International Maritime Organization

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IMO is the source of approximately 60 legal instruments that guide the regulatory development of its member states to improve safety at sea, facilitate trade among seafaring states and protect the maritime environment. The most well known is the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

IMO regularly enacts regulations, which are broadly enforced by national and local maritime authorities in member countries, such as the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG). The IMO has also enacted a Port State Control (PSC) authority, allowing domestic maritime authorities such as coast guards to inspect foreign-flag ships calling at ports of the many port states. Memoranda of Understanding (protocols) were signed by some countries unifying Port State Control procedures among the signatories.

Current issues

Recent initiatives at the IMO have included amendments to SOLAS, which upgraded fire protection standards on passenger ships, the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) which establishes basic requirements on training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers and to the Convention on the Prevention of Maritime Pollution (MARPOL 73/78), which required double hulls on all tankers.

In December 2002, new amendments to the 1974 SOLAS Convention were enacted. These amendments gave rise to the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, which went into effect on 1 July 2004. The concept of the code is to provide layered and redundant defenses against smuggling, terrorism, piracy, stowaways, etc. The ISPS Code required most ships and port facilities engaged in international trade to establish and maintain strict security procedures as specified in ship and port specific Ship Security Plans and Port Facility Security Plans.

The IMO is also responsible for publishing the International Code of Signals for use between merchant and naval vessels.

The First Intersessional Meeting of IMO’s Working Group on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ships took place in Oslo, Norway (23–27 June 2008), tasked with developing the technical basis for the reduction mechanisms that may form part of a future IMO regime to control greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping, and a draft of the actual reduction mechanisms themselves, for further consideration by IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).[3]

The IMO is pursuing an effort to harmonize information available to seafarers and shore-side traffic services called e-Navigation. An e-Navigation strategy was ratified in 2005, and an implementation plan is being developed through three IMO sub-committees. The plan is expected to be completed in 2012.[4]

The IMO has also served as a key partner and enabler of U.S. international and interagency efforts to establish Maritime Domain Awareness.

Governing bodies

The governing body of the International Maritime Organisation is the Assembly which meets every two years. In between Assembly sessions a Council, consisting of 40 Member States elected by the Assembly, acts as the governing body. The technical work of the International Maritime Organisation is carried out by a series of Committees. The Secretariat consists of some 300 international civil servants headed by a Secretary-General.[5]

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