The Russian Federation has been voted off the IMO Council, the UN body’s executive board. Member states voted to transfer the seat to a nation with a more prominent role in international merchant shipping, Liberia, which flags more tonnage than any other registry.
The IMO’s members elect a new council every two years, and there are three categories. The first is for “states with the largest interest in providing international shipping services.” Russia was the only nation removed and replaced from this category, and was the only global power omitted. The 2024-5 membership includes China, the United States, the UK, Greece, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Panama, Norway and South Korea.
The 40-member IMO Council has a supervisory role over the body’s administrative functions, and Russia will no longer have a say in its deliberations. However, Russia will still be a full IMO member state in all other respects, and will have the same right to vote on IMO’s all-important committee business.
The decision to elevate Liberia to the council’s first category gives it a degree of parity with Panama, a close competitor in the open-registry trade. The removal of Russia is also symbolically meaningful: Ukraine had appealed to IMO’s members to take Russia off the list because of Moscow’s attempt to impose a blockade on merchant shipping in the Black Sea.
“I welcome this just decision. In the last decade, no country has done more to undermine freedom of navigation than Russia,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a statement. “I am grateful to IMO member states for taking this crucial step.”
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Since the beginning of the invasion in February 2022, Russia has attempted to shut down seaborne trade to and from Ukraine. In the early weeks of the war, it struck multiple merchant ships with missile and rocket fire, shutting down all shipping to and from Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. A UN-brokered exception for grain cargoes entered into effect in August 2022, but Russia slowed its operation to a near-halt before unilaterally exiting the agreement in July 2023. When merchant vessels continued to call at Ukraine’s riverine ports on the Danube, Russian missiles and drones struck these ports’ grain loading facilities. More recently, Russian forces have mined the waterways off Ukraine’s coast in an attempt to deter merchant shipping, according to Ukraine and to the UK’s military intelligence services.