Shipping is one of the world's oldest industries. It is inherently international and serves more than 80 per cent of global trade by carrying huge quantities of cargo cost effectively, cleanly and safely. The ownership and management chain surrounding any ship can embrace many countries and ships spend their economic life moving between different jurisdictions, often far from the country of registry. Therefore there is a need to regulate shipping by international standards. This need is met by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) whose main task is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented.

In the early 1980s, it was recognized within IMO that there was a shortage of well-qualified, highly educated maritime experts, particularly in lesser developed nations. This led to the establishment of the World Maritime University (WMU) by IMO in 1983. The University was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Government of Sweden and the City of Malmö, both of which provided significant financial support. Other donors and benefactors provided both operating funds and student fellowships, enabling the University’s first class to be inaugurated on 4 July 1983.

Today, WMU graduates from across the globe are shaping the maritime and ocean sectors. WMU alumni hold positions of prominence around the world in ministries, as directors of shipping companies and ports, as heads of maritime academies and naval organizations, and many represent their home countries at the IMO and in international organizations and other fora.