Transparency International lambasts IMO’s governance structure

Once again the International Maritime Organization (IMO) stands accused today of letting private, corporate interests exert too much influence at the London-headquartered UN body.

Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption NGO, has blasted the IMO for its shortcomings in its governance framework, while releasing preliminary key findings of a new study on the day that the Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) starts important meetings in the UK capital this week.

“Private shipping-industry concerns could have undue influence over the policymaking process at the IMO,” the anti-corruption organisation claimed. This could undermine the UN agency’s ability to effectively regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, something due for debate at MEPC this week.

Transparency International’s study, which will be published in full in May, assesses three dimensions of the IMO’s governance structure: transparency, accountability and integrity. A summary report released today raises serious concerns:

The report found that a majority of the world’s commercial fleet (52%) is registered in only five states – Panama, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, Malta and the Bahamas. Together, these five states contribute 43.5% of the total funding from the IMO’s 170 member states.

“These countries potentially have exaggerated weight in the IMO policymaking processes, particularly when no mechanism exists to protect against undue influence,” the report stated.

The Transparency International report went on to note: “Governments are able to appoint employees of corporations, including shipping companies, to their delegations, and they have dominated some delegations. These private-sector delegates can determine their government’s position on IMO policy and are not subject to conflict of interest rules nor to a code of conduct.”

“The IMO was assigned the task of limiting and reducing emissions from shipping under the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997,” said Brice Böhmer, coordinator of the Climate Governance Integrity Program at Transparency International. “However, it took until 2016 for the IMO to even agree on a roadmap towards an initial strategy, due in 2018, and a revised strategy, due only in 2023. A well-functioning organisation’s governance structure should enable decisive action, but the governance flaws identified by our research suggests that this is not happening at the IMO because policy-making could be overly controlled by private companies.”

Transparency International has urged the IMO to establish a stronger governance framework and to engage in a transparent process of open dialogue with its external stakeholders.

“A guiding principle of UN system is that member states must represent citizens’ interests. At the IMO, this could end up being undermined by corporate participation in the place of nation states,” said Rueben Lifuka, vice chair of Transparency International and an environmental consultant. “The IMO has an integral role in helping the shipping industry meet UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 on climate change, and Goal 14 on oceans. Ultimately, it must reform its governance structure to promote transparency and ensure the voices of citizens – alongside industry – are heard.”

The Transparency International investigation is the second report in the space of six months to question governance at the IMO. In October last year London-based non-profit organisation InfluenceMap claimed corporations have “unmatched” power to shape regulations at the UN’s shipping body. The report – Corporate capture of the IMO – claimed big business and major shipping trade groups are “actively and collectively” obstructing global climate change policy at the IMO. Major flags of convenience as well as Bimco, the World Shipping Council and the International Chamber of Shipping were highlighted as barriers to getting more stringent, timely environmental rules in place. The report was swiftly rebutted by Kitack Lim, the secretary general of the IMO.

Splash is still waiting for an official response from the IMO to today’s Transparency International report.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Like a woodpecker knocking on a tree, we will finally get through as more and more people realize the absurdity of the situation.

    When a new regulation is under consideration, big business and major Shipping trade and owners groups discuss, influence and provide major guideance on what rules finally percolate down into regulation.

    The resolute then regulation is then implemented, manipulated and ignored by the very same industry who helped create it. How is this logical, safe or even ethical?

  2. I have read through the TI preliminary summary and I have to congratulate the author(s) on a rather good piece of work. I think their summary of the IMO, coming from a non-shipping background, is pretty accurate.

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