International Maritime Organization

Q. Where and when was the first international conference convened to make IMO?
Ans. In 1948 an international conference in Geneva adopted a convention called Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, or IMCO, in order to create international body to promote maritime safety. The name was changed in 1982 from IMCO to IMO).

Q. How many member States are there?
Ans. IMO currently has 174 Member States. 173 are UN members + Cook’s Island.

Q. When did the IMO Convention come in force? What are the objectives of IMO?
Ans. The IMO Convention entered into force in 1958. The purposes of the Organization, as summarized by Article 1(a) of the Convention, are “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, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of marine pollution from ships”. The Organization also deals with administrative and legal matters related to above.

Q. How has IMO extended its wings through years? 
1. Assessing the International situation of Conventions:
IMO’s first task was to adopt a new version of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). This was a great leap in the field of safety. While SOLAS 1960 was adopted, IMO looked in to the areas of facilitation of international maritime traffic, load lines and the carriage of dangerous goods.

2. MARPOL 73/78:
During the next few years IMO introduced a series of measures designed to prevent tanker accidents and to minimize their consequences. It was also realized routine operations caused bigger menace than accidental pollution. The most important of all these measures was the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78). It covers not only accidental and operational oil pollution but also pollution by chemicals, goods in packaged form, sewage, garbage and air pollution.

3. CLC, Compensation to victims 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.

4. NGOs connected in consultative status with IMO:
These organizations are capable of making substantial contribution to the work of IMO. They may be granted consultative status by the IMO Council with the approval of the IMO Assembly. Any organization seeking consultative status with IMO has to demonstrate;
a. considerable expertise as well as the capacity to contribute, within its field of competence, to the work of IMO.
b. it has no means of access to the work of IMO through other organizations already in consultative status and
c. that it is “truly international” in its membership, covering a broad geographical scope.

Q. What are the main bodies of IMO?
Ans. The Organization consists of an Assembly, a Council and five main Committees: the Maritime Safety Committee; the Marine Environment Protection Committee; the Legal Committee; the Technical Cooperation Committee and the Facilitation Committee and a number of Sub-Committees support the work of the main technical committees.

Q. What are the responsibilities of Assembly?
Ans. Assembly is the highest Governing Body of the Organization. It consists of all Member States and it meets once every two years in regular sessions, but may also meet in an extraordinary session if necessary.

Its Responsibilities include:

  • Approving the work program and budget;
  • Determining the financial arrangements of the Organization;
  • Election of the Council.

Q. What are duties of Council? Who are its members?
Ans. The Council is elected by the Assembly for two-year terms beginning after each regular session of the Assembly.


  • The Council is the Executive Organ of IMO and is responsible, under the Assembly, for supervising the work of the Organization.
  • Between sessions of the Assembly the Council performs all the functions of the Assembly, except the function of making recommendations to Governments on maritime safety and pollution prevention which is reserved for the Assembly by Article 15(j) of the Convention;
  • Coordinates the activities of the organs of the Organization;
  • Considers the draft work program and budget estimates of the Organization and submit them to the Assembly;
  • Appoints the Secretary-General, subject to the approval of the Assembly;
  • Receives reports and proposals of the Committees and other organs and submit them to the Assembly and Member States, with + comments and recommendations as appropriate;
  • Enters into agreements or arrangements concerning the relationship of the Organization with other organizations, subject to approval by the Assembly.

Q. Which of the IMO Committee you think is most Important & why?
Ans. The Marine Safety Committee or MSC is the highest technical body of the Organization. It consists of all Member States. Its responsibilities include:

  • To consider any matter concerned with
    • aids to navigation,
    • construction and equipment of vessels,
    • manning from a safety standpoint,
    • rules for the prevention of collisions,
    • handling of dangerous cargoes,
    • maritime safety procedures and requirements,
    • hydrographic information,
    • log-books and navigational records,
    • marine casualty investigations,
    • salvage and rescue and
  • any other matters directly affecting maritime safety”;
  • To provide machinery for performing any duties assigned to it.
  • To consider and submit recommendations and guidelines on safety for possible adoption by the Assembly.
  • The expanded MSC adopts amendments to conventions such as SOLAS.

Q. Which is the second most important Committee & why?
Ans. The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC). It consists of all Member States. Its responsibilities include:

  • To consider any matter concerned with prevention and control of pollution from ships;
  • adoption and amendment of conventions and other regulations and measures to ensure their enforcement.

Q. Name some of the subcommittees.
Ans. The MSC and MEPC are assisted in their work by a number of sub-committees which are also open to all Member States. These are sub-Committee on:

  • Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW);
  • Implementation of IMO Instruments (III);
  • Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR);
  • Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR);
  • Ship Design and Construction (SDC);
  • Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE); and
  • Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC).

Q. What are the duties of Legal Committee?
Ans. The Committee consists of all Member States of IMO. It was established in 1967 as a subsidiary body to deal with legal questions which arose in the aftermath of the Torrey Canyon disaster. Its responsibilities are

  • to deal with any legal matters within the scope of the Organization;
  • to perform any duties within its scope which may be assigned by or under any other international instrument and accepted by the Organization.

Q. What does IMO do to promote the technical activities and projects?
Ans. IMO does it through its Technical Cooperation Committee. It consists of all Member States of IMO, was established in 1969 as a subsidiary body, entered into force in 1984. It is concerned with the implementation of technical cooperation projects for which the Organization acts as the executing or cooperating agency.

Q. What was the purpose of establishing Facilitation Committee?
Ans. The Facilitation Committee was established as a subsidiary body of the Council in May 1972, and became fully institutionalized in December 2008.  It consists of all the Member States of the Organization.

It deals with IMO’s work in eliminating unnecessary formalities and “red tape in international shipping by implementing all aspects of the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic 1965. It also deals with and any matter within the scope and ensures that the right balance is struck between maritime security and the facilitation of international maritime trade.

Q. What does the Secratariat comprise of?
Ans. The Secretariat of IMO consists of the Secretary-General and some 300 international personnel based at the headquarters of the Organization in London.

Q. What is the contribution of IMO in terms of Conventions, protocols, etc?
Ans. The time IMO came into existence in 1958, several important international conventions had already been developed, including the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea of 1948, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil of 1954 and treaties dealing with load lines and the prevention of collisions at sea.

1. IMO was made responsible for ensuring that the majority of these conventions were kept up to date. 
2. It was also given the task of developing new conventions as and when the need arose.
3. It is responsible for several international conventions and agreements and has adopted numerous protocols and amendments.

Q.  Where and how in IMO a Convention is adopted or implemented?
Ans.  IMO has six main bodies concerned with the adoption or implementation of conventions.  The Assembly and Council are the main organs. The committees involved are the Maritime Safety Committee, Marine Environment Protection Committee, Legal Committee and the Facilitation Committee.  Developments in shipping and other related industries are discussed by Member States in these bodies, and the need for a new convention or amendments to existing conventions can be raised in any of them.

Q. What are the different ways in which a member state formally accepts the amendment?
Ans. Before the convention comes into force – that is, before it becomes binding upon Governments which have ratified it – it has to be accepted formally by individual Governments. Signature, ratification, acceptance, approval and accession are some of the methods by which a State can express its consent to be bound by a treaty.

1. Signature
Consent may be expressed by signature and the intention of the State to give that effect to signature appears from the full powers of its representatives as provided in Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969.

A State may also sign a treaty “subject to ratification, acceptance or approval”.  In such a situation, signature does not signify the consent of a State to be bound by the treaty. In legal terms an agent signing on behalf of his principal subject to later ratification would mean:

Initial signing + later ratification = legal acceptance.

2. Signature subject to ratification, acceptance or approval
Most multilateral treaties contain a clause providing that a State may express its consent to be bound by the instrument by signature subject to ratification. In such a situation, signature alone will not suffice to bind the State, but must be followed up by the deposit of an instrument of ratification with the depositary of the treaty. The words “acceptance” and “approval” basically mean the same as ratification, but they are less formal and non-technical and might be preferred by some States which might have constitutional difficulties with the term ratification.   

3. Accession
Most multinational treaties are open for signature for a specified period of time. Accession is the method used by a State to become a party to a treaty which it did not sign whilst the treaty was open for signature. Technically, accession requires the State in question to deposit an instrument of accession with the depositary.

Q. How many versions of SOLAS come into being since inception?
Ans.  The first version was adopted in 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster, the second in 1929, the third in 1948, and the fourth in 1960. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1960 was amended six times after it entered into force in 1965 – in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971 and 1973. In 1974 a completely new convention was adopted incorporating all these amendments (and other minor changes) and has been modified on numerous occasions.

Q. Why are the amendments required? What are the different ways in which Amendment can be done in IMO?
Ans. Technology and techniques in the shipping industry change very rapidly. As a result, not only are new conventions required but existing ones need to be kept up to date.

Explicit method:
Conventions generally comes into force only after a percentage of Contracting States, usually two thirds, had accepted them. To amend a Convention the method used may be Explicit or Tacit. Explicit way is similar in which the Convention is adopted. The required percentage must positively accept it. This, requirement to amend in practice led to long delays in bringing amendments into force.

Tacit Method:
To remedy the situation a new amendment procedure was devised in IMO. This procedure has been used in the case of amendments of Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972; the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973; and SOLAS 1974. They incorporate a procedure involving the “tacit acceptance” of amendments by States. The “tacit acceptance” procedure provides that an amendment shall enter into force at a particular time unless before that date, objections to the amendment are received from a specified number of Parties. In the case of the 1974 SOLAS Convention, an amendment to most of the Annexes (which constitute the technical parts of the Convention) can be done by tacit, except for chapter one. Amendments enter into force within 18 to 24 months, generally.

Q. What are the ways in which the IMO Conventions are enforced?
Ans. Contracting Governments enforce the provisions of IMO conventions as far as their own ships are concerned and also set the penalties for infringements, where these are applicable. They may also have certain limited powers in respect of the ships of other Governments. In some Conventions, certificates are required to be carried on board ship to show that they have been inspected and have met the required standards.  These certificates are normally accepted as proof by authorities from other States regarding compliance. The 1974 SOLAS Convention, for example, states that “the officer carrying out the control shall take such steps as will ensure that the ship shall not sail until it can proceed to sea without danger to the passengers or the crew”. This can be done if “there are clear grounds for believing that the condition of the ship and its equipment does not correspond substantially with the particulars of that certificate”. An inspection of this nature would, of course, take place within the jurisdiction of the Port State.

Q. What is the course of action for a State if an accident occurs in international waters or ships have been damaged on the high seas & if there is a grave risk of oil pollution?
Ans. When an offence occurs in international waters the responsibility for imposing a penalty rests with the Flag State of ship in question. Should an offence occur within the jurisdiction of another State, that State can either cause proceedings to be taken in accordance with its own law or give details of the offence to the flag State so that the latter can take appropriate action. Under the terms of the 1969 Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas, Contracting States are empowered to act against ships of other countries which have been involved in an accident or have been damaged on the high seas if there is a grave risk of oil pollution occurring as a result. The flag State is primarily responsible for enforcing conventions as far as its own ships and their personnel are concerned. The Organization itself has no powers to enforce conventions.

Q. You mean IMO does not have any control regarding enforcement? 
Ans. IMO has been given the authority to vet the training, examination and certification procedures of Contracting Parties to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch-keeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978. This was one of the most important changes made in the 1995 amendments to the Convention which entered into force on 1 February 1997. Governments have to provide relevant information to IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee which will judge whether or not the country concerned meets the requirements of the Convention.

Q. In your opinion, which are the top 3 IMO Conventions?
Ans. I feel the top 3 IMO Conventions are:

  • Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, as amended.
  • Marpol 73/78 and Protocol of 1997
  • STCW 78 as amended. 

Q. Name some Conventions in respect of maritime safety and security and ship/port interface.
Ans. COLREG 1972. Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic or FAL 1965, International Convention on Load Lines (LL), 1966, IAMSAR 1979, Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA), 1988, and  the 2005 Protocols, International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC), 1972, Convention on the International Maritime Satellite Organization, 1976, The Torremolinos International Convention for the  Safety of Fishing Vessels (SFV), 1977,  superseded by the The 1993 Torremolinos Protocol and subsequent, (STCW-F) for fishing vessels,1995 STP Agreement (STP), 1971 and Protocol 1973, are important conventions

 Q. Other than MARPOL, what  other conventions cover prevention of marine pollution?
Ans. These are INTERVENTION 1969.  London Dumping Convention 1972 (and the 1996 London Protocol), OPRC 1990 on preparedness response and cooperation, OPRC-HNS Protocol, AFS 2001, Ballast water and sediments 2004, The Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009.

Then there are Conventions covering liability and compensation. Thus, International Convention on Civil liability for oil pollution damage (CLC)1969, 1992 Protocol to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund (FUND 1992), Convention relating to Civil Liability in the Field of Maritime carriage of Nuclear Material (NUCLEAR), 1971, Athens Convention relating to the passangers and their Luggage by Sea (PAL), 1974, Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims, (LLMC), 1976, HNS, 1996 (and its 2010 Protocol),  Civil Liability for Bunkers, 2001 & Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks 2007.

Q. Any other subjects?
Ans. Yes International Convention on Tonnage Measurements on Ships (TONNAGE), 1969 and International Convention on Salvage (SALVAGE), 1989.

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