2008 contained a number of key milestones and anniversaries for IMO.
March 6th saw the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the IMO Convention at a conference held in Geneva, in 1948, under the auspices of the United Nations.
March 17th marked the 50th anniversary of that Convention entering into force in 1958.
June saw the 100th meeting of the IMO Council, the executive organ of IMO, which is responsible, under the Assembly, for supervising the work of the Organization in between successive sessions of the latter.
The theme for World Maritime Day 2008 was "IMO: 60 years in the service of shipping".
1948 to today
There is no doubt that IMO has come a very long way since its inception.
The Organization was born into a world weary from war and in which the old colonial powers still held sway in terms of global prosperity and trade. As a consequence, these were also major powers in shipping and, as the leading maritime nations, they tended to create their own standards with regard to vessel construction, safety, manning and so on.
But, in 1948, the new spirit of global unity that was in the air and the first glimpses of a new world order on the horizon combined to cause a number of far-sighted nations to draw up the blueprint for an international organization that would develop standards for shipping - for adoption and universal implementation throughout the entire industry. For it was becoming generally accepted that a situation in which each shipping nation had its own maritime laws was counter-productive in ensuring safety in shipping operations worldwide. Not only were standards different, but some were far higher than others. Conscientious safety-minded shipowners were at an economic disadvantage vis-à-vis their competitors who spent relatively little money on safety, and this was a threat to any serious attempt to improve safety at sea and to international seaborne trade as a whole.
Now, of course, all this has changed. Globalization has transformed international trade, new powers have emerged in shipping and the plethora of measures established by IMO has provided the bedrock on which a safer and cleaner industry can continue to develop and flourish.
Moreover, IMO's work has demonstrated beyond doubt that international standards - developed, agreed, implemented and enforced universally - are the only effective way to regulate such a diverse and truly international industry as shipping.
The Organization's standards are now firmly embedded in shipping's consciousness and practice and they shape the industry of today. Indeed, the comprehensive body of IMO conventions (some 50 in total), supported by literally hundreds of codes, guidelines and recommendations, govern just about every facet of the industry - from the design, construction, equipment and operation of ships to the training of seafarers, or from the drawing board to the scrapyard.
Many of the main IMO treaties (including, for example, SOLAS, the Tonnage and Load Lines Conventions, the Collision Regulations, the STCW Convention and Annexes I and II of MARPOL), have all been ratified by States that are, collectively, responsible for more than 98 per cent of the world's fleet.
It is because of the extensive network of global regulations that IMO has developed and adopted over the years that we can say with confidence that, today, shipping is a safe and secure mode of transport; comparatively clean; comparatively environment-friendly; and very energy-efficient.
There is no doubt that shipping's environmental consciousness continues to grow. This is illustrated not only by its wide acceptance of IMO's environmental standards and the initiatives that the industry itself has put in place to prevent its operations having a negative impact on the environment, but also by its eagerness to challenge and reverse shipping's unwarranted negative image and, through a variety of media, enhance its environmental credentials, highlighting its ever-improving record and contribution to sustainable development.