IOI Story - The Beginnings

IOI, the Law of the Sea and Malta 


The history of the IOI is very closely intertwined with that of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and that of Malta – an island nation with a long maritime history – through the fruitful collaboration and friendship of two key people. One of these is Elisabeth Mann Borgese who set up the IOI in 1972, and the other is Arvid Pardo, Ambassador of Malta to the United Nations.


The IOI was formally established at the University of Malta in 1972 as an independent body. However, the roots and ideas leading to this relate back to the dialogues and dreams about a new world constitution and lasting peace emerging from the debris of the Second World War. Over the years, Professor Elisabeth Mann Borgese oversaw the development of the IOI into an international instrument pushing for good ocean stewardship and peaceful uses of the ocean, under the guidance of the Principle of the Common Heritage of Mankind shaped by Dr. Arvid Pardo, who was one of the founding fathers of IOI.  


Arvid Pardo (1914-1999)


Arvid Pardo was Malta’s first Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 1964. He is recognised most especially for his contribution to the development of the Law of the Sea and his vision was based on two fundamental principles:

  • first that all aspects of ocean space are interrelated and should be treated as an integral whole; and
  • second, that the seabed beyond national jurisdiction and its resources are the common heritage of mankind – a striking departure from earlier thinking on ocean space. 

His first address at the UN on the law of the sea was delivered on 1st November 1967 when he presented to the members of the General Assembly’s First Committee on the need to declare the seabed beyond national jurisdiction and its resources as part of the “common heritage of mankind”.  


In many respects, the convening of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea and its culmination in the adoption of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the New Law of the Sea (UNCLOS - Montego Bay Convention) have their roots in the 1967 Maltese efforts.




Elisabeth Mann Borgese and Arvid Pardo in an undated photograph taken at the time of their collaboration.