What is IMO in Shipping?

IMO, or the International Maritime Organization, is a specialized agency of the United Nations. It is the global regulatory body for setting standards related to the safety, security, and efficiency of international shipping. The organization is headquartered in Albert Embankment, Lambeth, London. As of 2020, the IMO comprises of 174 countries as member states.

The IMO is also responsible for overlooking the environmental performance of the shipping industry. Some important aspects that come under its purview are:

  • Ship design
  • Equipment and construction
  • Waste disposal and recycling of ships
  • Energy efficiency
  • Maritime law
  • Seafarers’ compensation and labor laws
  • Technology and innovation
  • Maritime education and training
  • Maritime traffic management
  • Security on international waters
  • Maritime infrastructure development
  • Prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution

Since its inception in 1948, the IMO and its sister-agency – the International Labour Organisation (ILO) – have crafted several internationally recognized agreements. Four key conventions have been established to enable the above functions of the IMO:

  1. SOLAS – Safety of Life at Sea
  2. MARPOL – The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
  3. STCW – Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping
  4. MLC – Maritime Labour Convention

What are the 4 Pillars of IMO?

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the global standard setting body related to policy and procedures in the international maritime industry. Four key conventions have been crafted by it, along with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), to improve safety of lives at sea, and the protection of the maritime environment. These conventions are known as the 4 pillars of international maritime law. They are:

  1. SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea)

There are currently 14 chapters in the SOLAS convention including a range of regulations and codes, which specify the minimum safety standards for areas like:

  • Vessel construction
  • Ship design
  • Equipment and construction
  • Risk management procedures
  1. MARPOL (The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships)

MARPOL consists of 6 technical annexes related to the prevention of pollution from ships. This includes atmospheric, soil and water pollution.

  1. STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping)

The standards set up by STCW are applicable to all ships that are more than 24 meters in length, and for all crew members. These guidelines dictate the minimum qualification requirements for seafarers aboard a ship, including officers, masters and watch personnel.

  1. MLC (Maritime Law Convention)

The MLC 2006 is a comprehensive convention that specifies minimum working and living rights of seafarers. This includes their employment contracts, pay, leave entitlement, minimum hours of rest, career and skill development, and repatriation, among others.

What is the Main Function of IMO?

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is responsible for developing and implementing measures to increase safety and security in international shipping. Its work over the past 5 decades, through its 172 member states, has ensured that seafarers’ rights remain protected, maritime safety measures are enhanced and the global shipping industry meets the targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

Through its 4 key conventions – SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), MARPOL (The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships), STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping), and 2006 MLC (Maritime Law Convention), the IMO has carved a regulatory framework for the shipping industry, overlooking aspects such as:

  • Ship design and manufacture
  • Maritime law
  • Proper compensation and working hours for seafarers
  • Training and career development for seafarers
  • Energy efficiency of ships
  • Prevention of environmental pollution
  • Maritime traffic management
  • Security and rescue efforts in international waters

Is IMO Concerned with Maritime Security?

The IMO’s mandate involves ensuring the security of sea trade and travel. To manage potential threats to international maritime security, the organization develops laws and regulations in collaboration with the Legal Committee (LEG), Facilitation Committee (FAL), and Maritime Safety Committee (MSC). Some prominent codes in maritime security are:

  • International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code within the IMO’s SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea)
  • IMO’s Piracy and Armed Robbery module within the Organization’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS)
  • SUA Treaties
  • Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic, 1965

Several aspects, such as the carriage of arms on ships and best management practices, are responsibilities of individual flag states and coastal states. The IMO guides governments, shipowners, and crew members on establishing adequate measures to prevent armed robbery, cyber thefts, and piracy on ships.

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