IMO Activities

Here you'll find information relating to IMO Activities

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has 171 member governments of which 32 are FOC flag States and 28 are EU members (soon to be 27 with the exit of the UK from the EU) who are politically committed to supporting EU shipping policies. There are also 76 non-voting Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) of which 10 are ship owner trade associations but only 2 directly represent seafarers.

IMO Political Structure

The IMO is the primary UN body to legislate on international shipping. The IMO however has no direct powers of enforcement and in an attempt to address the problem of implementation, has introduced a mandatory audit scheme. This unfortunately has so far been ineffective as it lacks transparency and is selective in application. The effective policing of ships by Port State Control in some areas have largely been responsible for enforcement of legislation and a general improvement of safety standards. However, the lack of effective national regulation and the resulting maritime casualties that threatened the environment and public safety of Port and Coastal States has initiated the IMO to draft guidance to States for ships not covered by international regulations promulgated by the United Nations at IMO.

Decision Making Process

The decision making process at the IMO has increasingly bypassed the seafarer and it has become difficult for NGOs to influence planned or unplanned output.

As all unplanned output must be submitted by flag states, NGOs including the seafarers can only influence input by effective lobbying and gaining support for our submissions. There is a great need for improved avenues for seafarers to give input that reinstates balance and this may be possible with a new Secretary General.

It should be obvious that maritime labour has a challenging task to shape policies favourable to seafarers within the IMO environment. With no vote or veto at the IMO it is essential that we are effective in lobbying at a National and International level and that unions develop and maintain credibility at the highest political level. Success depends upon the force of Nautilus arguments and moral persuasion to influence the outcome of debates on issues affecting seafarers.

IMO Instruments

The IMO generates an extensive amount of Conventions, Guidelines, Resolutions and Circulars. Some like SOLAS are on continuous update and others are periodically completely reviewed. The IMO is also reactive rather than proactive so it is difficult to judge which legislation will be next for a major revision. This not only places an unrealistic responsibility on seafarers keep up to date and creates an exceptional administration burden on ships at all levels.

The overall problem is not the need for more legislation but the effective and full implementation by flag states of existing legislation, particularly the large FOCs. More guidelines and circulars that endeavour to make flag and port states correctly implement conventions and codes they have ratified becomes confusing for seafarers and in some instances risk criminalising seafarers e.g. Ballast water Management.

Origin of Conventions and Codes

The IMO evolved out of disasters, beginning with the Titanic, and continues to generate its work plan as reaction to accidents and loss of life or public pressure subsequent to major pollution. Unfortunately, seafarers are still criminalised and tried in local courts subject to local public opinion rather than an independent maritime court.

With the rapid increase in environmental legislation, criminalization and the fair treatment of seafarers remains a foremost concern of the Nautilus Federation. Nautilus has recently been advocating the grandfathering of the original standards for Ballast Water Treatment where revised standards may penalize those who in good faith installed the early equipment. The whole process of introducing this technology and setting standards for ballast water discharge has been a real threat of unfair prosecution of seafarers. A similar situation exists with emissions from ships with unproven technology lagging behind legal requirements.

Ongoing Issues

Among the ongoing issues of concern are the required STW training and certification standards, medical standards, workload, fatigue and manning levels, shore leave and port facility access under the ISPS Code, E-navigation and the future impact of technology on seafarers, implementation of the ISM Code, administrative burden of regulatory compliance, protection against piracy and armed robbery at sea, accident investigations, criminalization of accidents and the fair treatment of seafarers after accidents, cruise ship safety, design and suitability of life saving equipment, mandated shipboard operating procedures and high profile environmental issues such as ballast water management, greenhouse gas emissions and oil pollution that can carry penalties or imprisonment of seafarers if violated.

Current High Priority Issues

Manning Levels

A high priority issue at IMO is workload, fatigue and manning levels. The Nautilus strategy has been two pronged. A top down approach to establish manning levels that match operational requirements and a bottom up approach that regulates the hours of work and rest. We have been successful over a number of years in revising the IMO Principles of Minimum Safe Manning as well as the SOLAS Convention, and the ISM Code to adopt a transparent methodology for establishing manning levels that includes a task analysis that takes into account the workload required to operate a specific ship in a specific trade as a condition for the issuance of a Safe Manning Document. On the hours of work and rest the STCW Code now requires an average of 11 hours’ rest per day. But, poor implementation of good regulations is a persistent problem at IMO. The new regulations have only recently come into force, and our task now shifts to the means of implementing and enforcing the new requirements.


The key to effective implementation of IMO regulations by member governments are transparency and port State control. We will be working at IMO to provide a system to check that manning levels are established in a transparent manner including documentation that can be monitored and enforced by port State control. Members of the Nautilus Federation should foster relations with their port State control and work closely with them on issues of manning and fatigue of seafarers.

The ship owners are now trying to shift the focus from addressing the fatigue issue through appropriate manning levels to one of education and training in the management of limited human resources in order to avoid fatigue. This shifts the responsibility for fatigue from the ship owner to the master or seafarer for the consequences of fatigue related accidents. IMO is now engaged in a two-year program to revise the guidelines on fatigue to one that has its primary focus on fatigue as a management problem rather than a resource problem. Nautilus will be intervening and submitting position papers to IMO through the ITF and IFSMA to maintain the obvious linkage between workload, fatigue and manning levels.



Another issue of importance at IMO is e-navigation and the effect of advanced technology on the future role of seafarers. E-navigation has the potential to change the role of the master and officers aboard ships as port and coastal States implement shore based monitoring and control systems that are envisioned as being port, coastal and transoceanic in scope. Technology is not good or bad. It can have both positive and negative consequences for our profession and society as a whole. But, it does create change and uncertainty as it destabilizes existing systems.

The questions facing the Nautilus Federation are:

• Is E Navigation an aid to seafarers or a replacement of them?
• Will advanced technology deskill and diminish the role of traditional maritime professionals? Or will it upgrade our professional role as tasks take on more technical complexity?
• Will it replace conventional seafarers with minimally manned ships crewed with only a few technicians monitoring systems? Or will it eventually lead to unmanned drone ships?

These scenarios are now on the table and currently being discussed. There are both advocates for drastic change and sceptics as to the reliability and risks in a technology driven system. The eventual role of e-navigation technology and the future role of seafarers aboard ships will be determined by policies made at the IMO.

The IMO is currently developing a strategic implementation plan for e-navigation. At this stage in the debate it is primarily aspirational and conceptual, and defining the problems rather than defining the architecture and regulations for a proposed system. The future role of seafarers within a technology driven system is consciously being avoided to steer clear of controversy. At some point regulating the systems operating parameters and defining the relative role of shipboard and shore based personnel, their responsibilities and training requirements, will become the subject of debate at IMO. At that point the Nautilus Federation will need to work with ITF and IFSMA to protect its member’s interests.

Industrial Personnel

A similar possible threat to the traditional role of seafarers is the proposal to introduce a new designation into SOLAS of Industrial Personnel. This position originally intended for work on windfarms but extended to the whole of the energy sector. Industrial Personnel would be neither crew nor passenger with their training and safety regulations outside current requirements. Previous problems with the proliferation of riding gangs should make us wary of any such proposals.

Maritime Security

A different form of unfair treatment for seafarers has been the attempts to introduce guidance on Maritime Security, more draconian than is required under the ISPS Code. We have been successful in having the proposed guidance returned to the working group to be redrafted in a more acceptable form to protect seafarer’s rights and although the work it is ongoing it should not impose greater restrictions on the seafarer than currently exist.


To achieve a lower EEDI most ships are reducing total engine power, in some cases, particularly with bulk carriers the reduced power is insufficient to ensure a safe manoeuvring speed in adverse conditions.

Future Priorities

Retention of Maritime Skills

The retention of maritime skills is just as essential for the shore side infrastructure as it is to efficient and safe shipping. The industry complains at the lack of skilled and experienced seafarers but have done too little to address the problem. We were unsuccessful in amending the Tonnage Convention to enable more training berths and the many current ships being built still do not have training berths. Today’s youth have different expectations and require other skills to enable them to do the job and often are required to operate with minimal crew and unsocial situations. It is no longer enough to offer them a job. There is a need to ensure the industry is offering a career both at sea and ashore with respected professional and transportable qualifications.

Reviewing the Effect of Technology and ‘Drone’ Ships on the Membership

E navigation is not the only possible attack on the seafarers, the acceptance of Goal Based Standards as the future for evolving regulations may undermine many of the current concepts of safety criteria including promoting the removal of the ‘human element’ factor. In a related matter a proposal was submitted to IMO to establish international standards and training for shore based mooring personnel. It was based on a supposed shortage of seafarers and contained training in competencies that would be appropriate for ship board officers and ratings. It is seen as a step to replace seafarers on unmanned or minimally manned ships with mooring personnel for harbour navigation and mooring. The proposal has been rejected by the IMO, but the proponents have stated they will resubmit the proposal.

Implementation of Conventions

Flag states, particularly FOCs, fail to submit reports, do not conduct accidents investigations promptly and release reports or are not fully audited on all the legislation they have ratified. Often when unions have been involved in improving safety such as in the casualty analysis forum, the problem is the lack of information supplied or the provision of any report from the flag state.

Enhancing the status of seafarers

Participation in the work of the IMO has become increasingly difficult with greater hurdles for NGOs to submit work items and often only lip service given to the seafarers concerns. A new IMO Secretary General who is an ex-seafarer may present an opportunity to address this problem and provides the Nautilus Federation with a unique chance to add value to the IMO process through more effective National and Political input from a seafarers’ perspective. Whilst Nautilus continues to work through the ITF, members of the Nautilus Federation should take the opportunity to voice issues of concern for a more direct input into areas of specific interest to them