Maritime securityIMO ship identification numbering scheme celebrates twentieth birthday

Published 27 November 2007

They did not wait for 9/11: Twenty years ago the IMO created a unique ship identification number scheme; since then, more than 45,000 vessels have been numbered and recorded

How time flies. On 19 November 1987 an International Maritime Organization (IMO) Resolution on creating a unique ship identification scheme was adopted at the 15th IMO Assembly session following an earlier recommendation from the IMO Maritime Safety Committee at their 54th session, which would bear the title of Resolution A.600(15). This Resolution was designed to provide an international numbering system whereby eligible vessels could be identified by a standard ship number that would remain constant throughout the ship’s life; despite changes of registration, ship type, or dimensions and would never be reused following the ship’s demise. Rather than inventing a new identification system, the existing Lloyd’s Register ship identity numbering system, which was comprised of seven digits, was adopted as the IMO number for propelled seagoing merchant ships of over 300 gross tons, and of certain construction. Excluded from this Resolution were such ship types as fishing vessels, pleasure yachts, ships engaged on special service (for example, lightships), hopper barges, hydrofoils, hovercraft, ships of war and troop ships, floating docks and similar constructions, wooden and non-propelled craft. Specific criteria of passenger ships of 100 GT and above and all cargo ships of 300 GT and above were introduced following an amendment of SOLAS Regulation XI/3 which became mandatory on 1 January 1996.

In December 2002, the Diplomatic Conference on Maritime Security adopted a number of measures aimed at enhancing security of ships and port facilities. This included a modification to SOLAS Regulation XI-1/3 to require ships’ identification numbers to be permanently marked in a visible place either on the ship’s hull or superstructure. Passenger ships to carry the marking on a horizontal surface visible from the air and all ships should be marked with their ID numbers internally.

Today Lloyd’s Register-Fairplay (LRF) is the originating source for the IMO Ship Number and is the sole authority with responsibility for assigning and validating these numbers. The numbers are issued from the global maritime databases maintained by LRF and can be requested via the IMO Identification Number website. The IMO has subsequently introduced the IMO Unique Company and Registered Owner Identification Number Scheme through adoption of resolution MSC.160(78) in May 2004. This scheme is also managed by Lloyd’s Register-Fairplay from its databases. It applies to Registered Owners and ISM Managers on ships of 100GT and above, and is due to enter into force in early 2009. The procedures for the implementation of resolution MSC.160(78) have been circulated by means of Circular Letter No. 2554 Rev.1. It is estimated that over the past twenty years more than 45,000 IMO Ship Numbers have been assigned as new ships have been completed and with the current new building order book exceeding 10,000 ships it is likely that this number will continue to increase rapidly over the next five years.