Conventions are the sources of maritime law. They suggest how national maritime laws may be designed to secure compatibility across national jurisdictions or to standardise national maritime laws Initially the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) was called the inter-governmental maritime consultative organisation (IMCO) and was established to draft and get acceptance for conventions. After the 1980s, IMO also works to secure implementation of such legislation.


IMO in 2012 had 170 member states and 3 associate members. It works through committees: the maritime safety committee, the marine environment and protection committee, the technical co-operation committee, the legal committee and the facilitation committee. There are several subcommittees, one of which is the flag state implementation subcommittee under the maritime safety committee; working for implementation of the conventions.


IMO drafts conventions and work to get them ratified and thus included in national laws. The first group focus on maritime safety and measures to prevent accidents including standards of ship design, construction, equipment and manning:

  • Load lines convention 1966, specifying load limits. Samuel Plimsoll MP British Parliament worked for this and the result was a law in UK in 1876. The convention came into force in 1968.


 Picture 22


Figure 17: Load line



From IMO (2012) we find

  • COLREG 1972 (Convention on the international regulations for preventing collisions at sea). As stated by IMO, “One of the most important innovations in COLREG was the recognition given to traffic separations schemes” in congested areas such as the English Channel COLREG is ratified by states registering 98.7 per cent of world tonnage. (IMO,1972)
  • SOLAS 1974 (Safety of life at sea convention) Ratified in 1980. SOLAS has amendment procedure to facilitate updates. By October 2006, it was ratified by states registering 95,7 per cent of the merchant fleet.
    ISM (International safety management) is a code implemented in the SOLAS convention 1994 to maintain a safety management system,
  • MARPOL 1973/78 (International convention for the prevention of pollution form ships) covers pollution both from operational and accidental causes.
  • STCW 1978 (Convention on Standard of Training, Certification and Watch keeping for Seafarers) came into force in 1984. STCW was amended in 1995. It complements the ISM code.
  • SAR 1979 Search and Rescue entered into force in June 1985 and is ratified by states registering 61,5 per cent of world tonnage.


Another group is conventions to prevent pollution in case of accidents

  • Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS)
  • International convention on Saving and rescue (SAR)
  • The international convention on oil pollution preparedness, response and co-operation


The third group is conventions to secure compensation and liability regimes:

  • The international convention on Civil liability for oil pollution damage
  • The convention establishing the international fund for compensation for oil pollution damage
  • The Athens convention for covering liability and compensation for passengers at sea


These are the three main groups of conventions that constitutes international regulation; in addition there are conventions on tonnage measurement, unlawful acts against shipping and salvage, and conventions on facilitation

  • International convention on Tonnage measurement of ships 1969 came into force in 1982. It created new rules for measuring gross and net tonnage and for the allocation of IMO numbers to each ship. Port and canals use these measurements as basis for charges. The measurements thereby influence costs and competition.