Who are the main shipping organisations and what do they do?

shipping organisations

ShipInsight frequently mentions international shipping bodies and the following is a brief introduction to the major shipping organisations and their roles beginning with the leading regulatory body.

International Maritime Organization – IMO

Originally the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organization founded in 1948 as part of the United Nations but which did not begin working until 1959. Name was changed in 1982 to the IMO.

Its role is to formulate conventions and treaties to cover most aspects of maritime regulation. These only become effective when adopted by sufficient individual countries flagging a specified percentage of the world fleet as detailed in each convention text. At an early stage the IMO was given governance of earlier pre-existing treaties including SOLAS (safety of life at sea) dating back to 1914 and OILPOL.

Of the conventions inherited, SOLAS still exists but OILPOL has morphed into MARPOL and several more conventions and codes more have been added including STCW, GMDSS, ISM, ISPS, Ballast Water Management and Coatings. Many of the Codes are subsidiary to the main Conventions.

Through the conventions and codes, the IMO lays down technical and operational requirements for ships and their equipment. Under the STCW Convention, the IMO sets qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel and thus aims to improve the safe operation of ships.

The IMO’s work is done through two main committees the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) and Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) and seven associated sub-committees. In addition there are a small number of other committees such as the legal Committee, The Facilitation Committee (which deals with international trading protocols and documentation) and the Technical Co-operation Committee which deal with specific areas of IMO business.

The two main committees meet twice each year and the other committees and the sub-committees once. Any of the committees or sub-committees can establish working groups to develop or investigate specific areas of interest. These working groups may comprise of flag state representatives and consultative groups or special expertise bodies deemed appropriate. Their proposals will be debated further at appropriate meetings and will only become official IMO policy if accepted by meetings of the appropriate main committee.

How policy is adopted and enforced

Flag states that are members of the IMO vote on adopting regulations at the committee stages before endorsement by the council. Some industry bodies and environmental NGOs are permitted to attend and to contribute to meetings and discussions but have no voting rights.

The IMO’s structure and voting rights along with the method by which conventions come into force does mean that instant decisions are not its hallmark. This has been the cause of much of the criticism that is levelled at it especially in recent years with regard to environmental regulation. However, while some countries and supra national bodies such as the EU may find this frustrating, it is the governments of the member nations that do not vote in favour of adopting regulations or ratifying conventions that should really be the focus of criticism.

Although the IMO is responsible for developing and approving the international regulation of shipping it has no policing or enforcement role. Those obligations fall to flag states in the first instance but because some states – and shipowners – are cavalier in enforcing and applying the rules, in the 1980s the concept of Port State Control (PSC) was established allowing port states to take appropriate action in ensuring the rules are followed.

PSC activities can be determined by individual states but the structure that has developed mostly involves groups of neighbouring states establishing regional groupings with policies and enforcement determined among them. Among the groupings that have been established the Paris MoU and the Tokyo MoU are the most well known but there are several others which between the cover most of the world’s coast lines and ports. Several of them have websites where details of policies and activities are made public.

Shipowners’ Associations

Operating ships is a commercial and competitive business but as in all spheres of commerce, practitioners often find that trade associations allow companies to lobby and fight for their best collective interests as well as disseminating information on matters of common interest.

Almost every maritime nation has a national shipowners’ association and some of these have come together in regional and international groupings to promote shipping on a wider scale. The largest of the international bodies is probably the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). Its mission statement is to promote the interests of shipowners and operators in all matters of shipping policy and ship operations.

The ICS numbers around 36 national associations among its membership. While most of the open registries are notable by their absence, some of the owners will be members of other national associations. It is quite influential at the IMO where it oftens presents proposals in combination with other shipowner bodies.

In the European Union national bodies have little or no direct access to the decision making executive unless they come together to form an EU-wide association. ECSA (European Community Shipowners’ Association) is the body that has been formed for this purpose by the various owners’ organisations. There will always be occasions when one national association’s interest are not represented and in such cases they must rely on their national governmental delegations to make their case.

Most national associations draw their membership from across a range of shipping sectors. Some owners may believe that their interests in some instances are better served by a body representing their particular sector. There are a number of international shipping organisations that do this.

Intertanko (International Tanker Owners Association) is the oldest of these and represent tanker owners at all levels including as the IMO. The organisation has an interesting history which has echoes in the situation of today. It was founded in the mid 1930s with the initial intention of addressing an overcapacity situation by a mutually agreed laying up of tonnage by all owners so as to increase available fright rates for the benefit of all.

Today the organisation I much more active in matters related to safety, operational efficiency and regulatory matters. It has a number of divisions involved with different tankers types and areas of operation.

Another tanker owners body is the International Parcel Tankers Association (IPTA) formed 30 years ago in 1987 by a number of chemical and product tanker operators who felt that the time had come for this sector of the shipping industry to have specialist representation in appropriate bodies. It too is a regular participant at the IMO meetings.

In the dry cargo sector, liner operators from the late 19th century onwards often co-operated in conferences and more recently in alliances after the conference system was found to be anti-competitive by the likes of the EU. Individual conferences and alliances set policies for highly specific trades and trade routes and worked only for a limited number of members.

With growing regulation of liner activity some of the world’s leading liner operators came together in 2000 to form the World Shipping Council (WSC). Today its membership consists of more than 20 of the largest liner operators and the organisation has consultative status at the IMO. It represents its members interests in regulatory, commercial and environmental matters and is considered as the voice of the container sector.

The bulk dry cargo sector has a shorter history of co-operation than most other sectors. Intercargo (International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners) was established in 1980 with the objective of giving a voice to shipowners, managers and operators of dry cargo vessels and represent better this shipping sector. It attempted to emulate the role that Intertanko offered tanker owners and although its membership is significantly lower covering less than 20% of the world bulk fleet the organisation is considered to represent the leading operators in the sector.

Intercargo also participates in IMO meetings and co-operates with most of the other sector bodies and BIMCO in the Round Table of International Shipping Organisations.

BIMCO is the oldest of the main international shipowning bodies and was founded under the title of “The Baltic and White Sea Conference” in Copenhagen in 1905 It claims to be the first organisation to see the benefit in joining forces with other countries to secure better deals and standard agreements in shipping. As the organisation grew and became more international it was renamed -The Baltic and International Maritime Council –and at present day – simply BIMCO.

BIMCO’s most recognised role is in the standardisation of shipping documents and contracts particularly charter parties and is considered as the most appropriate forum to negotiate standardised forms and contractual clauses that can be incorporated into shipping contracts. It also engages in many other activities and has a broad membership that includes shipowners, brokers and managers as well as port authorities.

The passenger ship sector also has international shipping organisations covering the two main branches of the sector. Established in 1975, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) is the world’s largest cruise industry trade association. Its membership consists of over 50 leading cruise lines that claim more than 95% of the world cruise market. A European branch operates specifically within Europe meeting the requirement of the EU for a regional body.

The ferry sector has its own international body in Interferry which was originally formed in the USA in 1976 as the International Marine Transit Association. Since then it has changed its name and today has over 200 members from 35 countries. The membership includes all types of ferry operations: RoPax, RoRo, Cruise Ferries, Fast Ferries, Passenger-only Ferries, big and small ferries. The membership also includes suppliers and specialists such as shipbuilders and designers, equipment manufacturers and suppliers, naval architects and marine engineers, ship brokers and consultants, classification societies and many more.

Interferry’s primary role is representing the sector in regulatory and policy making bodies but it also plays an important part in attempting to raise standards in domestic ferry operation in areas where tragic incidents involving the loss of hundreds of lives annually are unfortunately all too common.