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ICS centenary: shaping the future of shipping for 100 years

27 June 2022
A photo of the first official meeting of the International Chamber of Shipping in 1921. Credit: ICS

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has marked its 100 year anniversary with a  week of activity in June, culminating in an industry black tie dinner, decarbonisation summit and AGM, which ushered in its new chair Emanuele Grimaldi, president and MD of Grimaldi Euromed. 

While delayed by a year due to the pandemic, major industry figures gathered to acknowledge the work that ICS has done in the last century, and to find solutions to one of the biggest challenges that lie ahead, decarbonisation, at the ICS Shaping the Future of Shipping summit. 

Reflecting on change 

ICS also launched a  Centenary book, in which key figures from ICS’ past and present look back over the organisation’s achievements and major milestones as part of its role as the principal trade association for shipowners and operators for the last 100 years. 

As the book notes, the organisation has faced multiple challenges in that time, formed in the post World War 1 era, it weathered the impact of World War 2, and led and supported the industry through international challenges of the Cold War, major global recessions and of course, most recently the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing supply chain crisis and conflict in the Ukraine. 

Esben Poulsson, ICS Chair, said: “The shipping industry today is very different to that which existed when ICS passed its 75th anniversary. Over the past quarter century, with the support of ICS, the industry has made great strides to improve its standards of safety and environmental protection. ICS is currently leading the industry’s collective response to the threat of climate change. As it continues to help shape the future of shipping, ICS is  committed to the achievement of net zero emissions by 2050.” 

While ICS and industry leaders prepare to accelerate unprecedented action to face arguably its biggest challenge yet, climate change, an extract from the minutes of ICS’ first meeting in 1921 shows that many of the challenges that shipowners faced a century ago are very similar to those they continue to face today – as is the collaborative spirit. The minutes in the book paint a picture of an industry coming together to discuss the need for continued international cooperation, as well as the best way to influence and shape the new body of international shipping regulations being created to tackle environmental and safety issues.


International support

During the International Chamber of Shipping’s Centenary black tie dinner a film produced by ICS was shown to celebrate the vital contributions that shipping has made to the global economy over the past 100 years and ICS; key role in supporting and shaping the modern maritime industry. Heads of state and politicians, including the President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, and the Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR, Carrie Lam, as well as the Foreign Minister of Italy and Transport ministers from around the world, shared how shipping has shaped their own country and the vital role it continues to play in their nations economic development. Carrie Lam, Chief executive, Hong Kong SAR, said: “ The efficient  flow of goods is very important, [shipping] supports economic activities, it serves people’s  daily necessities and so is a very important part of the global economy.” 


Shaping shipping 

The Chamber’s work began in the wake of the ground-breaking Diplomatic Conference of governments in London in 1914, when the first Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS)  was adopted, prompted by the loss of 1,500 lives during the Titanic disaster of 1912. Seven years later SOLAS, though not yet ratified, was an important agenda item at ICS’ first meeting, as outlined in the minutes: “We felt that it was incumbent upon us, in calling this conference, to include in the agenda some of the most important provisions of that  Convention [SOLAS], namely, the subdivision of passenger vessels, lifesaving appliances and wireless….These, I think you will agree, are very important and pressing matters, calling  for international consideration by shipowners .” 

Throughout the 1920s, ICS members set up a number of committees to carry into effect the general principles agreed at its first meetings. This included work on deck cargoes, load lines, lifesaving appliances, ‘wireless telegraphy’ and taxation of shipping earnings, issues which remain central to the work of ICS. 

In 1961, ICS became the first non-governmental organisation to achieve consultative status at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Kitack Lim, Secretary General, IMO, says:  “ICS has supported the development of all the principal IMO instruments, including both the first and very latest iterations of the SOLAS, MARPOL and STCW Conventions which, together with the ILO MLC, which are acknowledged today as the four key pillars of global maritime regulation. ICS has also been at the forefront of other key IMO developments, such  as the adoption, almost 30 years ago, of the ISM Code.” 


A guiding hand 

To help shipping navigate through change, ICS produces publications and best practice guidance on maritime safety, environmental protection and the employment and training of seafarers. During the 1970s, these included the first editions of the International Safety  Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals (ISGOTT), produced jointly with the oil industry, and the ICS Bridge Procedures Guide, a copy of the latest edition of which is still carried on board most commercial ships trading internationally today.

Full speed ahead 

ICS continues its leading role to shape and forge international maritime regulation. This is particularly evident in recent years in ICS’ work on decarbonisation, with submissions and calls to the IMO to reduce maritime carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, to introduce market-based measures, to encourage research and development, as well as its work on multiple regulations including carbon intensity. 

However, as incoming ICS Chair Grimaldi notes in the Centenary book, favourable outcomes of decarbonisation efforts will also hinge on the work ICS and the maritime industry is undertaking to engage outside its usual sphere of influence, as witnessed at the recent  Shaping the Future of Shipping summit: “Success will also depend on governments, and stakeholders other than shipowners, ensuring that new zero-carbon fuels will be available in ports worldwide on a commercially viable basis. The scale of the ambition involved with this  collective endeavour is truly impossible to exaggerate.”  

Continued cooperation 

ICS Secretary General Guy Platten notes in the Centenary book that 2022 has seen a whole host of priorities for the organisations: responding to the crisis in Ukraine, and helping the industry “emerge from the global pandemic”, as well as tackle issues brought about by greater digitalisation and stresses of the global economy. However, he underscores that the “the greatest long term priority for ICS is to address the overriding challenge of our age – the  phase-out of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.” 

Underpinning this work is the need for continued cooperation inside and out of the maritime industry. Today, ICS is forging new relationships with governments and external stakeholders and continues to be active at all intergovernmental bodies that have an impact on shipping,  including the International Labour Organization, the UN Conference on Trade and  Development (UNCTAD), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development  (OECD) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

ICS also continues to work closely with its social partner, ITF, as shown by their joint co operation to address the crew change crisis throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and their important work on ensuring a ‘just transition’ for the maritime workforce as the shipping industry seeks to decarbonise. 

Poulsson remains positive that the Chamber’s long history of cooperation will allow the industry to navigate any hurdles that the next century holds: “Despite the many geopolitical challenges confronting the world today, I am confident that, within ICS at least, this good cooperation will be sustained. The history of ICS, and the reason why it has been so effective when liaising with governments at bodies such as the IMO, is the willingness of its member national shipowner associations to co-operate in the best interest of the entire global industry. Long may this great cooperation continue.”