The very nature of shipping, which is central to global trade, requires regulation at the international level. International maritime regulations are developed within specialized United Nations agencies, such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The International Maritime Organization is:
- A specialized UN agency governing shipping
- 33 international conventions to date
- Signatory countries committing to applying the conventions in their waters.
On the international level, the cornerstone of marine safety regulations is the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).
The main objective of the SOLAS Convention is to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, in order to ensure the safety of the crew, the cargo and the marine environment during the ships’ operation. Flag States are responsible for ensuring that ships under their flag comply with these requirements by delivering certificates as a proof of compliance.
IMO also developed a number of additional conventions that regulate specific aspects of marine safety, such as:
- International Convention on Load Lines, 1966: limits the draught to which a ship may be loaded, taking into account the potential hazards present in different zones and different seasons for the crew’s safety.
- Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), 1972: states the rules for navigating and preventing collisions at sea (vessel conduct, signals, etc.
- International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978: establishes basic requirements for training and certifying seafarers.
- 1972 Convention for Safe Containers (CSC 1972): requires that containers used in international transport must be approved for safety by the Administration of a Contracting Party or by an organization acting on its behalf. The approval process requires safety testing of containers.
- International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) (1973, 1978): covers prevention of pollution of the maritime environment by ships.
IMO also developed a series of codes to help implement specific chapters of these conventions. These codes define mandatory or voluntary international rules and standards to be followed to be in compliance with the conventions.
The main security codes are:
- ISM Code – International Safety Management Code
The purpose of this Code is to provide an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention. The Code establishes safety-management measures to be established by companies that are responsible for operating the ship, with regards to safety and pollution risks during ship operations. This includes the designation of a person ashore having direct access to the highest level of management. Vessels subject to the ISM code must hold a valid ISM certificate delivered by the authorities.
- ISPS Code – International Ship and Port Facility Code
This code defines specific measures to ensure marine security required under chapter XI of SOLAS. This code was developed after 9/11 attacks with the goal to secure port facilities and protect ships from terror attacks. A security assessment, as well a security plan identifying protection and control measures must be developed and approved by authorities for both ships and port infrastructures.
- IMDG Code – International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code
This code is the worldwide standard for shipping dangerous goods by sea under the security provisions of chapter VII of SOLAS.
- LSA Code – International Life-Saving Appliance Code
This code defines international standards for life-saving material, equipment and systems on board ships, as prescribed by chapter III of SOLAS.
- FSS Code – International Code for Fire Safety Systems
This code defines international standards for fire safety systems, as required by chapter 11-2 of SOLAS.