Regulation of International Shipping

Shipping is one of the most heavily regulated industries. It was among the first international industry to adopt widely implemented international safety standards. The purpose of this regulation it to prevent some stakeholders from cutting corners to the detriment of others.

For example, before the Act of Carriage of Goods by Sea, 1924, came into force, many shipowners, added some exemption clauses in the contract of carriage of goods by sea between them and cargo owners, to the detriment of cargo owners.

So when goods are damaged by the carelessness of the shipowners, cargo owners cannot claim. With the international Act of Carriage of Goods by Sea, 1924, ship and cargo owners rights and responsibilities were well spelt out in the Act. This put the shipowners in check.

Regulations concerning shipping are developed at the international level. Because shipping is inherently international, it is vital that shipping is subject to uniform regulations on matters such as ship construction standards, ship navigational rules and standards of crew competence, etc.

Without the international regulation of shipping, there would have been conflicting national regulations resulting in commercial distortion and administrative confusion which would compromise the efficiency of world trade as it was before international the various international regulations or conventions were put in place.

The International Regulatory Bodies

To mention but a few main bodies. The International regulatory bodies are:
  1. IMO
  2. ILO
  3. WHO
  4. NIMASA (in Nigeria - local maritime regulatory body, member of IMO )

IMO - International Maritime Organization


The shipping industry is principally regulated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). It is a United Nations agency responsible for the safety of life at sea and the protection of the marine environment, which head quarter, is based in London.

Since its inception, IMO has adopted a comprehensive framework of detailed technical regulations, in the form of international conventions which govern the safety of ships and life at sea, and protection of the marine environment.

National governments, which are and form the membership of IMO, are required to implement and enforce these international conventions rules, and ensure that the ships which are registered under their national flags comply with the international rules or regulations.

The principal responsibility for enforcing IMO regulations concerning ship and crew safety and environmental protection rests with the flag states (i.e. the countries in which merchant ships are registered - and may also own ships carrying out both local and international business).

Flag states enforce IMO regulation and requirements through inspections of ships conducted by marine surveyors. Flag state enforcement is carried out by what is known as Port State Control, whereby regulatory officials in any country which a ship may visit can inspect foreign flag ships to ensure that they comply with IMO international requirements.

Port State Control officers have the power to detain foreign ships in port if they do not conform to international standards. In Nigera, such officals are from the country apex regulatory government agency known as NIMASA (Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency. Click IMO logo to read more of IMO.

ILO - The International Labour Organisation


The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is responsible for the development of international labour standards applicable to seafarers worldwide. Click ILO logo to read more of ILO.

WHO - World Health Organization


The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for the development of international health standards applicable to the ships, ports and seafarers worldwide. Click WHO logo to read more of WHO.

NIMASA - Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency


NIMASA is local maritime regulatory body, a member of IMO. This is the apex maritime regulatory body in Nigeria. It is a Federal Government agency responsible to ensure that ships entering Nigeria territory waters comply with IMO regulations among other tasks. NIMASA is a member of IMO. Click NIMASA logo to read more of NIMASA.

The Principal Conventions Governing Maritime Safety

The following are the major international shipping regulations, adopted by the IMO and ILO concerning safety and pollution prevention, concerning the Ships, Shipping Companies and the Seafarers. They are:

  1. SOLAS
  5. ISPS
  6. ISM
  7. STCW
  8. ILO

Regulations Concerning the Ships

The regulation concerning the Ship are as follows: SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974)

This convention spells out the minimum standards for the safe construction of ships and the basic safety equipment (e.g. fire protection, navigation, lifesaving and radio) to be carried on board a ship. SOLAS also requires regular ship surveys as the ship operates. SOLAS require flag states to issue certificates of compliance to seafarers.

MARPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973/1978)

This convention containsrequirements to prevent pollution that may be caused intentionally or accidentally and in the course of routine operations. MARPOL concerns the prevention of pollution from oil, bulk chemicals, dangerous goods, sewage, garbage and atmospheric pollution, and includes provisions such as those which require certain oil tankers to have double hulls.

COLREG (Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972)

This convention lays down the basic "rules of the road", such as rights of way and actions to avoid collisions.

LOADLINE (International Convention on Loadlines, 1966)

This convention sets the minimum permissible free board, according to the season of the year and the ship's trading pattern.

ISPS (The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, 2002)

This convention contains recommendatory and mandatory requirements to ensure ships and port facilities are secure at all stages during a voyage.

Regulation Dealing with the Shipping Companies

ISM (The International Safety Management Code, 1993) effectively requires shipping companies to have a licence to operate. Companies and their ships must undergo regular audits to ensure that a safety management system is in place, including adequate procedures and lines of communication between ships and their managers ashore.

Regulations Dealing with the Seafarers

STCW (International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978/1995/2010) This convention establishes uniform standards of competence for seafarers. NIMASA in Nigeria is responsible for enforcing this regulation.

ILO 147 (The ILO Merchant Shipping (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1976).

This convention has to with maritime labour. It requires national administrations (Nigeria Government for example) to have effective legislation on labour issues such as hours of work, medical fitness and seafarers' working conditions. The convention is superseded by the ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006) which entered into force on 30 August 2013. It has to to on more improvement on seafarers' working condition.

There are many other specialized conventions or maritime instruments outside this once, concerning more specific issues that are also in force worldwide. Visit IMO website to see the list of the IMO conventions and what they deal with.

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