The role of the international maritime organization in preventing the pollution of the world's oceans from ships and shipping.

Author:Lim, Kitack

Shipping is a key user of the oceans, delivering more than 80 per cent of world trade, taking ferry passengers to their destinations and carrying millions of tourists on cruises. Annually, more than 50,000 seagoing ships carry between them more than 10 billion tons1 of vital and desired cargoes, including commodities, fuel, raw materials and consumer goods.

As the United Nations agency responsible for developing and adopting measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping and to prevent pollution from ships, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has an integral role in meeting the targets set out in United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The increase in the number and the size of ships and the volume of cargo carried over the past five decades has gone hand in hand with the work of IMO, through its 172 member States, to create the legal and technical framework within which shipping has become progressively cleaner and safer. Of course, there remains work to be done. IMO will continue its efforts, in partnership with member States and other organizations, to implement and support the enforcement of its regulations.

Formed by means of the 1948 Convention on the International Maritime Organization, IMO initially focused on maritime safety and navigation. Then, in the 1960s, the world became more aware of the spillage of oil into the oceans and seas through accidents or as a result of poor operating practices. Spurred by major oil pollution incidents, such as the Torrey Canyon disaster off the south-west coast of the United Kingdom in 1967, IMO embarked on an ambitious programme of work on marine pollution prevention and response, and on liability and compensation issues. A key outcome was the adoption, in 1973, of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, universally known as MARPOL.

From the start, MARPOL addressed not just pollution by oil from ships (covered in Annex I) but also noxious liquid substances, such as chemicals, carried in bulk (Annex II); harmful substances carried in packaged form (Annex III); sewage discharges into the sea (Annex IV); and the disposal at sea of ship-generated garbage (Annex V). Under Annex V, a general prohibition applies to discharging all garbage from ships, while discharging plastics is subject to a total, globally applicable ban.

Later, in 1997, IMO added a new Annex VI to MARPOL dealing with atmospheric pollution from ships. Today, Annex VI addresses air pollution from sulphur and other harmful emissions, such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. In 2011, IMO...

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