From the earliest journeys into the North Atlantic, icebergs have threatened vessels. A review of the history of navigation prior to the turn of the century shows an extensive number of casualties occurred in the vicinity of the Grand Banks. For example, the LADY OF THE LAKE sank in 1833 with a loss of 70. Between 1882 and 1890, 14 vessels were lost and 40 seriously damaged due to ice. This does not include the large number of whaling and fishing vessels lost or damaged by ice. It took one of the greatest maritime disasters of all time to arouse public demand for international cooperative action to deal with the navigational hazard. This disaster, the sinking of the RMS TITANIC on April 15th, 1912, was the force that established the international ice patrol.
On her maiden voyage from Southampton, England bound for New York, the TITANIC collided with an iceberg just south of the tail of the Grand Banks and sank within two and a half hours. Although the night was clear and seas were calm, the loss of life was enormous with more than 1,500 of the 2,224 passengers and crew perishing. The vessel had been built with the latest safety design, featuring compartmentation and such innovations as automatically closing water-tight doors. It is ironic that publicity regarding these features had given it the reputation of being unsinkable.
Loss of the TITANIC gripped the world with a chilling awareness of an iceberg's potential for tragedy. The sheer dimensions of the TITANIC disaster created sufficient public reaction on both sides of the Atlantic to prod reluctant governments into action, producing the first Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention in 1914. The degree of international cooperation required to produce such an unprecedented document was truly remarkable and probably could not have been achieved during this period without the catalyst provided by this incident.
As of 2007 the governments contributing to the International Ice Patrol included Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Poland, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
Originally, there were thirteen nations which signed the 1914 SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) Convention agreement. These nations agreed to share costs in accordance with a formula approximating their degree of individual benefit. This sharing arrangement has been updated over the years as shipping patterns changed and as additional nations acceded to the treaty. Financial relations are handled by the U.S. Department of State which does the actual billing of each nation for its share of the cost. In the early days this share was a fixed percentage, changed from time to time by treaty revision. In recent years, the cost share has been based on each participating nation's percentage of the total cargo tonnage transiting the patrol area during the ice season.