Compliance & Enforcement







Compliance is important in reducing the environmental impact of shipping on the marine environment. Compliance is also required by law and the right thing to do. By enforcing shipping regulations, shipping can be safe, sustainable, and fun.


Participants will:

  • Identify various enforcing agencies
  • Distinguish compliance attributes to be proactive

Flag States: Hold the principal responsibility for enforcing IMO Regulations concerning the ship safety and environmental protection, these are the countries in which the commercial ships are registered (may be different than the country that owns the vessel. Followed outside the 12 nautical mile mark).

Port States: Supplements flag state. Officials in any country which a ship may visit can inspect to ensure they are following regulations. Regulations are enforced within less than 12 nautical miles.

Class Societies: A NGO which establishes and maintains technical standards for the construction and operation of marine vessels and offshore structures.

ISO 1400: The family of standards related to environmental management that exists to help organizations minimize how their operations negatively affect the environment.


Compliance is extremely important for the welfare of the company along with the welfare of the employees. Knowing who has jurisdiction along with the regulations plays an enormous role in the safety of the employee and the company. By being a proactive company, companies can avoid any discrepancies against the IMO Regulations. This will allow for continuous improvement in the shipping industry and a safer work environment for seafarers.

Dive Deeper

Enforcing IMO regulations

Flag States enforce IMO requirements through inspections of ships, typically conducted by a network of international surveyors working on behalf of the flag Administration. Much of this work is delegated to “responsible organizations,” called classification societies. Flag State enforcement is supplemented by what is known as Port State Control, whereby officials in any country which a ship may visit can inspect foreign flag ships to ensure that they comply with international requirements. Port State Control Officers have the power to detain foreign ships in port if they do not conform to international standards. In the United States is the United States, Port State Control is the Coast Guard (USCG). The USCG can exercise several means of control over foreign flag ships. Therefore, most IMO regulations are enforced on a global basis.

Environmental Management System (EMS)  

Many companies go beyond the legal requirements and operate in accordance with the requirements of ISO 14001, the international certification standard for Environmental Management Systems (EMS). These EMSs augment the requirements contained in the ISM Code for a Safety Management System, which includes environmental components.  Most companies use the EMS type protocol to have checks and balances for all involved and to ensure compliance throughout the company.  

  • Improving environmental performance
    • Preventing pollution and reducing waste 
  • Improving the overall operation of business
    • Lowering operating costs
    • Reducing risk of fines and penalties
  • Improving overall company reputation

Proactive Companies

Many vessel owners and technical managers have become more proactive regarding MARPOL compliance as the pace of enforcement has increased, as have the penalties. Some companies have elected to strengthen their compliance programs by implementing EMSs, oversight, and the strength of the overall corporate compliance culture. Companies have programs to ensure compliance on vessels including: 

  • Management Systems – design clear procedures at all levels for handling waste stream and other processes onboard vessels 

  • Increased Compliance Training – must be repeated and reinforced regularly and updated due to new and changing requirements

  • Open Reporting System – provides internal procedures for reporting, as well as a hotline and anonymous electronic reporting options 

  • Audit Programs – a critical element of a robust environmental compliance program as it provides a means of independently verifying compliance

  • Role of Superintendent – periodic shipboard visit by technical superintendent familiar with vessel can identify and inform on compliance risks, as well as reinforcing the company’s commitment to compliance 

  • Internal Investigations – this is the first course of action for any possible non-compliance question. Any concerns should first be reported through the ranks and onboard command

What Can You Do?

By familiarizing yourself with regulations and the different systems in place you can create a safer work environment and a healthier marine environment. Compliance requires commitment from all employees. With more proactive companies this allows for stronger enforcement of compliance. All of this benefits the employee and company.


Each seafarer is required to follow the procedures of their company and the regulations at hand. The company benefits if every employee follows international, national, and local laws and company policies, though compliance and a proactive attitude also have a personal element. In addition to the benefits to the company, compliance with environmental and safety regulations is simply the right thing to do. It is critical for the seafarer to believe that the company is committed to compliance.  By being involved and having a pro-active attitude, individuals show they care for the company, colleagues, and the environment. Personal motivation leads to compliance by commitment.

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