The establishment of the Organization was based on two international public law instruments developed under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). These are:
- Convention on the International Maritime Satellite Organization (Inmarsat) between States Parties to the Convention; and
- Operating Agreement between telecommunications entities public or private (one per Party) called “Signatories” designated by a State.
Both instruments entered into force on 16 July 1979.
The purpose of Inmarsat was to make provision for the space segment necessary for improved maritime communications and, in particular, for improved safety of life at sea communications and the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). This purpose was later extended through amendments to the Convention and Operating Agreement to provide the space segment for land mobile and aeronautical communications, and the name of the organization was changed to the International Mobile Satellite Organization to reflect the amended purpose.
Inmarsat was structured with three principal organs:
- the Assembly of Parties (one State, one vote), which dealt with general policy matters and the long term objectives of the Organization;
- the Council, composed of 22 Signatories, or groups of Signatories. It decided on all financial, operational, technical and administrative matters, and made provision for the space segment for carrying out the purposes of the Organization. Signatories’ voting rights were linked to their utilization of the system via investment shares;
- the Directorate which was the executive body of the Organization headed by a Director General who was the Chief Executive Officer and legal representative of the Organization.
After twenty years of successful operation, Member States and Signatories of the intergovernmental organization Inmarsat decided to challenge rapidly growing competition from private providers of satellite communications services and pioneered the first ever privatization of all assets and business carried on by the intergovernmental organization while adhering to the continuous provision of the public service obligations and governmental oversight as a pre-requisite of the privatization.
At its Twelfth Session in April 1998, the Inmarsat Assembly adopted amendments to the Inmarsat Convention and Operating Agreement which were intended to transform the Organization’s business into a privatised corporate structure, while retaining intergovernmental oversight of certain public service obligations and, in particular, the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). The Assembly and Council of Inmarsat subsequently decided to implement the amendments as from 15 April 1999, pending their formal entry into force. In doing so, it was recognised that early implementation of the new structure was needed to maintain the commercial viability of the system in a rapidly changing satellite communications environment, and thereby ensure continuity of GMDSS services and other public service obligations, namely: peaceful uses of the system, non-discrimination, service to all geographical regions and fair competition.
The restructuring amendments entered into force on 31 July 2001 and became binding upon all Parties, including those which had not accepted them, and the Operating Agreement terminated on the same date.
The restructuring of Inmarsat involved the incorporation of holding and operating companies, located in England and registered under British law on 15 April 1999, as planned. On the same day, the Headquarters Agreement between the UK Government and the IMSO was signed. A Public Services Agreement between IMSO and the privatised Inmarsat was also executed with immediate effect. The Operating Agreement was terminated and the Signatories received ordinary shares in the privatised Inmarsat in exchange for their investment shares. Capital requirements are met from existing shareholders, strategic investors and public investment through a listing of the shares on a stock exchange (IPO). The Inmarsat satellites and all other assets of the former intergovernmental organization have been transferred to the privatised operating Company which continues to manage the global mobile satellite communications system, including maritime distress and safety services for GMDSS at either no cost or at a special rate.