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The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) was established in 1921 as the International Shipping Conference. Delegations from 14 national shipowner associations (travelling, of course, by ship) attending the first meeting in London which was hosted by the British association, representing at that time the dominant nation in shipping.

The foundation of ICS was to some extent indicative of the new spirit of international co-operation that existed following the First World War. However, it also resulted from the perceived need for shipowners around the world to respond, in a co-ordinated fashion, to the new body of international maritime safety rules that was then being developed. In 1914, an international conference of governments had adopted the first Safety of Life at Sea Convention which had been prompted by the ‘Titanic’ disaster in 1912.

International Shipping Conference

International Shipping Federation

Merger of ICS and ISF

International Shipping Conference

The first meeting of the International Shipping Conference 1921.

The original International Shipping Conference only met infrequently as occasion demanded. In 1948, however, the organisation was reconstituted under its present name, which was also the year in which the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was established by a United Nations treaty. Following the establishment of a permanent IMO office in London, the principal function of ICS has been to co-ordinate the representation of the international industry’s views at IMO as it sets about developing a comprehensive regulatory framework for international shipping. ICS was amongst the very first non-governmental organisations to be granted consultative status at IMO in 1961. However, ICS has also developed close relationships with the various other international bodies that impact on shipping.

The initial focus of IMO in the 1960s, and therefore ICS, was the development of technical regulations related to the safety of life at sea. But in response to the expanding agenda of governments at IMO, for the last 40 years or so, ICS has increasingly become involved in environmental, legal and insurance issues, as well as the production of publications on best practice which are widely used throughout the industry. In 2002, ICS merged with the Council of European and Japanese Shipowners’ Associations (CENSA), taking over responsibility for industry representation on trade and shipping policy issues.

These developments have resulted in a gradual expansion of staff working for ICS, development of a sophisticated committee structure, and an increase in membership of national shipowners’ associations which now covers about 80% of the world’s merchant tonnage.

International Shipping Federation

The International Shipping Federation (ISF) was established in 1909. Originally it was conceived as a strike-breaking organisation in response to the growth of organised labour and seafarers’ trade unions in the 1900s. However, ISF really took on its present identity in the 1920s following the establishment of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1919. Originally founded as part of the League of Nations, the ILO still exists today as part of the United Nations located in Geneva.

ILO was established to develop international employment standards and, uniquely, ILO Conventions are developed on a tripartite basis with employers and unions also having votes as well as governments. Because of the special global nature of maritime employment, ILO established separate machinery for developing international labour standards applicable to shipping and following the first special ILO maritime conference in 1920, ISF has had the role of co-ordinating national shipowners’ representatives at ILO meetings, its opposite number being the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

Since the 1970s, the role of ISF has expanded into other maritime employers’ issues, including training standards and welfare, reflecting the growth in the number of seafarers employed from developing countries. ISF also has an important role in representing maritime employers at IMO, particular with regard to seafarers’ competence standards.

ISF also works with a number of other international organisations the most notable being the World Health Organisation, The European Commission Department of Transport and Energy Social Policy Section and maritime welfare agencies.

Merger of ICS and ISF

ISF works to ensure that the needs of both shipowners and seafarers are met whilst maintaining a practical balance in the provision of services and working conditions.

The operations of ICS and ISF are merged. All committees are now managed through ICS. The ISF brand has been retained for external liaison purposes and to maintain leadership in UN agencies where it is established as the International Shipowners organisation specialising in Employment related matters.


When ICS and ISF were originally established they were operated and staffed on a part time basis by the UK Chamber of Shipping and the British Shipping Federation.

In 1990, when the Secretariats of ICS and ISF merged, a new company was established called Maritime International Secretariat Services Limited (Marisec). Marisec is now owned by ICS and exists to provide staff and secretariat services to the two organisations. ICS and ISF are now completely separate from the UK Chamber of Shipping, although the relationship with the UK Chamber remains close as it is an important member.

Marisec also provides secretariat services to the International Support Vessel Owners Association (ISOA) and from time to time provides services to other organisations.