Birth Centennial Memorial of Elisabeth Mann Borgese

 24th April 1918 - 8th February 2002


A hundred years ago, this 24th April 2018, Elisabeth Mann Borgese, founder of the International Ocean Institute, was born in Munich, Germany, to Thomas Mann and Katia Pringsheim. She worked tirelessly to achieve her passions, where dreams could become policies and politics; where grand ideas could be tied down to practical activities and realities. She will always be remembered for her lifetime dedication to the protection of the ocean. She was an intellectual giant and a total human being with an outstanding simplicity


Elisabeth Mann Borgese was known worldwide as “The Mother of the Oceans” and dedicated all her life to the understanding of ocean matters, to the development of a constitution for the oceans and to the consideration of the oceans as a “great laboratory for the making of a new international order based on new forms of international cooperation and organisation, on a new economic theory, on a new philosophy”. (from Elisabeth Mann Borgese: 1986; The Future of the Oceans: A Report to the Club of Rome. Pub: Harvest House).



“The International Ocean Institute was founded by Elisabeth Mann Borgese 45 years ago. In 1972, the world was completely different, but then again, in many respects it has not changed at all. …………Elisabeth’s main concern was the economic and scientific balance between both, between rich and poor. …………. It was very much down to Elisabeth’s personal commitment and the work of the  (IOI’s) “Pacem in Maribus” conferences that the International Law of the Sea could first be developed and then, over the course of the next years, implemented. ……. Elisabeth’s great foresight that no global peace would be possible without an equilibrium between rich and poor has proved true in a rather disgraceful manner. ……………. Elisabeth’s vision of a better, more peaceful world was of a general nature. In her view, the seas and oceans were ideally suited for her mission – because of their sheer size, their meaning for mankind and because they were not yet a matter of politics. The oceans are the ideal vehicle for this struggle.”


Nikolaus Gelpke, President, IOI; excerpted from the IOI Annual report for 2016; published in 2017



“Forty years ago, the world was on the eve of a great new adventure.  Elisabeth Mann Borgese was at the centre of momentous events.  A new paradigm for the ocean was in construction - no longer mare liberum, no longer mare clausum - but the common heritage of mankind. Elisabeth’s love for the ocean was surpassed only by her commitment to peace and the well-being of humankind.  She saw in the making of the constitution of the ocean through the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III), the making of a new world order.  She believed that the ocean should in effect become a laboratory for the making of a new world order and that the international regime for the peaceful uses of ocean space and to  cultivate the ocean so that its power everywhere could safeguard precious life on earth.  Pacem in Terris was fused with Pacem in Maribus………………IOI will continue to do justice by all means possible to Elisabeth’s vision and passion and her love of the ocean wherein she saw a model for equity, justice and peace in service of our humanity.” 


Awni Behnam; Honorary President, IOI; Excerpt from the Opening Address on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of IOI; 2012



“Philosopher and theologian of the ocean, Elisabeth was a passionate campaigner for a world order founded on distributive justice based on a universal democracy of which ocean governance would be the prime and leading mover. For her, therefore, the doctrine of the common heritage, espoused with her good friend Arvid Pardo, encapsulated her belief that a philosophy of nature was humankind’s essential credo. Within that ‘religion’, the sea offered the best example for a set of ethical principles guiding humanity to the equitable use of natural resources. Fighting for the adoption of the UN Convention for the New Law of the Sea became for her a life-long vocation in which she spared herself no penance and no sacrifice.”


Salvino Busuttil, Former IOI Host Country Representative & IOI Governor Excerpted from “Elisabeth Mann Borgese, Philosopher and Theologian”;

IOI Annual report for 2008; published in 2009



A dedication to the memory of Elisabeth Mann Borgese – taken from The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran. 


“Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.

For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.

Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;

And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.”


Other events/messages to mark Elisabeth Mann Borgese's centenary:

10th Anniversary Commemoration of Professor Elisabeth Mann Borgese on 8th February 2012


The 8th February 2012 was an important commemoration for the IOI – the 8th February was the tenth anniversary of the passing away of Prof. Elisabeth Mann Borgese, the founder of IOI and the year 2012 marked IOI’s 40 years of dedication to ocean matters and contribution towards capacity development and ocean governance since its foundation in 1972. The two events were celebrated at the University of Malta in Malta.


The Elisabeth Mann Borgese Memorial Ceremony was held at the St Thomas Moore Chapel of the University of Malta to an intimate gathering of friends of IOI and persons who had known and cherished Elisabeth in her lifetime and admired her work. Chosen readings were given by Fr Michael Bugeja SJ, University Chaplain, Dr Awni Behnam, Professor Salvino Busuttil, Professor Alain Piquemal and Dr Werner Ekau – members of the IOI Governing Board. The readings were accompanied by a selection of choral and orchestral works by the Collegium Musicum and the Chamber Orchestra directed by Dr Mro Dion Buhagiar.


Detailed information about the event is available for download below:


8th February 2012, a date to commemorate and to celebrate
IOInforma 0312.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Document 1.1 MB

An IOI publication has been dedicated

to the Celebration of the 40th Anniversary

of IOI and the 10th Anniversary Commemoration

of Prof. Elisabeth Mann Borgese.