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Convention on the International Maritime Organization

 

Adoption: 6 March 1948; Entry in force:  17 March 1958

Background
The importance of international co-operation in shipping has been recognized for centuries, and has long been manifested in maritime traditions such as ships taking refuge in foreign ports in the event of bad weather and going to the aid of others in distress, irrespective of their nationality.

In 1889 an international maritime conference in Washington, DC, United States discussed a proposal to set up a permanent international body to cater for the needs of shipping. This followed the establishment of a number of other international organization, such as the International Telegraph (now Telecommunications) Union (established 1865); the International (now World) Meteorological Organization (1873); and the Universal Postal Union (1874).

But the plan for a shipping body was rejected. The Conference announced: "for the present the establishment of a permanent international maritime commission is not considered expedient". The reason - although not stated explicitly - was that the shipping industry was suspicious of any attempt to control its activities and restrict its commercial freedom.

In 1945, the United Nations was established and, in the same decade, a number of international organizations were formed, each dealing with a different subject. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was founded in 1944, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was created in 1945, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1945 and the World Heath Organization (WHO) in 1947. All were members of the United Nations system.

In 1948, a Conference was held to establish a similar body for shipping.

The Geneva conference 1948
The Geneva conference opened in February 1948 and on 6 March 1948 the Convention establishing the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) was adopted. (The name was changed in 1982 to International Maritime Organization (IMO).)

The aims of the new Organization were summarized in Article 1 (since amended – see below) of the Convention:

     (a)  To provide machinery for co-operation among Governments in the field of governmental regulation and practices relating to technical matters of all kinds affecting shipping engaged in international trade, and to encourage the general adoption of the highest practicable standards in matters concerning maritime safety and efficiency of navigation;

     (b)  To encourage the removal of discriminatory action and unnecessary restrictions by Governments affecting shipping engaged in international trade so as to promote the availability of shipping services to the commerce of the world without discrimination; assistance and encouragement given by a Government for the development of its national shipping and for purposes of security does not in itself constitute discrimination, provided that such assistance and encouragement is not based on measures designed to restrict the freedom of shipping of all flags to take part in international trade;

     (c)  To provide for the consideration by the Organization of matters concerning unfair restrictive practices by shipping concerns in accordance with Part II;

     (d)  To provide for the consideration by the Organization of any matters concerning shipping that may be referred to it by any organ or specialized agency of the United Nations;

     (e) To provide for the exchange of information among Governments on matters under consideration by the Organization.

In the 1948 convention text, there was no reference to marine pollution or the environment, now among IMO's greatest concerns.  Maritime safety was only referred to briefly, at the end of paragraph (a). The emphasis was on economic action to promote "freedom" and end "discrimination". Paragraphs (b) and (c) were of concern to a number of Governments who regarded promises to create "a world without discrimination" and to take action against  "unfair restrictive practices", as dangerous interference in the practice of free enterprise.

In Part II of the Convention, dealing with the Organization's functions, Article 2 stated: "The functions of the Organization shall be consultative and advisory."

 Article 3 (b) said that, in order to achieve the purposes set out in Article 1, IMO should "provide for the drafting of conventions, agreements, or other suitable instruments, and to recommend these to Governments and to intergovernmental organizations, and to convene such conferences as may be necessary". IMO was not given the authority itself to adopt treaties. Article 3 (c) said that IMO should "provide machinery for consultation among Members and the exchange of information among Governments".

It was expected in 1948 that Article 1 (b) in particular would prove controversial, because Article 4 stated: "When, in the opinion of the Organization, any matter concerning unfair restrictive practices by shipping concerns is incapable of settlement through the normal processes of international shipping business, or has in fact so proved, and provided it shall first have been the subject of direct negotiations between the Members concerned, the Organization shall, at the request of those Members, consider the matter."

The Convention provided for three main organs: the Assembly, the Council and the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC).

The Assembly was to consist of all Member States and to meet once every two years, with provision for extraordinary sessions if necessary. Its main tasks were to vote on the budget and decide financial arrangements, to determine the general policy of the Organization to achieve the purposes of Article 1 and to adopt resolutions submitted to it by the Council and the MSC.

The Council originally consisted of 16 Member States (now 40 – see below) elected by the Assembly, of which, according to Article 17:

(a) six shall be governments of the nations with the largest interest in providing international shipping services;
(b) six shall be governments of other nations with the largest interest in international seaborne trade;
(c) two shall be elected by the Assembly from among the Governments of nations having a substantial interest in providing international shipping services, and
(d) two shall be elected by the Assembly from among the governments of nations having  substantial interest in international seaborne trade.

The main functions of the Council were to receive recommendations and reports of the MSC and transmit them to the Assembly; to appoint the Secretary-General, with the approval of Assembly; to submit budget estimates and, between sessions of the Assembly, to perform other functions of the Organization.

The MSC was also an elected body consisting of 14 Members elected by the Assembly (later expanded to include all Members – see below). Eight were to be the largest shipowning nations and the remainder were to be elected "so as to ensure adequate representation of other Members, governments of other nations with an important interest in maritime safety, such as nations interested in the supply of large numbers of crews or in the carriage of large numbers of berthed and unberthed passengers, and of major geographical areas".  Members were to be elected every four years and were to be eligible for re-election.

The duties of the MSC (Article 29) were to consider "aids to navigation, construction and equipment of vessels, manning from a safety standpoint, rules for the prevention of collisions, handling of dangerous cargoes, maritime safety procedures and requirements, hydrographic information, log-books and navigational records, marine casualty investigation, salvage and rescue and any other matters directly affecting maritime safety".

The Convention then went on to deal with the Secretariat, finances, voting (each Member was to have one vote), the headquarters (it was to be in London) and various other matters.

Article 59 stated that the Convention "would enter into force on the date when 21 States, of which seven shall each have a total tonnage of not less than 1,000,000 gross tons of shipping, have become parties to the Convention..."

The question of funding was left to the IMO Assembly to decide. Article 41 of the Convention stated that the Assembly "should apportion the expenses among the Members in accordance with a scale to be fixed by it after consideration of the proposals of the Council thereon".

Long process to entry into force
It was hoped that the Convention would enter into force relatively quickly. The Geneva conference established a preparatory committee to deal with such matters as rules of procedure, draft financial regulations and a provisional agenda. It also resolved that a conference to revise the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), due to be held in London later in 1948, should draft provisions taking into account the duties and functions which had been accorded to IMO, the intention being to delegate future responsibilities for the Convention to IMO.

However, to some countries, much of Article 1 was unacceptable. Some were afraid that the treaty would lead to interference with their own national shipping industries and laws. Others felt that the IMO Convention was written by and for the benefit of the handful of countries which dominated shipping at that time.

By the mid-1950s the delay in ratifying the IMO convention was causing concern. The 1948 SOLAS Convention was already in need of revision. New maritime problems were also beginning to emerge, among them oil pollution.  In 1954 a conference in London adopted the International Convention for Prevention of Pollution by Oil and agreed that it would become the responsibility of IMO once the new organization was established.

Gradually the number of Parties to the Convention increased. But many of them registered declarations or reservations which had the effect of greatly restricting the Organization's area of activities. Several used identical wording stating "it is in the field of technical and nautical matters that the Organization can make its contribution towards the development of shipping and seaborne trade throughout the world. If the Organization were to extend its activities to matters of a purely commercial or economic nature, a situation might arise where the Government (of the country concerned) would have to consider resorting to the provisions regarding withdrawal".

Entry into force 1958
The convention provided for entry into force "on the date when 21 States, of which seven shall each have a total tonnage of not less than 1,000,000 gross tons of shipping, have become Parties to the Convention".

On 17 March, 1958, Egypt became the 21st State to accept the IMO Convention and it finally entered into force. But by the time the new Organization met for the first time in January 1959, so many reservations had been submitted that it was clear that it would not be able to engage in any activities that might be regarded as economic or commercial. It would have to confine itself to mainly technical issues, especially those involving safety as defined in Article 29.

The first Assembly met in January 1959 and much of its work concerned administrative arrangements, one of the most important being the apportionment of expenses among Member States. Resolution A.20(I) agreed that each Member should pay a basic assessment to be determined by the percentage of  its contribution to the United Nations. Countries paying less than 2% would have to pay $US 2,000, while those paying 10% or more would have to pay $US10,000.

Each Member would additionally pay an additional assessment determined by the gross registered tonnage of its merchant marine, as shown in the latest edition of Lloyd's Register of Shipping, on the basis of one share for every 1,000 tons. In practice, therefore, contributions to the IMO budget are based primarily on shipping tonnage rather than national wealth. This system is unique in the United Nations system.

The 1964 amendments – entry into force 1967
The 1960s saw the emergence of new nations, many of which had an interest in maritime affairs. Membership of IMO was growing and in September 1964, at the 2nd Extraordinary Session of the Assembly, IMO adopted an amendment to the IMO Convention that increased the size of the Council to 18.

The main shipowning and trading nations continued to have six seats each, but a third group (c) was added consisting of six Member States "which have special interests in maritime transport or navigation and whose election to the Council will ensure the representation of all major geographic areas of the world". 

The 1965 amendments – entry into force 1968
The 4th regular session of the Assembly in 1965 adopted an amendment to Article 28 increasing membership of the Maritime Safety Committee to 16. Of these, eight were to be elected from among the ten largest shipowning States and four to be elected in such a way as to ensure that Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania and Europe were all represented. The other four seats "shall be elected from among States not otherwise represented on the Committee".

The 1964 and 1965 amendments were important because they acknowledged the fact that the membership of IMO was not only growing but was changing. The dominance of the traditional maritime countries was coming to an end as more and more developing nations joined the Organization.

The 1974 amendments – entry into force 1978
At the 5th Extraordinary Session in October 1974, Council membership was increased to 24 Member States. This was done by enlarging Group (c) to 12 Member States.

More significantly, Article 28 was amended.  The existing text was replaced by one line stating: "The Maritime Safety Committee shall consist of all Members".
  
These amendments did much to counter the criticism that IMO was still dominated by traditional shipowning nations. The change in membership was underlined by the adoption of resolution A.316 (ES.V) which noted that "a high number of the members of the Organization is constituted by developing countries and that such fact has not so far been reflected in the composition of the governing bodies of the Organization".

The resolution stated that the amendments were adopted "as a recognition of the need of wider and more equitable representation in the Council and all sectors interested in the work of the Organization, having regard to the increased membership of the Organization and the need to improve the representation of developing countries in the Council".

The 1975 amendments – entry into force 1982
In 1967, the Torrey Canyon oil spill illustrated the immense environmental damage that could result from an accident involving a large oil tanker. The protection of the marine environment became a major issue, but the Torrey Canyon spill also revealed a number of deficiencies in the international system for assessing liability and compensation for oil spill damage. IMO established a Legal Committee to deal with the latter and a new sub-committee of the MSC to handle environmental issues.

By the mid-1970s both subjects were recognized as being important enough to become a permanent part of the IMO work programme. In 1975, the 9th Assembly adopted resolution A.358(IX) which formed a new Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) and raised it and the Legal Committee  to the same status as the MSC.

Article 1 of the Convention was changed by adding to the list of purposes "the prevention and control of marine pollution from ships; and to deal with legal matters related to the purposes set out in this Article."

Also, the name of the Organization was changed to the International Maritime Organization. It was felt that the original name was confusing, especially the inclusion of the word "Consultative", which gave the impression that IMO could only talk, rather than take decisions and act. 

The 1977 amendments – entry into force 1984
IMO’s 10th assembly adopted amendments to Article I parts (a) and (d) to accommodate the Organization's growing involvement in environmental, administrative and legal issues. Article 2, which then limited IMO's role to being consultative and advisory, was deleted and subsequent articles renumbered.

The Technical Co-operation Committee (which had been established in 1969) was raised to the same status as the MSC, Legal Committee and MEPC. 

The 1979 amendments – entry into force 1984
The Council was increased in size to 32, with 16 places for Group (c).

The 1991 amendments – entry into force 2008
The amendments raise the Facilitation Committee to the same status as the other Committees. The Committee seeks to standardize the documentary procedures involved in international maritime trade and to remove unnecessary "red tape".

The 1993 amendments – entry into force 2002
The amendments increased the size of the Council to 40, with Groups (a) and (b) increased to ten and Group (c) to 20 Member States. The adoption of the amendments followed concern over elections to the Council held during the 17th session of the Assembly, when several time-consuming votes had to be held to decide membership of Group (a) because so many Members were seeking election.

Convention on the International Maritime Organization Articles of the Convention – Summary

Part 1 – Purposes of the Organization

Article 1 – states the purposes of the organization are:

     (a)  To provide machinery for co-operation among Governments in the field of governmental regulation and practices relating to technical matters of all kinds affecting shipping engaged in international trade, and to encourage the general adoption of the highest practicable standards in matters concerning maritime safety, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of marine pollution from ships; and to deal with administrative and legal matters related to the purposes set out in this Article.

     (b)  To encourage the removal of discriminatory action and unnecessary restrictions by Governments affecting shipping engaged in international trade so as to promote the availability of shipping services to the commerce of the world without discrimination; assistance and encouragement given by a Government for the development of its national shipping and for purposes of security does not in itself constitute discrimination, provided that such assistance and encouragement is not based on measures designed to restrict the freedom of shipping of all flags to take part in international trade;

     (c)  To provide for the consideration by the Organization of matters concerning unfair restrictive practices by shipping concerns in accordance with Part II;

     (d)  To provide for the consideration by the Organization of any matters concerning shipping that may be referred to it by any organ or specialized agency of the United Nations;

(e) To provide for the exchange of information among Governments on matters under consideration by the Organization.

Part II – Functions

Article 2 – states that IMO provides for the drafting of conventions, agreements or other suitable instruments; provides machinery for consultation among Members and exchange of information; facilitates technical co-operation.

Article 3 – states that for matters “capable of settlement through the normal processes of international shipping business”, the IMO should recommend their resolution in that manner. 

Part III – Membership

Articles 4-10 – give procedures for becoming a Member (or Associate Member) of IMO, by becoming Party to the IMO Convention.

Part IV – Organs

Article 11 – states the Organization consists of an Assembly, Council, Maritime Safety Committee, Legal Committee, Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), Technical Co-operation Committee Facilitation Committee and “such subsidiary organs as the Organization may at any time consider necessary”; and a Secretariat.

Part V- The Assembly

Articles 12-15 – give constitution (all Members) and functions of the Assembly.

Part VI – The Council

Articles 16-26 – relate to composition, election procedures and functions of the Council.

Part VII – Maritime Safety Committee

Articles 27-31 – give constitution (all Members) and functions/work of the Committee.

Part VIII – Legal Committee

Articles 32-36 – give constitution (all Members) and functions/work of the Committee.

Part IX – Marine Environment Protection Committee

Articles 37-41 – give constitution (all Members) and functions/work of the Committee.

Part X – Technical Co-operation Committee

Articles 42-46 – give constitution (all Members) and functions/work of the Committee.

Part XI – Facilitation Committee

Articles 47-51 – give constitution (all Members) and functions/work of the Committee.

Part XII - The Secretariat

Articles 52-57 - give functions and duties of the Secretariat.

Part XII I– Finances

Articles 58-61 – give financial obligations of the Member States

Part XIV – Voting

Article 62 – Each Member has one vote, decisions shall be by a majority vote.

Part XV – Headquarters of the Organization

Article 63 – The headquarters is established in London; the Assembly may by two-thirds majority vote change the site if necessary; sessions may be held in any place other than Headquarters if Council deems it necessary.

Part XVI – Relationship with the United Nations and other organizations

Article 64 – relate to relationships and co-operation with the United Nations, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations.

Part XVII – Legal capacity, privileges and immunities

Articles 69-70 – refers to the General Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations and refers to Appendix II of the IMO Convention which gives provisions on legal capacity, privileges and immunities which should be applied by Members and by the Organization.

Part XVIII – Amendments

Articles 71-73– Amendments to the IMO Convention must be adopted by two-third majority vote of the Assembly and enter into force 12 months after acceptance by two-thirds of Member States.

Part XIX – Interpretation

Articles 74-75 – questions or disputes over interpretation or application of the Convention shall be referred to the Assembly; if they cannot be settles, they must be referred to the International Court of justice for an advisory opinion.

Part XX – Miscellaneous Provisions

Articles 76-78 – cover signature and acceptance; territories; withdrawal.

Part XXI – Entry into force

Articles 79-82– entry into force provisions for the Convention.