Maritime Security: How International Maritime Organisation responds

IMO’s mandate to make trade and travel by sea as safe as possible extends to maritime security. The Organization responds to threats in two ways: by developing appropriate regulations and guidance through​ its Maritime Safety Committee; and through capacity-building work.

IMO’s multi-donor International Maritime Security Trust Fund supports global, regional and national projects around the world which enhance the capacity of countries to deal with security threats, while specific trust funds support work in the Gulf of Guinea and in the western Indian Ocean.

International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code)
The cornerstone of IMO regulations to address maritime security is the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) chapter XI-2 Special Measures to enhance maritime security, which makes mandatory the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code).

The ISPS code contains detailed security-related requirements for Governments, port authorities and shipping companies in a mandatory section (Part A), together with a series of guidelines about how to meet these requirements in a second, non-mandatory section (Part B). Read more​.

Piracy and armed robbery against ships
IMO has been addressing maritime piracy for some time and a series of measures, developed in co-operation with Member States and the shipping industry, have helped significantly reduce piracy in the hot spots of the world. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s the focus was on the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. More recently, since 2005, IMO has addressed piracy off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean, and is currently implementing a strategy for enhancing maritime security in West and Central Africa.

Capacity building – Djibouti Code of Conduct
In 2009, the IMO-convened Djibouti meeting adopted the Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden (The Djibouti Code of Conduct), to address the then-growing problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Since then, the IMO Djibouti Code Trust Fund has funded numerous projects, coordinated by the Secretariat’s Project Implementation Unit, to improve regional capacity to counter-piracy by developing enhanced regional cooperation and coordination, based on the four pillars of Legislation, Training, Capacity Building, and Information Sharing. Read more​.

Capacity building – Gulf of Guinea
A Code of Conduct concerning the repression of piracy, armed robbery against ships, and illicit maritime activity in west and central Africa was adopted formally in Yaoundé in June 2013 by Heads of State or their representatives from 25 West and Central African countries. IMO’s strategy and initiatives for enhancing maritime security and supporting development of a vibrant, sustainable maritime sector in West and Central Africa aims to ensure successful implementation of the Code of Conduct. IMO assists Member Countries in revising national legislation to criminalize piracy, attacks against ships, and other illicit maritime activities; coordinating structures and procedures; and having in place well-trained operational, technical and logistical personnel. Read more​.

IMO guidance and best management practices
IMO has issued a range of guidance aimed at addressing maritime security concerns. For piracy and armed robbery against ships, this includes Guidance to Governments, shipowners and ship operators, shipmasters and crews on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships; investigation of offences and the use of armed personnel. Regionally focussed Best Management Practices, developed by international shipping industry bodies, have also been disseminated by IMO. Read more​.

Arms on board ships
IMO does not take a position on the carriage of arms on board ships – it is the responsibility of individual flag States to determine if the use of privately contracted armed security personnel is appropriate and legal. IMO has issued guidance to flag, port and coastal States; and to shipowners, ship operators and shipmasters on the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships in the High Risk Area, as well as guidance to those private maritime security companies. Read more​.

Through the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention), IMO has issued standards and recommended practices for addressing the problem of stowaways, associated guidance and is working with a number of countries to help address the problem.

IMO strongly encourages Member States to fully implement the special measures to enhance maritime security contained in SOLAS chapter XI-2 and the ISPS Code, which also contain clear specifications on access control and security measures for port facilities and ships. Read more​.

Unsafe mixed migration by sea
IMO has worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Chamber of Shipping to update the guide to principles and practices as applied to persons rescued at sea, including migrants and refugees.

Currently, IMO is exploring ways to work in partnership with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), INTERPOL and others, to address this significant humanitarian problem which also places burdens on coastal states and ship owners. Read more​.

Cyber security
The Facilitation and Maritime Safety Committees have initiated consideration of cyber security matters and will work on this matter in consultation with other United Nations bodies and relevant international organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). MSC 96 (May 2016) approved interim guidelines on maritime cyber risk management, aimed at enabling stakeholders to take the necessary steps to safeguard shipping from current and emerging threats and vulnerabilities related to digitization, integration and automation of processes and systems in shipping. The interim guidelines are expected to be updated when the Facilitation Committee has completed its work on facilitation aspects of cyber risk management.

IMO participates in the work of UN Security Council Counter Terrorism Committee​’s Executive Directorate and the UN General Assembly’s Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force​, through country assessment visits, capacity building coordination, and exchange of policy developments with other UN and partner entities involved in Border Management and Law Enforcement.

IMO’s SUA Treaties were adopted in 1988 and underwent a comprehensive revision in 2005. The SUA Treaties aim to provide the international legal framework to ensure that appropriate action is taken against persons committing unlawful acts against ships (and fixed platforms on the continental shelf). These unlawful acts listed in the treaties include the seizure of ships by force; acts of violence against persons on board ships; and the placing of devices on board a ship which are likely to destroy or damage it.​​​

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