The International Maritime Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations which is responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping and to prevent pollution from ships. It is also involved in legal matters, including liability and compensation issues and the facilitation of international maritime traffic. It was established by means of a Convention adopted under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva on 6 March 1948 and met for the first time in January 1959.
To find out more about IMO's history and work click here (VIDEO)
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the shipping industry and especially seafarers, as travel restrictions left tens of thousands of them stranded on ships, or unable to join ships. Access to medical care and repatriation was severely restricted.
IMO worked in collaboration with UN and industry partners, including seafarer organizations, to to find solutions. IMO and other organizations called on governments to designate as "key workers" all seafarers, marine personnel, fishing vessel personnel, offshore energy sector personnel and service provider personnel at ports, regardless of nationality.
For COVID-19 information and resources: click here.
To find out more on how IMO has supported seafarers, including IMO's Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT) click here.
To read our comprehensive FAQ about how COVID-19 impacted seafarers click here.
IMO currently has 175 Member States. There are 66 intergovernmental organizations which have observer status with IMO; and 85 international non-governmental organizations in consultative status with IMO.
To view the list of IMO membership click here.
View the NGO application process and list of current NGOs: click here.
The Organization is led by the Secretary General supported by a Secretariat and around 300 international staff based at IMO headquarters in London. Secretary Generals are appointed for a maximum of two terms, each lasting four years. The current Secretary General is Mr. Arsenio Dominguez from the Republic of Panama. His term began on 1 January 2024.
The IMO Assembly consists of all Member States and is the highest governing body of the Organization. It is responsible for approving the work programme, voting the budget and determining the IMO’s financial arrangements.
The IMO Council is elected by the Assembly for terms of two years. It acts as the Executive Organ of IMO and is responsible, under the Assembly, for supervising the work of the Organization.
IMO has five main Committees:
- Maritime Safety Committee (MSC)
- Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC)
- Legal Committee
- Technical Cooperation Committee
- Facilitation Committee
See more detail about the structure of IMO and a list of previous holders of the post of Secretary General here.
IMO treaties need to be implemented into national law so that they can be applied on ships flying the flag of a particular country and so that those countries can implement effective port State control and comply with other obligations under the specified IMO instruments. First lawyers and legislative drafters must understand IMO treaties - how they are developed and adopted. From this, they can see what methods can be used to implement these treaties into national legislation. The drafting of legislation will go through many iterations to ensure they meet the requirements of the IMO treaty whilst accommodating already existing national law.
To see the process of drafting legislation click here (VIDEO).
The IMO International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI) in Malta is a world recognized centre for the training of specialists in maritime law and provides suitably qualified candidates, particularly from developing countries, with advanced training, study and research programmes in international maritime law. Website: http://www.imli.org/
IMO has been advocating gender equality in the maritime industry for decades. IMO's Women in Maritime programme has been in operation since 1988. This programme's primary objective is to encourage IMO Member States to invite their maritime institutes to train women alongside men and acquire the skill set that the maritime industry demands.
In December 2021 the IMO Assembly adopted a resolution establishing an International Day for Women in Maritime to be observed on 18 May every year. This observance celebrates women in the industry, promotes recruitment, retention and sustained employment of women in the maritime sector, raises the profile of women in maritime, strengthens IMO's commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality) and supports work to address the current gender imbalance in maritime.
IMO supports the Maritime SheEO Leadership Programme which aims to equip women with the leadership skills and confidence to sit at the shipping decision-making table.
To read more about women in maritime click here.
Find out more about the first International Day for Women in Maritime: click here (VIDEO).
The first IMO-Women's International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA International) Women in Maritime Survey 2021 examined the proportion and distribution of women working in the maritime sector, from support roles to executive level positions. According to data gathered from Member States, search and rescue teams in national maritime authorities account for significantly fewer women staff (just 10%) as compared to female diplomats (33%) and training staff (30%). Industry data shows that women seafarers make up just 2% of the crewing workforce and are predominately found in the cruise sector, while in shipowning companies they made up 34% of the workforce.
Interpreters and translators play a crucial role in IMO – and in the entire United Nations. . By promoting dialogue, tolerance and understanding, multilingualism ensures effective participation of all in the Organization's work, as well as greater transparency and efficiencies and better outcomes. Interpreters and translators facilitate understanding of the technical nuances of maritime terminology.
The six official languages at IMO are: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. IMO Meetings are held with simultaneous interpretation into and from these six languages. Each of these languages has its own department within IMO offering translation, text processing and documentation services.
The working languages of IMO are English, French and Spanish. All meeting documents are provided in the three working languages.
More than 80% of global trade is delivered by sea. This means food, fuel, medicine, are all delivered by seafarers. Without international shipping we would have to rely on other modes of transport which don't have the capacity to carry as much cargo as ships and are not as carbon efficient as international shipping. And this global shipping system has to be supported by a framework of universal standards.
To see how IMO's work contributes to the global food system, watch this short clip here (VIDEO).
The safety of life at sea has been a key priority for IMO since it began its work in 1959. Over the years, IMO, particularly through the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), has shaped the way international shipping operates. Codes, conventions and guidelines touch upon every aspect of safety of life at sea, from life-saving appliances, safety of ships in polar waters, guidelines on fatigue, to communications and more.
Making shipping safer - to find out more, click here (VIDEO).
IMO has been addressing maritime piracy sine the 1980s. A series of measures, developed in co-operation with Member States and the shipping industry, have helped significantly reduce piracy in the hot spots of the world. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s the focus was on the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. In the mid-2000s the focus shifted to address piracy off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean. Today, the number of reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships is significantly lower than previously. In 2021, there were zero reports of piracy off the coast of Somalia.
In 2009, the Djibouti Code of Conduct was adopted, to support the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. The IMO Djibouti Code Trust Fund has funded numerous projects, coordinated by the multi-national Project Implementation Unit, to improve regional capacity to counter-piracy by developing enhanced regional cooperation and coordination, in the four pillars of training, capacity building, legal and information sharing.
The scope of the Djibouti Code was expanded in 2017 to include organized crime in the maritime sector, maritime terrorism, human trafficking, and illegal unreported and unregulated fishing. The revised code is known as the Jeddah Amendment to the Djibouti Code of Conduct 2017.
To find out more about the Djibouti Code and Jeddah Amendment watch this short clip (VIDEO).
To read more about the Djibouti Code of Conduct and the Jeddah Amendment click here.
To read more about piracy and armed robbery against ships, including latest reports, click here.
In 1997, IMO adopted a new Annex VI to its MARPOL Convention to address air pollution form ships. The regulations initially addressed the main air pollutants contained in ships exhaust gas, including sulphur oxides (SOx) and nitrous oxides (NOx), and prohibited deliberate emissions of ozone depleting substances (ODS). MARPOL Annex VI also regulates shipboard incineration, and the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC) from tankers. Later, in 2011, regulations were added to address energy efficiency of ships - intended to limit emissions of greenhouse gases.
In 2020, a new lower limit on the sulphur content in fuel oil used on board ships was implemented (often called the "IMO 2020" rule). This measure was introduced due to most ships up to 2020 using heavy fuel oil with a much higher sulphur content compared to other fuel sources. Studies showed the implementation of this new limit, with most ships switching to very low sulphur fuel oil, would mean a 77% reduction in overall sulphur oxide emissions from ships. This will help reduce stroke, asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, especially in coastal populations. It will also help prevent acid rain and ocean acidification, benefiting crops, forests and aquatic species.
To read more about the cut in sulphur oxide emissions click here.
To watch a short clip on IMO's limit of sulphur in fuel click here (VIDEO).
Energy efficiency is an integral part of IMO's aims to achieve greener shipping practices. In 2011, IMO adopted amendments to MARPOL Annex VIto introduce compulsory energy efficiency components to ship design and management, promoting the use of less polluting equipment and engines. The amendments were the first legally binding climate change measures for an entire industry sector.
To read more about energy efficiency measures introduced through the MARPOL Annex VI amendments click here.
From 1 January 2023, it is mandatory for all ships to calculate their attained Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) to measure their energy efficiency and to initiate the collection of data for the reporting of their annual operational carbon intensity indicator (CII) and CII rating. Read the Frequently Asked Questions about these measures here.
To support the implementation of energy-efficiency measures, IMO is implementing a number of global projects.
One of these is the Global MTCC Network project. This project established five regional maritime technology cooperation centers who each work with partners to develop technical cooperation, capacity building and technology transfer. Innovative programs and projects carried out by the MTCCs are all designed to promote energy efficient technologies and operations.
To see why energy efficiency is so important watch this clip (VIDEO).
In 2018 the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) adopted an initial strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships. Through this initial strategy, IMO Member States pledged to cut annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least half by 2025, compared with their level in 2008, and work towards eradicating GHG emissions from shipping entirely.
To read more about IMO's work to cut shipping emissions, click here.
IMO is championing a comprehensive targeted approach to decarbonizing shipping practices, ensuring that no one is left behind in the global transition towards zero emissions shipping. Through a carbon intensity rating system, IMO hopes to encourage ship owners to use alternative fuels to keep their carbon emissions down.
To find out about IMO's role in cutting shipping's GHG emissions click here (VIDEO).
To read more about IMO projects supporting climate action and decarbonization in shipping see the list below:
GEF-UNDP-IMO GloFouling Project which addresses the issue of hull fouling that contributes to GHG emissions
IMO-EBRD-World Bank FIN-SMART roundtable – co-lead by IMO, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank
IMO-Germany Asia Maritime Transport Emissions project (known as the Blue Solutions Project) IMO-Germany project to cut maritime transport emissions in Asia
IMO Coordinated Actions to Reduce Emissions from Shipping (IMO CARES) (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)
Developing countries are looking to seize the opportunities that decarbonizing shipping presents.There is great potential for those countries to become key suppliers of low and zero carbon fuels for shipping. Decarbonization of international shipping requires a rapid shift from today's predominant use of fossil fuels to zero-carbon alternatives. And shipping is also a key enabler of the global energy transition as it serves global trade and sustainable development in a safe, clean, efficient and affordable way.
Watch the video and find out why solar and wind farms are part of the solution to decarbonize shipping: VIDEO
To read the outcome of the Second IMO Symposium on Alternative fuels click here.
Through global initiatives, such as the Global MTCC Network, IMO works with regional partners to develop, execute and enforce maritime environmental goals helping to ensure that no one is left behind in the green maritime transition.
To find out more about the Global MTCC Network click here.
Governments which lack the technical knowledge and resources that are needed to operate a shipping industry successfully are assisted through the Integrated Technical Co-operation Programme (ITCP). Any Member State can apply to IMO for assistance with specific projects. For more information about the ITCP click here.
Some examples of the many ways in which IMO is protecting the marine environment include: tackling invasive aquatic species; limiting dumping of waste at sea; giving additional protection to vulnerable areas; building partnerships.
Read more about IMO's participation at the UN Ocean Conference 2022: click here.
Biofouling is the accumulation of various aquatic organisms on ships' hulls. Through the process of biofouling, invasive aquatic organisms can be introduced to new marine environments affecting the marine biodiversity, coastal properties and infrastructure, and a variety of economic offshore sectors such as fisheries and ocean renewable energy.
To safeguard ecosystem services IMO are leading a global project, GloFouling Parternships, to raise awareness, foster research and development, share best practices and help promote technical solutions to biofouling.
To see biofouling in action watch here (VIDEO).
To read more about the GloFouling Partnerships Project click here.
Ocean areas of ecological, socio-economic or scientific significance can be granted special protection status of a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA). This status recognizes that the area may be vulnerable to damage by international maritime activities and so enacts guidelines to ensure the protection of the vulnerable space.
PSSA cases require special protective measures which are agreed and adopted, such as the compulsory routeing of ships to avoid these areas altogether.
To find out how PSSAs help protect our oceans watch here (VIDEO).
For examples of PSSAs click here.
IMO has been at the forefront of increasing safety in the maritime sector for many years implementing regulations in fishing through the IMO treaty on training for fishers (STCW-F).
Currently, IMO is raising awareness of a global treaty which when in force will ensure safety of fishing vessels. The Cape Town Agreement will set minimum requirements on the design, construction, equipment, and inspection of fishing vessels of 24 meters in length and over or equivalent in gross tons. Through these measures fishing vessels can be regulated and equipped to ensure efficient safety standards for fishers.
This agreement will also help in combatting illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, an authorized form of fishing practices which undermines national, regional and global efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks.
When in force, the Cape Town Agreement will provide safe, legal and sustainable shipping providing an internationally-binding standardization of fishing practices.
For more information about the Cape Town Agreement click here.
To hear more about IMO's promotion of safety standards for fishing vessels watch a clip here (VIDEO).
As a United Nations agency, IMO actively upholds and adopts measures to work toward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the associated SDGs.
Although SDG 14 is integral to IMO, aspects of work conducted by IMO can be attributed to all individual SDGs.
To find out more about IMO and the SDGs click here.
IMO is committed under its Strategic Plan (2018-2023) to “integrate new and advancing technologies in the regulatory framework”. The organization is working to ensure a regulatory framework for Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) that balances the benefits of this rapidly evolving technology with safety, security and environmental concerns, whilst also taking account of its potential cost to the industry and negative impact on international trade.
Work is underway to establish and adopt by the end of 2024 a non-mandatory MASS Code. IMO then plans to develop a mandatory Code which it hopes will enter into force on 1 January 2028. In the meantime, IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee has approved Interim Guidelines for MASS trials.
Read more information here on IMO’s work on the regulation of automated ships.
IMO Guidelines on maritime cyber risk management are available. Providing high-level recommendations on how to mitigate against current and emerging cyber threats and vulnerabilities, they are designed to be integrated into existing risk management practises and are complementary to IMO’s safety and security management procedures.
You can read the Guidelines here.
Texts of IMO Conventions can be purchased via the Publications section. Texts can also be found in national public libraries and in the libraries of maritime training institutes.
For legal purposes, only the authentic texts and certified copies of Conventions and amendments should be used. Please note that texts of IMO Conventions found on external websites may not be up to date. You should also contact your national maritime Administration.
Conventions ratified by a Government are adopted into national legislation and the national version will be available through the usual channels (official bulletins, etc).
IMO marks several days and campaigns annually with events and online and social media campaigns. There is also IMO’s annual awards ceremony. You can see a schedule of upcoming and past events here.
Each year, IMO marks the following:
International Day for Women in Maritime. IMO's first annual IDWM was held on 18 May 2022. Its aim is to highlight the achievements of women in maritime, whilst also promoting the sector as a supportive and inclusive work environment for women. Gender equality is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Day of the Seafarer. An official United Nations international observance day held on 25 June each year but organized by IMO to raise awareness and celebrate those who work at sea.
World Maritime Day. A United Nations international observance day held on the last Thursday of September each year with a theme chosen to reflect a current issue relevant to the maritime sector.
IMO Annual Awards Ceremony. Every year IMO awards two prestigious prizes at a ceremony at IMO headquarters. The International Maritime Prize is given by the IMO Council to an individual or organization judged to have made the most significant contribution to the work and objectives of IMO. The annual Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea is given in recognition of those who have risked their own lives in attempting to save life at sea or prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment.
As well as having a comprehensive website – in English, French and Spanish – IMO has several social media accounts via which the Organization connects with its members, the wider maritime community and beyond.
You can find us on:
Individuals wishing to raise an issue at IMO, or wanting information on implementation of IMO instruments in their country or on their vessel, should approach their national maritime administration or appropriate IGO or NGO.
To contact IMO Secretariat, see the Contact Us page.
See the Knowledge Centre section as well as the other sections of the website. The Site Index can help you find information on a specific subject while external search engines can also help.
While we will endeavour to answer specific queries we expect students to research thoroughly on the website before emailing IMO.