The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the UN system’s regulatory agency for the maritime sector and its global mandate is safer shipping and cleaner oceans. It pursues that mandate by adopting international maritime rules and standards that are then implemented and enforced by Governments in the exercise of flag, port and coastal State jurisdiction.

IMO’s rules and standards are accepted by Governments and the global shipping industry (which carries over 90% of the world’s trade) because they provide a single, universal framework governing maritime operations.

The technical co-operation activities of IMO place the greatest possible emphasis on assisting developing countries, including the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the enhancement of human and technical resources necessary for effective maritime administration and operation in accordance with global standards for maritime safety, marine pollution prevention and related aspects of shipping and ports.

Role of Shipping in Sustainable Development

The Least Developed Countries depend on the maritime sector to access the overseas markets for their agricultural produce (exports) and similarly on the imports of machinery, equipment and other goods. Therefore the costs and efficiency of shipping services including port operations have a significant impact on the economies of the Least Developed Countries.

Some of the Least Developed Countries such as Cape Verde, Comoros, Madagascar, SaoTome and Principe are also islands, which make them naturally dependent on the maritime sector for their socio-economic development particularly in terms of:

  • the efficient transportation of their internal, regional and international trade; and
  • a clean marine environment to enable the fisheries and tourism industries to develop on a sustainable basis.

Thirty-three out of forty-eight (68.75%) Least Developed Countries are in Africa. Twelve of these countries are land-locked and three are Small Island LDCs. It may be recalled that on a number of occasions, some countries in Africa have been faced with civil conflicts, foods, droughts and famine that have resulted in emergency relief food and other supplies being brought to these countries. Under this scenario, the maritime sector (ships and port interfaces) has played a key role in facilitating the movement of such emergency relief. The development and facilitation of international maritime traffic is one of the key areas of IMO’s technical assistance programme to the developing countries.

Employment in the shipping industry for some of the Least Developed Countries who are major suppliers of seafarers like the United Republic of Tanzania provides access to much-needed foreign currency. The regular salaries that seafarers earn and remit to their respective Least Developed Countries have a direct impact on the economic viability of their families in particular, and to the countries in general. It is therefore worth noting that shipping industry has a direct linkage, hence impact on poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

For all these reasons, the IMO’s Technical Co-operation Programme targets the Least Developed Countries. During the period 2000-2001 IMO’s assistance was concentrated on the following:

Regional Co-ordination

To facilitate the inclusion of maritime issues in the national and regional development policies and programmes negotiated with donors in the African countries, IMO initiated a regional presence pilot scheme in Africa in 1999. Three IMO regional presence offices have been opened in Kenya, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to serve the Africa region. Through these offices, needs assessment and advisory missions have been carried out in 23 LDCs namely, Angola, Benin, Cape Verde, Comoros, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia. These missions made it possible to identify areas that required the support of the Organization.

Institutional Capacity Building

For many years, IMO has given technical assistance to the Least Developed Countries by way of technical advisory services. While such assistance has always been valuable and welcome, it has generally been recognised that assistance on this basis only cannot constitute a permanent solution. In order to achieve sustainable progress, and as part of its Technical Co-operation Programme, IMO established the World Maritime University (WMU) in Sweden and the International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI) in Malta as unique international centres of excellence to cater for the practical needs of developing States in the maritime field. IMO has provided and/or assisted in securing training fellowships to nationals of the Least Developed Countries totalling 430 and 63 at the World Maritime University and at the International Maritime Law Institute respectively during the period 1983-2001.

During 2000-2001, IMO gave technical assistance to Malawi for the establishment of the Maritime Training Institute in Monkey Bay. This institute continues to provide training facilities for national as well as subregional manpower in the maritime sector. During that period, IMO also gave assistance to Ethiopia, Madagascar and Sudan to enhance their capabilities to implement the STCW Convention.

Inland Water Transport

Some of the LDCs such as Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia depend greatly on inland waterways as part of their transportation system for both national and international trade. However, due to lack of formal training, most of the vessels on the inland waterways operate in an environment that is devoid of any appropriate safety culture. For example, Lake Victoria (the second largest fresh water lake in the world) is shared by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The latter depends on the lake transport as an alternative external trade route. Following the accident of M.V. “Bukoba” on the Lake in May 1996, which resulted in the death of more than 500 persons, the Secretary-General of IMO offered long-term technical assistance to improve safety on Lake Victoria. IMO has, on behalf of the East African Community Secretariat, formulated a project document “Enhancement of Safety of Navigation on Lake Victoria” with a budget cost of US$13.54 million and is in the process of seeking donor funds to implement the project over a period of five years.

Maritime Safety Administration

This programme entails the development of maritime safety administrations to implement global safety standards relating to navigation and seafarers, passengers and cargoes, and related aspects through advisory services, training, seminars/workshops, short courses and publications. IMO has a number of national, subregional and regional operational projects which have benefited the following LDCs: Angola, Benin, Cape Verde, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Yemen.

IMO also provided funding to promote the establishment of co-ordinated regional mechanisms for search and rescue and safety management (Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia).

Maritime Legislation

This programme entails strengthening the legal capacity and infrastructure of national maritime authorities, assisting countries to review and update national maritime legislation and training of national experts. IMO has been and or is currently assisting the following LDCs to update their maritime legislations: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Sao Tome & Principe, Sierra Leone, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.

To promote safety of shipping and navigation on lakes and inland waterways in Africa, and contribute to the sustainable development of the region by strengthening the safety of transportation of persons, property, and seafarers, IMO developed model regulations regarding the safety of small vessels. All LDCs will benefit from it.

A second model maritime code was developed for the Central African Republic, Chad and Equatorial Guinea.

Marine Environment Protection

This programme entails assistance in strengthening national and regional capacity to prevent, control, combat and mitigate marine pollution, in particular through the implementation of training programmes and exchange of expertise and know-how and the assistance in developing, revising and up-dating national legislation. The following LDCs have benefited from on-going IMO technical co-operation projects: Angola, Benin, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique and Namibia.


IMO’s technical co-operation programme addresses the maritime needs of developing countries, including the Least Developed Countries, focusing on priorities that can ensure sustainable maritime development, efficient and safe maritime transport services, as well as effective environmental protection. Since IMO does not have a regular budget for technical assistance, its technical co-operation activities are conceived and developed through a partnership for progress – between the recipient countries, the donor community and IMO. Many of the LDCs have received technical assistance from IMO and, subject to availability of donor funding, IMO expects will implement the Lake Victoria project related to the improvement of maritime safety.

The programme for the use of Technical Assistance during 2002-2003 will promote capacity-building for the uniform implementation of IMO’s global maritime standards, principally through training activities for the development of maritime human resources, to ensure that developing countries are adequately equipped to comply fully with their flag State obligations, and to carry out effective port State control activities. By building up institutional and human capacities in these fields, the programme will promote the reduction of marine casualties, the elimination of sub-standard shipping and the protection of the marine environment.

Other components of the programme will target assistance for the preparation of primary legislation, implementing regulations, technical studies and action plans related to IMO’s key technical programmes. The institutional strengthening and upgrading of national maritime administrations will also be addressed, as will the development of regional approaches on subjects such as oil spill preparedness and response as well as search and rescue. Support to maritime training institutions and the provision of fellowships will also be considered.

IMO’s technical assistance to the least developed countries

in the Asia and Pacific Region and Latin America & the Caribbean during 2001

(a) Asia

There are eight least developed countries (LDCs) in the region; four are land-locked ones and four maritime (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Maldives, Myanmar). IMO’s technical assistance is provided mainly to the maritime countries.

During 2001, IMO implemented nine regional projects for the Asian region and five of them are still operational. These projects provided technical assistance in many areas, including upgrading of the national maritime administrations, developing oil spill contingency plans, and training of maritime instructors and examiners. Base on the assessed needs, the above-mentioned five maritime countries have been chosen to participate in some of the regional capacity-building activities.

Following a needs assessment mission to Bangladesh in 2000, another IMO mission was fielded to the country in 2001 to identify priority areas for technical assistance. Follow-up activities included purchase of IMO publications and a technical advisory mission on national maritime regulations. A regional seminar and workshop on the implementation of the International Safety Management Code was also held in Bangladesh in May 2001.

To assist Cambodia in upgrading its maritime safety administration, a needs assessment mission on maritime legislation and administration went to Cambodia in March 2001. The mission report has been prepared by consultants and sent to the maritime Administration of Cambodia for possible follow-up action. Cambodia is also a participating country to the Regional Programme on Building Partnerships in Environment Management for the Seas of East Asia, which is mainly funded by GEF and implemented by IMO. Sihanoukville is selected as a demonstration site for the integrated coastal management with an aim to strengthen the local capacity to plan and manage their coastal areas. Major activities include assessment of coastal resources and their utilization, evaluation of environment risks to public and ecosystem health, formulation and implementation of strategies, functional zoning schemes, action plans and institutional arrangements which ensure effective implementation and enforcement.

IMO has been assisting the South Asian Countries, including Maldives, in formulating a regional oil and chemical spill contingency plan and in their implementation of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78). Maldives was visited by an IMO consultant to review the current status on oil and chemical spill preparedness and to assess the difficulties the country has in the implementation of MARPOL 73/78.

Through IMO’s Women-in-Development Programme, a woman officer from the maritime Administration of Myanmar received an 11-week GDMPM (Graduate Diploma/Certificate in Maritime and Port Management Programme) training in Singapore.

Apart from participating in IMO’s regional programme activities, all the four countries have also benefited from training activities provided by IMO at the global level. 91 nationals from the countries have been trained at the World Maritime University (WMU) and nine have studied in the International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI).

(b) Pacific Island Countries

IMO has adopted a regional approach in its technical assistance to the Pacific Islands region. During 2001, IMO implemented six joint regional projects with the Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC) and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). These projects were aimed at assisting maritime Administrations to discharge their responsibilities as flag and port States, enhancing safety standards for small vessels plying in the region, updating the South Pacific Regional Maritime Code, preparing the Island countries for oil spill accidents, improving port environmental management, and upgrading of maritime training programmes.

To achieve the objectives of the above-mentioned projects, three regional seminars and training courses were organized during 2001 and many country missions were fielded to the 14 Pacific Island countries, including the five LDCs (Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu). Eleven nationals from the five countries have been trained at the WMU and three trained at IMLI.

(c) Latin America and Caribbean Region

During 2001, two fellowships were awarded by IMO to officials of the Haitian maritime administration (SEMANAH) to undertake classroom and on-the-job training on maritime search and rescue operations. This was the first phase of a broader activity which seeks to build technical capacities within SEMANAH on a wide range of maritime safety and maritime training issues. Subsequent phases will include further on-the-job attachments as well as training of local instructors. All such support is being delivered in co-operation with the Government of France’s maritime authority for the French Antilles and French Guyana, based in Martinique.