India has been elected to the executive council or governing body of the International Maritime Organisation for the term 2008 - 2009, signalling a change in international perception of India as an emerging maritime trade power. India polled 127 votes, more than the traditional European colonial maritime powers like France, the Netherlands and Germany.
This time an election was held for the ten seats on the IMO's high table. Belgium, a new entrant and one of the 11 contenders for the 10 seats, forced the elections, challenging the monopoly of more recognized maritime trading nations.
At a time when 98 per cent of global trade is conducted by sea, this victory will ensure India pays closer interest to commercial shipping and the navy, which helps patrol sea-lanes along which trade is conducted.
The significance of India's election, according to diplomatic sources, is that it reflects the gradual shift of global attention in maritime affairs away from Europe, to the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean region. It also signifies the emergence of countries like India and Brazil (which polled the highest number of votes; 130) as maritime trade powers ahead of traditional colonial maritime nations of Western Europe. A specialized agency of the United Nations with 167 Member States and three Associate Members, the IMO is based in the United Kingdom.
In an interesting turn of events, elections this year to the IMO, also known as 'the rich man's club', has seen three claimants for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, India, Brazil and Germany, poll more votes than a permanent UNSC member, France.
When IMO began operations in 1959 shipping was still dominated by a relatively small number of countries, nearly all of them located in the northern hemisphere. IMO tended to reflect this. But as the balance of power in the shipping industry began to change so did IMO.
The Titanic disaster of 1912 spawned the first international safety of life at sea (SOLAS) convention, which is still the most important treaty addressing maritime safety. The Convention establishing the IMO was adopted in Geneva in 1948 and the IMO first met in 1959. Its main task has been to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping.