews via a common-sense, informed approach, including new legislation and the implementation of innovative technology to reduce the number of incidents and fatalities at sea. The IMO’s work to enhance maritime safety is embodied by a number of conventions, namely the introduction of the extensive SOLAS regulations (more on this below), which cover all aspects of safety at sea for standardised support globally. 

Shipping security: In the not so distant past, shipping was dangerous not only due to the unique nature of challenges crews faced at sea, but also the threat of piracy. The IMO has significantly increased the security of global shipping through its United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), implementing dedicated legal and ground-level bodies to fight crime as well as improved port security. 

Environmental protection: Later in its life the IMO recognised another crucial concern requiring its attention – the impact of pollution. The shipping industry was found to be a major contributor with a number of destructive elements putting the health of the world’s oceans at risk, including sewage, oil and chemical pollution, declining numbers of sea-life and biodiversity and damage to unique ecosystems such as coral reefs. Many devastating events, such as the Torrey Canyon disaster in 1967, were determined to have come about due to mismanagement or malpractice. The IMO’s environmental policies are headed p by its Marine Environment Division, directed by the Marine Environment Protection Committee or MEPC. Having added a stringent set of legislation in 1973 in the form of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (most commonly known as MARPOL), which is constantly updated,the IMO is continuously helping to protect our oceans and marine life from the impact of shipping. 

The importance of the IMO’s role cannot be overstated, as ensuring that standardised safety and care is crucial in order to secure a bright future for the global shipping industry from a commercial perspective. As a governing body the IMO has the power to deal with administrative and legal matters relating to the measures it puts in place, including those who are non-compliant or are found to contravene regulations. 

The IMO and SOLAS

Perhaps the most enduring and well-known legacy of the IMO is its influence on SOLAS (The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) – widely recognised as one of the most important maritime safety treaties of all time. In 1960 SOLAS was refreshedand reintroduced, covering all aspects of shipping safety including fire protection and prevention, chemical and gas management, life-saving appliances and practices on board and ship design and stability. All shipping vessels worldwide are bound by SOLAS regulations, ensuring that ships of all types and their crews are safe at sea. 

Enhancing safety at sea with IMO-compliant support 

Under IMO regulations there are a number of regulations which specifically call for specialist safety equipment, ensuring vessels and their crews are fully protected when working at sea. At MartekMarine we’d proud to be fully IMO compliant, offering high-performance solutions built to comply with SOLAS and MARPOL regulations. 

For questions on compliance or advice on how to use or select our products, please get in touch today.