ICAO and the International Maritime Organization


The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) and the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping; its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.


IMO Emblem – Based on the UN emblem on two crossed anchors linked by a chain.

International conventions related to the sea had been initiated piecemeal, notably the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) first adopted in 1914 following the Titanic disaster. Newer versions were adopted in 1929 and 1948, and 1960. The SOLAS Convention in force today is sometimes referred to as SOLAS 1974, as updated and amended on numerous occasions. The SOLAS Convention in its successive forms is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships.


Several countries proposed that a permanent international body should be established to promote maritime safety more effectively, but it was not until the establishment of the United Nations (UN) itself that these hopes were realized. Under the auspices of the UN, an international conference in Geneva (held from 19 February to 6 March 1948) adopted on 6 March 1948 a Convention formally establishing the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, or IMCO; the Convention entered into force on 17 March 1958. At that time, the Organization had 21 Member States. The original name IMCO was changed to International Maritime Organization (IMO) in May 1982. The Headquarters are located in London, United Kingdom.


ICAO was represented at the First Session of the Assembly of IMCO held in London in January 1959 and at the Second Session of the Maritime Safety Committee held at the same place in November 1959. At this meeting, the Committee proposed the establishment of a Working Group, composed of representatives of ICAO, IMO, ITU and WMO, to initiate concerted action by the four organizations. The ICAO Council gave some consideration to the nature of ICAO’s relationship with IMO, accepting a list of technical matters of common interest to the two organizations drawn up by the Air Navigation Commission and agreeing that cooperation on them should be done by means of informal and flexible working arrangements rather than a formal agreement, a position shared by IMCO.


The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, signed in 1974, stipulates that IMO and ICAO have agreed that any craft capable of flying outside the influence of ground effect at an altitude of more than 150m, should be subjected to the rules and regulations of ICAO. These two specialized UN Agencies have worked together to develop the current ICAO/IMO International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual. Each year, IMO and ICAO arrange a meeting of a Joint Working Group (JWG) on SAR. 


The primary purpose of the volumes of the IAMSAR Manuals is to assist States in meeting their own SAR needs and the obligations they accepted under the Convention on International Civil Aviation, the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). These volumes provide guidelines for a common aviation and maritime approach to organizing and providing SAR services. States are encouraged to develop and improve their SAR services, to cooperate with neighbouring States and to consider their SAR services to be part of a global SAR system.


The IAMSAR Manual is published jointly by IMO and ICAO and comprises several volumes:

1.    Volume I: Organization and Management. This volume discusses the global SAR system concept, establishment and improvement of national and regional SAR systems, and cooperation with neighbouring States to provide effective and economical SAR services.

2.    Volume II: Mission Coordination. This volume assists personnel who plan and coordinate SAR operations and exercises.

3.    Volume III: Mobile Facilities. The primary purpose of the Mobile Facilities volume is to assist vessels and aircraft in the performance of a search, rescue or on-scene coordinator function and with aspects of search and rescue (SAR) that pertain to their own emergencies. It is intended to be carried on board rescue units, aircraft and vessels.


ICAO and IMO share a common interest; while recognizing the varying requirements of the different forms of transport involved, both organizations regularly interchanged relevant information and experience and cooperated in developing solutions to ensure a consistent approach and avoid possible conflicting recommendations to the national authorities concerned. Consultation, coordination and cooperation with IMO was maintained on matters such as: the formulation of a programme and standards for facilitating maritime travel and transport presenting many similarities to that pursued by ICAO for air travel and transport; the development of maritime search and rescue plans, standards and manuals harmonized with similar ICAO procedures; the development of a common approach to the regulation of the transport of dangerous goods; requirements for visual aids, rescue and firefighting and physical characteristics for helicopter operations to and from ships and other marine vehicles; communications;  security; etc.


Every year, IMO celebrates World Maritime Day. The exact date is left to individual Governments, but is usually celebrated during the last week in September (usually on the last Thursday of September). The day is used to focus attention on the importance of shipping safety, maritime security and the marine environment and to emphasize a particular aspect of IMO's work; this Day seeks to raise awareness about international maritime industries and celebrate their work toward global economy. World Maritime Day was first held on 17 March 1978 to mark the date of the IMCO Convention’s entry into force in 1958.


Greece – 12 November 1969 – 10th Anniversary of IMCO.


Service cover sent from IMCO in London to ICAO. Postmark dated 10 July 1970. IMO slogan.


Cyprus – September 1989 – World Maritime day.