IMO elections are looming – what to expect
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IMO elections are looming – what to expect

Hotly contested Council elections in Category C

The International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Council will meet next week for its 130th Session ahead of the Assembly’s 33rd Session that kicks off on 27 November, which will include the election of the new incoming Council as well as the official acceptance of the new Secretary General, Arsenio Antonio Dominguez Velasco who is due to being his four-year term on 1 January 2024. Editor, Colleen Jacka takes a closer look. 

The election will take place on Friday, 1 December, by in-person secret ballot. While all IMO Member States and Associate Members are represented in the IMO Assembly, only 40 Member States can be elected to the Council in one of the three categories.

The new Council will meet on 7 December to elect its Chair and Vice-Chair. 

Category A candidates

Category A includes the ten Member States with the largest interest in providing international shipping services. There are currently 11 candidates vying for a position in this category, but Ukraine’s call to have Russia disqualified may impact on the voting. If this is, indeed, the case then all of the remaining ten candidates will gain a place including Africa’s only representative on this list – Liberia.

As one of the world’s largest Flag States, Liberia’s representation on the Council does not reflect its status. With only four terms in Category A and eight in Category C, the country has not been a member of the Council since being elected for a term in 2017. Liberia, is also the only country amongst the list of candidates that is not currently serving on the Council.

The list of candidates in Category A:

  • China
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Liberia
  • Norway
  • Panama
  • Republic of Korea
  • Russian Federation
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • United States

Category B candidates

With only ten candidates for the ten positions in Category B, which includes Member States with the largest interest in international trade – none of these countries will be losing much sleep over the need to campaign. There are no African countries up for election in this category. All of the candidates are also all currently serving in Category B.

The list of candidates in Category B:

  • Australia
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Netherlands (Kingdom of the)
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • United Arab Emirates

Category C candidates

Competition for a spot in Category C, however, is therefore likely to be the most contested with 25 Member States all vying for one of the 20 available positions. This category includes Member States that have not been elected within the other categories, but whose election ensures that the Council represents all major geographic areas of the world.

Competition for a spot in Category C, however, is therefore likely to be the most contested with 25 Member States all vying for one of the 20 available positions. This category includes Member States that have not been elected within the other categories, but whose election ensures that the Council represents all major geographic areas of the world.

Category A and B cover a generous proportion of the world, but it could be argued that Africa, South America and the Caribbean be prioritised during voting in this category. Candidates from Africa include Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and South Africa.

A current member of the Council, Kenya, has maintained a position on the Council since 2002.  The other two current African members, Egypt and Morocco, represent the longest serving African countries having served 22 and 15 terms respectively. Egypt has enjoyed an unbroken stretch on the Council since 1977, while Morocco’s current consecutive representation dates back to 2011.

Currently undergoing an IMO Member State Audit, South Africa lost its seat on the Council in 2021. With key maritime legislation including the Merchant Shipping Act, the Marine Pollution Bill and the Pollution Preparedness Response and Cooperation Bill presently being updated, the country will be aiming to emphasise its readiness to be reconsidered.

It will, however, be a tough race between the four countries if Member States decide to maintain the status quo of including only three African Member States.

It could also be argued that Category A and B give sufficient representation to European Member States and that including the likes of Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Poland would not necessarily further the inclusivity sought in Category C. Both Belgium and Denmark are currently on the Council in this Category and have been since 2007 and 2001 respectively.

Indeed, ranked 11th in terms of the country’s gross tonnage, Denmark may well have considered election in Category A or B. Belgium too falls within the top 30 countries – ranked 28th.  At position 104 and with 15 terms under its belt, Poland is seeking to get re-elected to this category having last served in 2003.

With only two terms served on the council, Finland was last represented in 1999.

Other candidates that would qualify for Category A and B, but are seeking election in Category C include Bahamas, Cyprus, Indonesia, Malaysia, Malta, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and even Türkiye. One does have to wonder if these countries choose not to stand Category C in order to maintain the status quo of those that have monopolised the A and B seats for decades.

Vanuatu is the only current Council C member that is not listed as a candidate for this year’s re-election.

Bangladesh, Finland, Poland and South Africa are all trying to reclaim a seat, having not been elected during the last Council elections in 2021.

The list of candidates in Category C:

  • Bahamas
  • Bangladesh
  • Belgium
  • Chile
  • Cyprus
  • Denmark
  • Egypt
  • Finland
  • Indonesia
  • Jamaica
  • Jordan
  • Kenya
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • Mexico
  • Morocco
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia 
  • Singapore
  • South Africa
  • Thailand
  • Türkiye

Changes on the horizon

The IMO Council approved amendments to the IMO Convention to expand the size of the council in 2021. These require the acceptance by two thirds of the IMO Member States for entry into force and would see the Council increase to 52 members.

The increase in Category A and B to 12 from 10 could result in some of the qualifying Member States who stand for election in Category C, opting to be listed as candidates in the former two categories. This, together with the increase in Category C from 20 to 28 seats, will certainly assist in establishing a more equitable representation on the Council in future.

Under the approved amendments, Council Members would remain in their roles until the end of the next two consecutive regular sessions of the Assembly, after which they would be eligible for re-election. Since Assemblies are usually held every two years, this would usually mean that Members would serve a four-year term.

There is currently no limit on the number of consecutive terms a Member State can serve, and one does have to wonder whether some stipulation in this regard is worth considering. If not considered in Category A and B, perhaps at least a portion of new Member States should be required in each election for Category C.  

The IMO Council has seen a number of expansions since its original entry into force with 16 Member States in March 1958. The most recent expansion was a result of the 1993 amendments that came into force in 2002 and increased the size of the Council to 40. 




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