The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO), one of the oldest intergovernmental organisations, was formed to advance navigational safety and the protection of the marine environment. Its origins stem from a series of conferences held in Washington in 1899, followed by two others in Saint Petersburg in 1908 and 1912. These conferences discussed the need for uniformity in charting and the availability of hydrographic information. In 1919, 24 nations met in London, at which time it was decided that a permanent body should be created. The resulting International Hydrographic Bureau (IHB), as it was then called, began its activity in 1921 with the following 18 Member States: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, British Empire (UK and Australia), Chile, China, Denmark, France, Greece, Japan, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Siam (Thailand), Spain and Sweden. Egypt, Italy and the USA joined the following year.
Prince Albert I
At the invitation of HSH Prince Albert I of Monaco, a noted marine scientist, the Bureau was provided, free of charge, with specially built headquarters in the Principality of Monaco. This generosity has been continued by Prince Albert I’s successors, such that the IHO still maintains its headquarters in Monaco where it currently enjoys the active support and interest of HSH Prince Albert II and his government.
In 1970, an intergovernmental convention on the IHO entered force that formally recognised the Organisation as the IHO and its secretariat became known as the IHB. In 1996, the IHB moved across the port from its former building to spacious refurbished offices, which included a library of historical and contemporary texts related to hydrography and a reference collection of the International (INT) series of nautical charts, which are co-ordinated through the IHO.
The IHB has a permanent staff of 19, comprising the Directing Committee of three senior hydrographers who are elected by the IHO Member States for a five-year term; five professional assistants (PAs), recruited internationally from nominations by Member States; and 11 locally recruited supporting staff. The PAs are subject-matter experts in various fields related to hydrography, including data management, hydrographic surveying, nautical cartography and disseminating maritime safety information. The IHB staff includes translators who support the two official languages of the IHO – English and French – and also provide translations of a number of IHO documents and correspondence into Spanish.
As part of its secretariat role, the IHB maintains the documentation for 15 international technical standards, 10 associated guidelines together with 18 other related publications. Most of these are published in at least two languages. The IHO website (8 1) is maintained and hosted at the IHB and provides information to its Member States and the wider community with pages in both English and French, with some documents also in Spanish. The directors and PAs are involved in all of the organs of the IHO together with the Regional Hydrographic Commissions. This comes to more than 40 different bodies, of which the IHB acts as Secretary for about half. The IHB also publishes the long-standing International Hydrographic Review (IHR), the IHO journal containing peer-reviewed articles on hydrographic, navigational and charting subjects.
The directors and PAs normally attend all IHO meetings as well as representing the IHO at the meetings of other intergovernmental organisations such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and International Olympic Committee (IOC), as well as other international bodies such as the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) and the Comité International Radio-Maritime (CIRM). As well as hosting meetings of IHO subordinate bodies throughout the year, all the Member States of the IHO meet in Monaco every two to three years at their International Hydrographic Conference. The organisation for these events is undertaken by the IHB.