So let’s say you like watching international ships coming into your port but you want some more information about it.
If you look closely at one of these ships, you will see a number visibly inscribed on the back or side or somewhere visible on the ship. What is this number?
If the ship is an international ship meaning that it does not normally stay in the waters of the country, this number is the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Number.
The IMO introduced this number to help identify ships in 1987 and to help minimize fraud and enhance the security of vessels globally.
It is a system recognized by St Vincent and the Grenadines, the OECS and most States globally. It is considered the best global identification system for ships. IHS Maritime & Trade, a company based in the UK, administers this scheme on behalf of the IMO.
The unique seven-digit vessel number that the company issues to each ship preceded by the letters “IMO” stays with it until it is scrapped and never changes regardless of the shipowner, country of registration or name. The records based on the IMO number provide an independent audit trail for each vessel (an important piece of information if you are helping someone buy a ship or simply want to know more about it from a reliable source).
Following its success, the scheme was applied to fishing vessels in 2013 and the eligibility criteria amended in 2016 for smaller and non-steel hull vessels.
Obtaining an IMO number is free and applications can be made on like using the free registration system on the IHS website.
An IMO number, for a seagoing vessel of 100GT and above should normally be displayed clearly and permanently in a visible place either on the hull or superstructure. This number is also placed on the Certificate of Registry which includes information from the owner and Call Sign to the engine model. The IMO number is always preceded by the letter “IMO” and should not be confused with an “Official Number” or the vessel’s Call Sign (which is usually much shorter).
Vessels that are small than 100GT may also apply for an IMO number so long as they meet the criteria.
An easy way to find out more information about the ship is to write the IMO number down and run it into a Google search engine or get a free public account to access Global Integrated Ship Information System (GISIS) or use Tokyo MOU website. For ship buyers, lawyers or banks doing due diligence on ships, these are invaluable pieces of information that could prevent costly litigation and help you understand what sort of vessel you are looking at.
Chevanev A.Y Charles is a lawyer specialising in International Maritime Law based in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines