21st Century Oceans: The International Maritime Organization

unacto1The following post was written by Sierra Wylie, one of our new UNAC-Vancouver website writers.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a semi-independent branch of the United Nations, was created in 1948 to deal with all matters concerning maritime safety and shipping regulations. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 signaled a pivotal moment in global marine history, and prompted the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS), which in turn paved the way for the IMO’s creation years later.[1] With the heightened influence of globalization, this organization plays a crucial role in international politics. The IMO has sought to involve all economically active powers, and presently includes 171 member states with various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOS) that cooperate and contribute to the IMO.[2]

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 10.01.24 PMIn recent decades, the IMO has evolved to combat critical issues plaguing our oceans. Pollution, deep sea drilling and oil spills have taken a terrible toll on marine ecosystems and the global climate, and thus the members of the IMO have had to develop measures to prevent future disasters.[3] Additionally, the melting of the ice caps and sea level rise have had a major influence on the openings of new shipping routes through previously unnavigable arctic straights. With one of the main tenants of the IMO being the provision of sustainable, secure shipping, shifts in marine climates are a major concern. Fortunately, the IMO is working with organizations like the Arctic Council and its parent organization, the UN, to overcome these challenges and build for the future.

This tall order of organizing the entire world’s oceans and nations to ensure safety and sustainability is no easy feat. Considering that the IMO Assembly only meets once every two years, one might question as to whether they are able to effectively meet this goal. Fortunately, the independent UN agency has several affiliated programs, such as the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC), GloBallast Partnerships, the London Convention of 1972 (which dealt with marine debris pollution), and many more.[4]

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 10.02.02 PMThe IMO came into the news quite recently with the adoption of the Polar Code. This legal instrument provides a much stricter set of rules for arctic shipping, limiting waste dumping, and establishing a prohibited perimeter around sensitive marine ecosystems.[5] Even though this is a regional protocol, and its limitations to not apply globally, the Polar Code sets precedence for other regional organizations to begin to adopt more environmentally friendly regulations for shipping.

In the 21st century, global organizations are becoming more conscientious of sustainable shipping procedures and the importance of protecting the fragile marine environments. The IMO stands at the forefront of this development, and under the umbrella of the UN, it has been able to make steady progress towards effective management of the seas.

[1] http://www.imo.org/About/Pages/Default.aspx

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-n-agency-adopts-polar-code-to-prevent-sea-pollution-1431711578

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