Shipping is perhaps the most international of the world’s industries serving more than 90 per cent of global trade.
The number of large yachts – both sail and motor – for pleasure or commercial use has grown considerably in the last few years and there are now several thousand in service around the globe.
The ownership and management chain surrounding any vessel can embrace many countries and vessels spend their economic life moving between different jurisdictions, often far from the country of registry. There is, therefore, a need for international standards to regulate shipping – which can be adopted and accepted by all. The first maritime treaties date back to the 19th century. Later, the Titanic disaster of 1912 resulted in the first International Safety of Life at Sea – SOLAS – convention, still the most important treaty addressing maritime safety.
The Convention establishing the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) was adopted in Geneva in 1948 and IMO first met in 1959. IMO’s main task has been to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping and its remit today includes safety, environmental concerns, legal matters, technical co-operation, maritime security and the efficiency of shipping.
The IMO is a specialised agency of the United Nations.
IMO’s committees and sub-committees are the focus for the technical work to update existing legislation or develop and adopt new regulations, with meetings attended by maritime experts from member governments, together with those from interested intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations.
The result is a comprehensive body of international conventions, supported by hundreds of recommendations governing every facet of shipping. There are, firstly, measures aimed at the prevention of accidents, including standards for ship design, construction, equipment, operation and manning – key treaties include SOLAS, the MARPOL convention for the prevention of pollution by ships and the STCW convention on standards of training for seafarers.
Inspection and monitoring of compliance are the responsibility of member States, but the adoption of a Voluntary IMO member State Audit Scheme plays a key role in enhancing implementation of IMO standards.