Mr O’Neil was elected Secretary-General of the IMO for a first term of Office beginning in 1990, a second term beginning in 1994, a third term beginning in 1998 and a further two-year term from 2002 to 2004. He graduated in civil engineering from the University of Toronto in his native Canada in 1949 and served in various positions with the Federal Department of Transport and was particularly closely associated with the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority.
He was Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard from 1975 to 1980 and then became President and Chief Executive Officer of the St. Lawrence Authority, a position he held until joining the IMO. However, his links with the Organization go back to 1972 when he represented Canada at the IMO Council. He became Chairman of the IMO Council in 1980 and was re-elected four times.
In 1991 he became Chancellor of World Maritime University, Malmö, Sweden and Chairman of the Governing Board of the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta. Mr O’Neil is a member of the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario and of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He is Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) University of Malta, Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) Nottingham Trent University, Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) Memorial University of Newfoundland and Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) Korea Maritime University. In 1992 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1994 he was elected Member of the Royal Academy of Engineering and fellow of the Institute of Logistics and transport (formerly the Chartered Institute of Transport), United Kingdom and awarded The Admirals’ medal, Canada. In 1995 he was awarded the NUMAST Award (National Union of Marine Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers), United Kingdom; the SEATRADE Personality of the Year Award; the Professional Engineers Ontario Gols Medal and was made Commandeur, Ordre National des Cèdres, Lebanon and Member of the Order of Canada.
In 1996 he was made a member of the Engineering Alumni Hall of Distinction at the University of Toronto and in 1997 he was awarded the Silver Bell Award of the Seamen’s Church Institute, new York. In 1998 he was awarded the CMA Commodore Award (Connecticut Maritime Association), United States, the Orden “Vasco Nuñez de Balboa” en el Grado de Gran Cruz, Panama and the”Dioscuri” Prize, Lega Navale italiana, Agrigento, Italy. In 1999 he was awarded the Vice Admiral “jerry” Land Medal of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine engineers, United States and in 2000 the Halert C. Shepheard Award, United States.
In 2001 he was awarded the Medal for Distinguished services to the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs, Colombia and in 2002 the CITIS (Communication & IT in Shipping) Lifetime Achievement Award, United Kingdom, the Golden Jubilee Medal, Canada and the “15 November 1817 Medal, Uruguay and was made a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights (Honoris Causa), United Kingdom. In 2003 he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Merchant Marine, Venezuela.