The main concern of the UN during the establishment of special agency dealing with Maritime Affairs was to improve safety at sea.
Because of the international nature of the shipping industry, it had long been recognized that action to improve safety in maritime operations would be more effective if carried out at an international level rather than by individual countries acting unilaterally and without co-ordination with others. Although a number of important international agreements had already been adopted, many States believed that there was a need for a permanent body which would be able to co-ordinate and promote further measures on a more regular basis.
It was against this background that a conference held by the United Nations in 1948 adopted a convention establishing the International Maritime Organization (IMO)* as the first ever international body devoted exclusively to maritime matters.
In the 10-year period between the adoption of the convention and its entry into force in 1958, other problems related to safety but requiring slightly different emphasis had attracted international attention. One of the most important of these was the threat of marine pollution from ships, particularly pollution by oil carried in tankers. An international convention on this subject was actually adopted in 1954, four years before IMO came into existence, and responsibility for administering and promoting it was assumed by IMO in January 1959. From the very beginning, the improvement of maritime safety and the prevention of marine pollution have been IMO's most important objectives.
The Organization is based at 4 Albert Embankment, London, and is the only United Nations specialized agency to have its headquarters in the United Kingdom. Its governing body is the Assembly, which meets once every two years. It currently consists of 155 Member States and two Associate Members. Between sessions of the Assembly a Council, consisting of 32 Member Governments elected by the Assembly, acts as IMO's governing body.
IMO is a technical organization and most of its work is carried out in a number of committees and sub-committees. The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) is the most senior of these.
The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) was established by the Assembly in November 1973. It is responsible for co-ordinating the Organization's activities in the prevention and control of pollution of the marine environment from ships.
There are a number of sub-committees whose titles indicate the subjects they deal with: Safety of Navigation (NAV); Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue (COMSAR); Training and Watchkeeping (STW); Carriage of Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers (DSC); Ship Design and Equipment (DE); Fire Protection (FP); Stability and Load Lines and Fishing Vessel Safety (SLF); Flag State Implementation (FSI); and Bulk Liquids and Gases (BLG).
The Legal Committee was originally established to deal with the legal problems arising from the Torrey Canyon accident of 1967, but it was subsequently made a permanent committee. It is responsible for considering any legal matters within the scope of the Organization.
The Technical Co-operation Committee is responsible for co-ordinating the work of the Organization in the provision of technical assistance in the maritime field, in particular to developing countries.
The Facilitation Committee is responsible for IMO's activities and functions relating to the facilitation of international maritime traffic. These are aimed at reducing the formalities and simplifying the documentation required of ships when entering or leaving ports or other terminals.
All the committees of IMO are open to participation by all Member Governments on an equal basis.
The IMO secretariat is headed by the Secretary-General, who is assisted by a staff of some 300 international civil servants. The Secretary-General is appointed by the Council, with the approval of the Assembly.