The International Maritime Organization (IMO) was established in 1948 as a specialized agency of the United Nations and, in the process, has been charged with the regulation of international shipping from the safety, security and environmental protection points of view. It has 172 Member States, three Associate Member States, some 400 staff and is based in London, United Kingdom.

During its existence, IMO has established a comprehensive body of international conventions, supported by hundreds of recommendations governing every facet of the shipping industry. Key treaties are the SOLAS Convention for the safety of life at sea, the MARPOL Convention for the prevention of pollution by ships - both marine and atmospheric - and the STCW Convention on standards of training for seafarers. But because marine accidents do happen, IMO has also adopted rules concerning distress and safety communications, search and rescue and marine pollution response operations. Other treaty instruments include those providing compensation and liability regimes for oil pollution damage and for damage suffered by passengers and their luggage at sea.
 
The monitoring of compliance with IMO’s standards is the responsibility of Member States, but the Voluntary IMO Member State Audit Scheme, introduced in 2006, plays a key role in enhancing their effective and uniform implementation throughout the world, as does the Organization’s extensive technical co-operation programme. The audit scheme is now in the process of becoming a mandatory scheme, under the most important IMO treaties.
 
IMO’s work aims at ensuring that lives at sea are not put at risk and that the environment is not polluted by shipping operations - as summed up in its objectives: Safe, Secure and Efficient Shipping on Clean Oceans
 
WMU was founded by IMO in 1983 with the aim of providing advanced training for men and women involved in maritime administration, education and management, particularly those from developing countries. The institution - along with the IMO International Maritime Law Institute (Msida, Malta), and the International Maritime Safety, Security and Environment Academy (Genoa, Italy), supports the Organization's technical co-operation programme, the mission statement of which is "to help developing countries improve their ability to comply with international rules and standards relating to maritime safety and the prevention and control of maritime pollution, giving priority to technical assistance programmes that focus on human resources development and institutional capacity-building." 
 
WMU is an independent academic institution, run by an international board of governors and a Chancellor, which since its inception has traditionally been a post held by the Secretary-General of IMO. 
 
Today, WMU is at the apex of all maritime training institutions and provides the focal point for IMO’s goal of creating a culture of safe, secure and environmentally friendly shipping, worldwide. It combines a sound, quality academic programme with the all-important exposure to practical situations in the industry that is so important for students. The excellent body of visiting professors brings the students up-to-date with real-life experiences and knowledge that is unparalleled.