The increasing maritime safety and security concerns led to the demand for creation of a permanent international maritime body by the shipping nations in the last decade of the nineteenth century. It could become a reality only in 1948, when an international conference in Switzerland adopted a convention to create the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO). In 1958, this Convention entered into force leading to the creation of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). But prior to creation of IMO, several important international conventions such as the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (OILPOL, 1954) had already been established to promote safe and secure shipping. IMO was made responsible for developing new conventions as well as keeping these existing conventions up to date by making necessary amendments.
The purposes of IMO, as mentioned in Article 1(a) of the Convention, are “to provide machinery for cooperation among governments in the field of governmental regulation and practices relating to technical matters of all kinds affecting shipping engaged in international trade; to encourage and facilitate the general adoption of the highest practicable standards in matters concerning maritime safety, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of marine pollution from ships”. Today, the primary roles of IMO are to promote safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient andsustainable shipping through cooperation.
Since its creation, IMO has been busy in formulating and promoting new conventions and updating existing conventions related to maritime safety and pollutions. Majority of conventions adopted by IMO usually fall into three main categories - maritime safety, prevention of marine pollution, and liability and compensation, especially in relation to damage caused by pollution. There are other minor conventions dealing with facilitation, tonnage measurement, unlawful acts against shipping and salvage etc. At present, IMO is responsible for implementing and promoting over fifty international conventions and agreements related to safety, pollution and other maritime issues. These international regulations must be followed by all shipping nations to improve maritime safety and environment.