International Maritime Organization

What is the International Maritime Organization?

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a functional organization of the United Nations (UN) that regulates international shipping activities worldwide. With their slogan being "safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans”, the IMO is committed to conserving the oceans. Although originally put in place to avoid disasters like the sinking of the Titanic, the IMO's mission has expanded to consider many marine environmental protection issues, including oil spills, discharge of ballast water, and Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSA).

Why is the ISO important for Antarctica?

The IMO is important for Antarctica because the Antarctic Treaty System is not able to regulate all vessels operating in Antarctic waters, and ships are the major source of transportation to and from Antarctica. Shipping is particularly risky in Antarctica. Ships need special construction and operating conditions including ice strengthening, and crews need special training to minimize the risk of accidents. Moreover, the cold polar waters of the Southern Ocean are more sensitive to the impacts of oil pollution than are warmer waters. The IMO thus has an important role to play in ensuring that ship operations in the Antarctic are conducted in a manner that protects both the environment and human life.

IMO Participation as of 2008

Polar Code

The IMO is developing the International Code of Safety for Ships in Polar Water also known as the Polar Code to help manage shipping in Antarctica and to avoid environmental damage. The Polar Code is aimed at ensuring safe navigation of ships and the prevention of pollution in polar waters. It is anticipated that the code will take into account sea and weather conditions and the presence of ice, which can represent serious structural hazards to all ships navigating in polar waters such as the Southern Ocean.

It is also anticipated that the code will address ice strengthening for polar ships, set new safety regulations for the crew and passengers and minimize the impact of ships on the environment. ASOC actively participates in meetings on the Polar Code and strongly advocates that the highest levels of safety and environmental protection should be afforded to these sensitive waters.

ASOC is also engaged on a range of other shipping issues under consideration by the IMO that have an impact on the Southern Ocean, such as discharges of pollution and underwater noise. We attend relevant IMO meetings via the consultative position of Friends of the Earth International (FOEI), Greenpeace, IFAW and WWF, all ASOC Council members.

To learn more about protecting Antarctic waters, visit our Southern Ocean Vessels Safety page.

More news and information about the IMO is available below.