General Studies IIImportant International InstitutionsInternational OrganizationsINTERNATIONAL RELATION

International Maritime Organization

About International Maritime Organization:

  • The International Maritime Organization (IMO, known as the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization until 1982)
  • It is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating shipping.
  • The IMO was established following agreement at a UN conference held in Geneva in 1948 and the IMO came into existence ten years later, meeting for the first time in 1959.
  • Headquartered in London, United Kingdom.
  • The IMO currently has 175 member states and three associate members.
  • The IMO’s primary purpose is to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping and its remit today includes maritime safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical co-operation, maritime security and the efficiency of shipping.
  • IMO is governed by an assembly of members and is financially administered by a council of members elected from the assembly.
  • The work of IMO is conducted through five committees and these are supported by technical subcommittees. Other UN organisations may observe the proceedings of the IMO. Observer status is granted to qualified non-governmental organisations.
  • IMO is supported by a permanent secretariat of employees who are representative of the organisation’s members. The secretariat is composed of a Secretary-General who is periodically elected by the assembly, and various divisions such as those for marine safety, environmental protection and a conference section.
  • India is member

Organizational Structure of International Maritime Organization

The IMO’s structure comprises the Assembly, the Council, the Maritime Safety Committee, the Marine Environment Protection Committee, the Legal Committee, the Technical Cooperation Committee, and the Secretariat, headed by a Secretary-General.

Objectives and Functions of IMO

Mission statement of the IMO

“The mission of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), as a United Nations specialized agency, is to promote safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient and sustainable shipping through cooperation. This will be accomplished by adopting the highest practicable standards of maritime safety and security, the efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of pollution from ships, as well as through consideration of the related legal matters and effective implementation of IMO instruments, with a view to their universal and uniform application.”

The objectives and functions of the IMO can be listed as follows: 

  • Develop and maintain a thorough regulatory framework for shipping.
  • Looking after the safety and security of ships.
  • Administering environmental concerns related to shipping.
  • Handling legal matters for maritime cases.
  • Provision of technical cooperation
  • To improve the overall efficiency of shipping

Important Treaties/Conventions:

  • 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)

FAL Convention

The FAL Convention (Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic) was adopted in the year 1965.

The objective of the FAL Convention:

  • Achieving the most efficient shipping/nautical transport system along with the provision of smooth transit in ports for Ships, Cargo as well as Passengers. 
  • The Facilitation Convention promotes the use of a “single window” for data, to enable all the information required by public authorities in connection with the arrival, stay and departure of ships, persons and cargo, to be submitted via a single portal, without duplication.
  • Under the requirement for electronic data exchange, all national authorities should now have provisions for the electronic exchange of this information.

Role of IMO in regulating Shipping

  • Shipping, which accounts for over 90% by volume and about 80% by value of global trade, is a highly regulated industry with a range of legislation promulgated by the IMO.
  • As a specialized agency of the United Nations, IMO is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping.
  • Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.
    • In other words, its role is to create a level playing-field so that ship operators cannot address their financial issues by simply cutting corners and compromising on safety, security and environmental performance.
    • This approach also encourages innovation and efficiency.
    • Shipping is a truly international industry, and it can only operate effectively if the regulations and standards are themselves agreed upon, adopted and implemented on an international basis.
    • And IMO is the forum at which this process takes place.
    • The world relies on a safe, secure and efficient international shipping industry– and this is provided by the regulatory framework developed and maintained by IMO.
    • IMO measures cover all aspects of international shipping including– to ensure that this vital sector for remains safe, environmentally sound, energy-efficient and secure.
    • Shipping is an essential component of any programme for future sustainable economic growth.
    • Through IMO, the Organization’s Member States, civil society and the shipping industry are already working together to ensure a continued and strengthened contribution towards a green economy and growth in a sustainable manner.
  • The promotion of sustainable shipping and sustainable maritime development is one of the major priorities of IMO in the coming years.
    • As part of the United Nations family, IMO is actively working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated SDGs.
    • Indeed, most of the elements of the 2030 Agenda will only be realized with a sustainable transport sector supporting world trade and facilitating global economy.
    • IMO’s Technical Cooperation Committee has formally approved linkages between the Organization’s technical assistance work and the SDGs.
    • While the oceans goal, SDG 14 (Conservation and Sustainable use of the Oceans, Seas and marine resources of the world), is central to IMO, aspects of the Organization’s work can be linked to all individual SDGs.
    • Energy efficiency, new technology and innovation, maritime education and training, maritime security, maritime traffic management and the development of the maritime infrastructure,
      the development and implementation, through IMO, of global standards covering these and other issues will underpin IMO’s commitment to provide the institutional framework necessary for a green and sustainable global maritime transportation system. 

India and IMO

India has been a member of the IMO since 1959.

  • India has had the privilege of being elected to and serving the Council of the IMO, ever since it started functioning till date, except for two years for the period 1983-1984.
  • India is a party to 34 IMO Conventions and protocols and is currently in the advanced stage of ratifying the Ballast Water Convention and Bunker Convention.
  • India ratified the Hong Kong Convention in 2019.
    • This Convention deals with designing, constructing, operating and maintaining ships in such a manner as to ensure they can be recycled safely and in an environment-friendly manner at the end of their lives.
    • This is an important development since India is the largest shipbreaking country in the world.
    • The full name of the Convention is the ‘Hong Kong Convention for the Safe Recycling and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships’.
    • The Convention was adopted first in 2009.
    • The aim of the Convention is that ships’ recycling at the time of their disposal does not pose any environmental hazards.
  • India continues to provide services of its expert manpower to the IMO, as and when required. The IMO’s panel of auditors for the Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme (VIMSAS) and Goal-Based Standards (GBS) has a number of auditors from India.
  • With re-election in IMO, India will continue to engage with the international maritime community to further her maritime interests and promote the welfare of her citizens.
  • India launched a Port Community System — ‘PCS1x’— at ports in 2018.
    • Port Community System (PCS1x) is a cloud-based new generation technology, with a user-friendly interface.
    • This system will enable maritime trade to have improved communication with customs.
  • However, there are concerns that India’s participation in the IMO is inadequate and not facilitating its own best interests. The IMO is said to be dominated by developed countries. Notably, the post of India’s permanent representative to the IMO has been lying vacant for the last twenty-five years. India’s participation in the IMO is said to be far less in proportion to her stakes in international shipping.
  • From January 2020, as per IMO mandate, all merchant ships should not burn fuel in which the sulphur content is greater than 0.5%.
    • Sulphur oxides are harmful to both human beings and the environment. They cause respiratory problems and harm the lungs as well. In addition, they can even cause acid rain.
    • Restricting sulphur oxides emission from ships will improve the air quality by a huge margin, thereby significantly aiding the populations living close to the coastal areas and ports.
    • This move is also in sync with the SDG 14, which deals with the conservation and the sustainable use of marine resources including oceans and seas.
    • Even though these restrictions are helpful in making the air quality better and improving the quality of life along the coastal areas, the economic price they come with is difficult to bear, especially for developing countries like India. Refineries in India are finding it difficult to meet this demand on ship fuels, and thus, the freight prices have gone up, and this, in turn, will adversely affect the retail prices.
  • High-risk areas with respect to piracy
    • The IMO demarcates areas as high-risk and issues best practices on dealing with Somalia-based pirates.
    • In 2010, the organization expanded its demarcation with the result being half the Arabian Sea and almost the entire southwest coast of India being demarcated as piracy-infested.
    • This resulted in a lot of financial burden on shipping companies as the insurance costs skyrocketed for goods coming or going out of the country.
    • Also, many merchant vessels strayed close to the coast of India to avoid being in the demarcated zone.
    • This was also responsible for the Italian vessel Enrica Lexie coming in contact with an Indian fishing boat, and the subsequent shooting of Indian fishermen by two Italian marines.
    • It took a lot of effort by India to get the demarcation promulgation revoked.

Source: IMO

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