What is International Maritime Organization (IMO)?

Every development in world history takes place because of factors that may come about with time, and the establishment of the International maritime organization, IMO, was no different.

Of the various worldwide industries, ‘Shipping’ can be considered a truly international industry.

This is because it serves more than 90% of the world’s trade by cargo transportation and other merchant ships that do so cleanly and cost-effectively. As a result, any particular ship can be governed by a management chain that spans many countries. Also, these ships spend most of their time at sea between various jurisdictions.

Therefore, at the beginning of the last century, there was a need for a universal governing body that laid down rules and standards to regulate the shipping process and the industry worldwide.

Thus the International maritime organization came into being.

The first international treaty of any kind between nations can be traced back to the treaty of ‘safety of life at sea – SOLAS, which was adopted by a few nations, post the disaster of the Titanic.

Though the IMO was established in 1948 in Geneva, it was not enforced until 1959 at a meeting held in London, its headquarters.

Image Credits: imo.org

Purpose of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The main mission and responsibility of the International maritime organisation are to develop and preserve a comprehensive framework of regulations and policies for the shipping industry and its activities like maritime security, safety, technical cooperation, environmental concerns and legal matters.

IMO has been successfully disposing of this task since its inception with the specialised committees and sub-committees at the headquarters. The sessions of these committees are attended by numerous delegates and experts from the member countries and non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations.

Non-governmental organisations might be given consultive status if they demonstrate expertise and competence to contribute according to the requirements of IMO.

Structure of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)

The governing body of the IMO is an assembly that meets bi-yearly. The assembly comprises all the member states. In the intervening time between the Assembly sessions, a council acts as the governing body. This council comprises 40 member states elected by the assembly for a specified period of time.

IMO Structure Infographic

The committees of various tasks and duties mentioned above are also governed and observed by these governing bodies. The secretariat has a workforce of over 300, headed by the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General is elected by the Assembly and holds his post for four years.

Functions of IMO

The major areas of concern that the International maritime organisation has been able to bring under regulation have been the prevention of accidents, setting up safety standards for ships and other vessels (including design and materials) for the member states to abide by, maintaining adherence to the established treaties of safety and security, prevention of pollution and other avoidable human disasters.

IMO also facilitates technical co-operation among member states, setting up an audition and monitoring scheme for these rules and standards and finally monitoring liabilities and compensation in case of breach of any of these regulations.

Thus, the International maritime organisation plays a crucial role in modern society’s progress toward a better and healthy commercial and transportation environment.

Events and Awards By IMO

The international maritime organisation also organises several events and awards to increase awareness about the marine industry and recognise those who have made a significant contribution.

Some of the main events and awards by the international maritime organisation (IMO) are:

  • World Maritime Day
  • Day of the Seafarer
  • IMO Awards – Award for exceptional bravery at sea and the international maritime prize
  • IMO Ministerial Conference
  • Women, Ports and Facilitation

The headquarters of IMO is in London, United Kingdom.

Frequently Asked Questions About IMO

1. What is the purpose of the International Maritime Organization?

As a United Nations specialised agency, IMO strives to promote safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient and sustainable shipping practices throughout the world.

2. What are the pillars of IMO?

The four pillars of IMO are the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and Maritime Labour Convention (MLC).

3. Who funds the IMO?

An assembly of members governs the IMO. It is also financially administered by a member council elected from the assembly. It has five committees and several technical sub-committees.

4. How many countries are members of the IMO?

175 nations are members of the IMO, headquartered in London, United Kingdom. The Faroe Islands, Hong Kong (China), and Macau (China) are associate members of IMO.

5. Why was IMO established?

Formerly known as the Inter-governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, IMO is a part of the UN and was created to oversee the maritime domain by bringing out rules, guidelines and regulations. It also brings out international treaties and other mechanisms for maritime safety. It discourages discriminatory practices in international trade.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed are based on his own experience and that of others who have benefitted from his help. The author and Marine Insight shall not warrant or assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any information provided herein.

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About Author

Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.


  1. Good day sir/maam,

    Im Graciano P. Espeja III a filipino seaman ive been repatraited last june 22,2019 due to ship work related accident,my problem is until now my company did not give my monthly basic salary and they did not send me to doctor for the surgery of my fractured left hand.Can i ask some advice what i will do thanks and more power.

  2. “IMO SOLAS, MARPOL, STCW and MLC are all internationally recognized and mandatory conventions that work together to ensure the safety and environmental protection of ships and the rights and welfare of seafarers.”

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