Shipping is probably the most international and oldest of the world's industries, serving nearly 90 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 has been met by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), whose main task has been to develop and maintain a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping and its remit.
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 World Maritime University by IMO in 1983. 
The university was established thanks to the generosity of both the Government of Sweden and the City of Malmö, both of which provide significant annual 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.
As of 2018, there are 4,919 WMU graduates from 168 countries across the globe who are shaping the maritime sector of today and leading its development into the future.  They hold senior positions – top managers, ministers of transport, directors of shipping companies, heads of maritime academies – as well as representing their home countries at international forums and organizations.
Today, World Maritime University is:
  • an institution that provides its students with privileged access to and understanding of the operation and decisions of IMO
  • an institution where over 100 international experts and professionals – both resident and visiting staff – from around the world provide high-level technical education and research
  • an institution which gives its students direct and extensive access to the most modern technologies and methods in marine transportation and administration used in the industrial world
  • an institution which carries out a wide range of research, with many projects involving partners from around the world
  • an institution at the centre of the global network of maritime institutions, experts and practitioners