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[Answered] Discuss the role and mandate of the International Maritime Organization. Discuss its strategic importance for Indian maritime interests.

Demand of the question Introduction. Contextual introduction. Body. Discuss the role and mandate of the International Maritime Organization. Discuss the strategic importance of IMO for Indian maritime interests. Conclusion. Way forward.

International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping. It plays an important role in formulating a regulatory framework for the shipping industry across the world.

Role and mandate of the International Maritime Organization:

  1. Regulatory framework for the shipping industry: Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented. It encourage the removal of discriminatory action and unnecessary restrictions by governments engaged in international trade, so as to promote the availability of shipping services to world commerce without discrimination.
  2. Safety and security of international shipping: The IMO sets standards for the safety and security of international shipping. IMO measures cover all aspects of international shipping including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, operation and disposal to ensure that this vital sector remains safe, environmentally sound, energy efficient and secure.
  3. Goal-Based New Ship Construction Standards: This means that the IMO also set standards for the ship making. The standards are intended to ensure that full standards conform to the safety goals and the functional requirements established by the IMO.
  4. Investigation of the Maritime Casualties and Incidents: IMO check and investigate the casualties and the accidents happening in the midwaters or the international waters and also ensure that the conduct of the investigations, analysis and reporting the accidents is in accordance with the globally recognised best practices.
  5. Creating a level playing-field: An important aim of IMO is to facilitate cooperation among governments on technical matters of all kinds affecting shipping engaged in international trade. It plays an important role to create a level playing-field and prevent compromise on safety, security and environmental performance.
  6. Marine pollution: One of its key duties is to devise strategies and measures to keep the waterways clean by preventing marine pollution from ships. IMO has announced an ambitious project to decarbonise shipping in order to reduce carbon emissions. It has also mandated that merchant ships should not burn fuel with sulphur content greater than 0.5%.
  7. Piracy and armed robbery against ships: IMO also work to combat piracy and armed robbery at sea by adopting measures, including those relating to assistance with capacity-building through training of seafarers, port staff and enforcement personnel. It brings the alleged perpetrators to justice, in accordance with international laws.

Importance for Indian maritime interests:

  1. Rule based trade: There is a need to strengthen the maritime rules-based order to provide a strong foundation for the Indian economy. Today, almost 95% of India’s trade by volume and 68% of trade by value are routed via the Indian Ocean. Thus a regulatory framework for the shipping industry facilitated by IMO is must to establish a rule based order.
  2. Tackling Piracy: Asia’s seas offer rich pickings for pirates who steal oil and supplies worth billions of dollars every year. The Malacca, Singapore straits and Indian Ocean serve as global shipping superhighways and are major regions for piracy. Safeguarding these is important for securing India’s interests.
  3. Energy security: The Indian Ocean region serves as one of the busiest commercial as well as primary energy supply lines in the world. However, the energy traffic in the region is vulnerable to various strategic choke points. Nearly 80% of India’s crude oil requirement is imported, which are mostly routed through the sea. Thus, it is very important to work with IMO to keep oil routes safe.
  4. India’s shipping industry: Shipping, which accounts for over 90% by volume and about 80% by value of global trade, is a highly regulated industry with a range of legislation promulgated by the IMO. The IMO’s policies or conventions have a serious impact on every aspect of shipping including the cost of maritime trade. Thus more presence in organisation through lobbying is must to secure India’s maritime interests.
  5. Preventing conflicts: IMO rules and policies have a significant impact on all the nations. For instance, the IMO’s demarcation of “High Risk Areas” when piracy was at its peak has resulted in virtually the entire south-west coast of India being seen as piracy-infested. This has impacted India’s maritime interests. The “Enrica Lexie” shooting incident of 2012, off the coast of Kerala was a direct fallout of the demarcation. Thus it is must to ensure that India’s maritime interests are protected by more presence in IMO.

IMO is significant for a rule based trade order in the world. So far, India’s presence and participation in the IMO has been at the individual level. India should make its presence felt so that its national interests are served. It is time India regained its status as a major maritime power.

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