International Maritime Organization (IMO) & India

  • IASbaba
  • February 8, 2020
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Indian Polity & Federalism

Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests 

International Maritime Organization (IMO) & India


IMO mandates that merchant ships should not burn fuel with Sulphur content more than 0.5% beginning January 1, 2020. India’s negligible presence and interventions in IMO have been affecting its interests.

About International Maritime Organization

  • It was established by UN convention in Geneva on 17 March 1948 and met for the first time in January 1959.
  • IMO is responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping and to prevent pollution from ships.
  • It is also involved in legal matters, including liability and compensation issues and the facilitation of international maritime traffic
  • It currently has 174 Member States. India joined in 1959.

Role of IMO

  • The IMO is not responsible for enforcing its policies. There is no enforcement mechanism to implement the policies of the IMO.
  • The IMO, like any other UN agency, is primarily a secretariat, which facilitates decision-making processes on all maritime matters through meetings of member states.
  • The binding instruments are brought in through the conventions — to which member states sign on to for compliance 

The Third IMO GHG Study 2014 estimated that international shipping emitted 796 million tonnes of CO2 in 2012, accounting for about 2.2% of the total global anthropogenic CO2 emissions for that year, 

Also, IMO states that emissions from international shipping could grow between 50% and 250% by 2050 mainly due to the growth of the world maritime trade.

IMO regulations to reduce sulphur oxides (SOx) emissions from ships first came into force in 2005, under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL Convention). Since then, the limits on sulphur oxides have been progressively tightened.

Significance of latest decision by IMO

  • Previous Sulphur Limit was 3.5%, which was applicable to most parts of the world.
  • If global shipping were a country, it would be the sixth largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, therefore cleaner fuel will help reduce SOx emissions which reduces pollution.
  • The new regulations will have major health and environmental benefits for the world, particularly for populations living close to ports and coasts.

Impact of new rules by IMO limiting Sulphur content

  • Redesigning refineries including those in India so as to produce cleaner fuel- this entails capital investment and thus increased cost of fuel
  • Increased freight costs due to increased cost of fuel which will have a cascading effect on retail prices of goods.
  • Structural changes to Ships: Very-low-sulphur fuel would be incompatible with the engines and other vessel equipment. There have been instances of ships having been stranded after fine particles separated out from the fuel, damaging equipment and clogging up devices. 

Dominance of Developed Countries in IMO

  • To ensure that their maritime interests are protected, the European countries move their proposals in unison and voting or support are given en bloc.
  • The European Union has a documented procedure on how to influence the IMO
  • Prominent maritime nations have their permanent representatives at London (HQ) and are supported by a large contingent of domain experts from their maritime administration, seafarers and industry associations during the meeting
  • These countries ensure that they have representation in every sub-committee, working group and even correspondence groups so that they are aware of the developments.

Inadequate Participation by India in IMO

  • India’s permanent representative post in the IMO has remained vacant for the last 25 years.
  • Representation at meetings is often through a skeletal delegation.
  • The number of submissions made by India in the recent past has been few and not in proportion to India’s stakes in global shipping.
  • There have also been obstacles in pushing issues which are of importance to India. A classic case was the promulgation of “High Risk Areas” by IMO in Arabian sea which led to increased insurance costs for shipping industry
  • There was also great difficulty in introducing the indigenously designed NavIC in the worldwide maritime navigation system.
  • The agenda and interventions pushed by the developed countries are not entirely pragmatic from the point of view of India’s interests with efforts to push products & companies based in West

Issue of High Risk Area

  • IMO demarcated ‘High-Risk Areas’ when piracy was at its peak particularly by Somalian pirates.
  • The IMO’s demarcation resulted in half the Arabian Sea and virtually the entire south-west coast of India being seen as piracy-infested, despite the presence of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard.
  • The “Enrica Lexie” shooting incident of 2012, off the coast of Kerala, was a direct fallout of the demarcation.
  • It took great efforts by India to revoke the promulgation.

Way forward

  • IMO also needs to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) and ozone-depleting gases.
  • At the earliest, India should fill the vacant post of the permanent representative at the IMO.
  • India should have well-laid-out procedure and agenda to deal with procedures of IMO to further its interests.
  • Promulgate new policies which makes the shipping industry in India adopt greener technologies

Connecting the dots

  • Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships a.k.a Hong Kong Convention
  • Montreal Protocol

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