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International Maritime Organization

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Headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation in Lambeth, adjacent to the east end of Lambeth Bridge
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Headquarters of the International Maritime Organisation in Lambeth, adjacent to the east end of Lambeth Bridge

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International_Maritime_Organization_Building_-_London_-_Across_the_Thames_-_240404.jpg
Headquarters building taken from the west side of the Thames

Headquartered in London, U.K., the International Maritime Organization (IMO) promotes cooperation among governments and the shipping industry to improve maritime safety and to prevent marine pollution. Recent initiatives at the IMO have included amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS), which upgraded fire protection standards on passenger ships, and amendments to the Convention on the Prevention of Maritime Pollution, which required double hulls on all tankers. Both these initiatives were instigated by representatives of the United States before the IMO.

The concept of IMO was born after the RMS Titanic disaster. By modern standards, the design of the Titanic made her appallingly vulnerable. Her "watertight" bulkheads, by design, did not extend all the way to the overhead because the engineers calculated that it was impossible for the ship to take on a trim or list sufficient for water to cascade over their tops if the bulkheads were of a certain height.

When Titanic struck the iceberg, these calculations were proven dismally incorrect. When people began abandoning ship, it became obvious that not nearly enough lifeboats were available. Many lives and much money were lost in this tragedy.

Up until that time, each nation had made its own rules about ship design, construction, and safety equipment. The "International Maritime Consulting Organization" was formed in response to the Titanic event, but was "put on the back burner" when World War I broke out. After the war ended, IMCO was revived and produced a group of regulations concerning shipbuilding and safety called "Safety Of Life At Sea"..."SOLAS". Through the years, SOLAS has been modified and upgraded to adapt to changes in technology and lessons learned.

IMCO eventually became IMO. IMO regularly enacts regulations (such as the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) which are enforced by class societies and recognized organizations who survey ships regularly to ensure compliance with specific laws applicable to each individual ship. Port State Control authority was enacted, allowing such agencies as the US and British coast guards to inspect foreign flag ships calling at ports of the many port states. Memoranda of Understanding were signed by some countries unifying Port State Control procedures among the signators.

Of course, the numbers will never be known, but IMO has protected countless lives, saved enormous amounts of money, and prevented numerous environmental disasters over the years.

Prior to 11 September 2001, IMO had begun work on the International Ship and Port Security Code, which was designed to provide guidance for shipowners and port facilities in establishing strict security procedures to prevent weapons of mass destruction and other contraband from being transported by ship. The tragic events of 9/11 created greater urgency to this effort and, in December 2002, new amendments to the 1974 SOLAS Convention were enacted. These amendments gave rise to the International Ship and Port Security Code, which went into effect on 1 July 2004.

The ISPS Code required most ships and port facilities engaged in international trade to establish and maintain strict security procedures as specified in ship and port specific Ship Security Plans and Port Facility Security Plans. The concept of the Code is to provide layered and redundant defenses against smuggling, terrorism, piracy, stowaways, etc.

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