Globalization undermines the effectiveness of state-based regulation and implies the need for alternative mechanisms. Regulatory control exercised by international or European institutions provides scope for understanding functionalist rationales when comprehending the construction of ‘ocean space’. This paper contributes to appreciating effective functional forms of regulation by investigating the enforcement practices and control in the international maritime tanker industry. Through a study of shipping we explore the extent that functional regulation has been implemented and how this may inform regulatory formation in other industries/sectors affected by global variables. In general, the study suggests that in the context of the shipping industry functionalism has undergone a metamorphosis in terms of normative underpinning; rather than identifying peace as the basis of non-state regulatory initiative it is triggered by wider populist views regarding political ecology (ecopolitics) and environmental sustainability. ‘Ocean space’ and mobilities are constructed through normative considerations that rely on agencies beyond the nation-state and implementation of regulation through functional variables.