France and the International Maritime Organization


The International Maritime Organization (IMO) was created in 1948. Since then, France has played a major role as a continuously-elected Council Member in the category of “States with the largest interest in international seaborne trade”.

The IMO in brief
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a specialized United Nations agency with 175 Member States headquartered in London, United Kingdom. The aims of the IMO are summed up in its slogan: “Safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans”.
Given that maritime transport makes up 90% of global trade and that some 50,000 ships travel the oceans each year, setting up international standards is essential. The IMO is therefore responsible for creating a global regulatory framework in three main areas of expertise: maritime safety, maritime security and protecting the marine environment.

France: a major player in the maritime world

France is a leading player in the maritime field due to the size of its maritime sector and its world-renowned expertise. It manages an exclusive economic zone with a total area of just over 10 million km2. Some 22% of the world’s marine protected areas are under French jurisdiction.

A coastal State

As a major coastal state (20,000 km of coastline) on several oceans and seas (Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, English Channel, North Sea, Mediterranean Sea), France actively participates in ensuring the safety of maritime navigation. For example, it is responsible for search and rescue zones in an area of almost 24 million km². France is also involved in several international operations to combat piracy and illicit trafficking.

A key player in the maritime economy

  • In terms of tonnage, on 1 January 2020 the French fleet ranked 28th in the world in terms of capacity by flag. French ship owners are active in all traditional maritime transport professions, operating almost 900 vessels of over 100 UMS (or Universal Measurement System*) over 400 of which fly the French flag.
    France ranks fifth in Europe in terms of port activity and second in terms of shipbuilding. French shipyards are specialized in building the most complex high added value products such as cruise ships.
  • The French fishing industry is the third-largest in Europe, representing 11% of the total volume caught. More broadly, the maritime economy represents 354,000 direct jobs, with a production value of €91 billion.

The prototype of an electric ship powered by renewable energies and hydrogen (Energy Observer) demonstrates France’s leading position in terms of marine innovation.

France - playing an active role in the work of the IMO

France has long been active in developing international standards for the safety and security of maritime transport as well as preventing vessels from polluting the seas. It ranks third among IMO Member States in terms of the number of ratified conventions.

It took part in negotiations on the first version of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). France has ratified almost all IMO instruments, including the most recent ones, such as the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships. In 2018, it ratified the Cape Town Agreement on fishing vessel safety, the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and its 2005 Protocol, and in 2019 the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F).

France has a dedicated permanent representation based in London, allowing it to actively participate in all Committee and Sub-Committee sessions as well as almost all working groups. Each year, about 100 French experts take part in technical discussions at various IMO working groups. They thus play an extremely active role, submitting some 60 proposals each year. France is the 21st largest contributor to the IMO and also provides it with voluntary financial contributions.
France’s position within the IMO includes a strong and pragmatic maritime environmental ambition. This is particularly clear from its concrete proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships and strengthen and protect the marine environment, with special emphasis on the human element.

For more information see the websites of the IMO and the Permanent Representation of France to the IMO

* The Universal Measurement System (UMS) is the unit of volume used for vessels longer than 24 metres and travelling internationally. 200 UMS is equivalent to 100 tons.