ISM Code

There are four (4) ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) Certificates:

  1. IDOC (Interim Document of Compliance) Maximum 12 months and IDOC certificate cannot be extended or re-issued.
  2. ISMC (Interim Safety Management Certificate) Maximum 6 months.
  3. DOC (Document of Compliance) Maximum 5 years and annual verification.
  4. SMC (Safety Management Certificate) Maximum 5 years and intermediate verification.


ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) History:

ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) was progressing through the IMO (International Maritime Organization) at a slow pace. In 1994, The Herald of Free Enterprise capsized and followed that tragic incident by MV Estonia. These tragic incidents resulted into implement the ISM Code for Phase I (one) ships, on 1 July 1998. 1 July 2002, ISM Code for phase II (two) ships became mandatory. During the late 1970s, there was a major shift in the shipping industry to Flags of Convenience and shipowners were not operating their ships but passing them out to ship management companies, which were often based in countries new to the shipping world. Shipping industry quality was low and ship losses and a large increase in loss of life increased exponentially. In 1990, Lloyd’s of London paid out $4 billion in claims. Initially, ship manager companies were dealing with ISO 9001. Shipping companies’ own ISO 9000 series of quality management systems were not enough. IMO (International Maritime Organization) introduced the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code). Before the introduction of the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code), International Ship Managers’ Association (ISMA) standard was introduced, but that standard failed.


Relationship between the ISM Code and the ISPS Code: which is more important, safety or security?

In shipping, both safety and security are needed. A shipowner could have a secure ship that is not safe, which in turn could lead to the ship being lost, no matter how secure it is. But if the ship is not secure, it can be lost to acts of piracy and other related matters. Safety Management System (ISM Code’s sub-section) ensures that:

  • Compliance with Mandatory Rules and Regulations
  • Applicable Codes, Guidelines and Standards recommended by the Organization (IMO), Administrations (Flag States signatory to the IMO Conventions), Classification Societies (IACS – International Association of Classification Societies), and Maritime Industry Organizations (ICS – International Chamber of Shipping, International Marine Pilots Association – IMPA, International Federation of Ship Masters’ Associations – IFSMA, Inter manager, and Intercargo) are taken into account.

There is a relationship between the different standards and a need to cope with the issued certificates; a full set of certificates has to be retained at all times. Port State Control (PSC) inspections have a mechanism that will increase their severity; which parameters cause this needs to be understood by those dealing with the results. ISM Code has now been about in the shipping industry since the early 1990s. ISM Code became available to the shipping industry and its mandatory application commenced on 1 July 1998.


Auditing Ships via ISM Code (International Safety Management Code):

ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) is an audit regime like auto control and the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) is dependent on auditing. Unlike, inspection or survey, ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) is a method for ascertaining compliance. Even if an audit does not report any non-conformity, that does not mean non-conformity does not exist. ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) has its own cycle for auditing. ISM Code is not part of the Harmonized System of Survey and Certification (HSSC) and never will be. Auditing is not an inspection and auditing is not a survey in the maritime industry. The ship-manager should understand the concept and practices of systemic internal auditing. There are 3 types of audits in the maritime industry:

  1. Internal
  2. External
  3. Verification


ISM Code (International Safety Management Code)

ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) is also part of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS). The background to the introduction of the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) was a series of very high profile maritime losses during the 1980s and early 1990s. Particularly, the total loss of the MV Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987 with a tremendous passenger death toll was almost entirely the result of a lack of safety management procedures. This incident was followed by the loss of MV Estonia, safety management was certainly a factor. Notwithstanding, many of the total losses that occurred during this period were less high profile but a significant number of bulk carriers were very severely damaged or lost, sometimes without a trace of ship or crew. Principally large bulk carriers but there were also some new and well-maintained container ships were very severely damaged or lost. In some of these incidents, there was little doubt that a lack of maintenance played a large part in the incidents, and in particular there were failures of side shell plating due to corrosion particularly in the areas of side shell frames. In other incidents, the losses were due to failures in risk perception and consequent management.

Objectives of ISM Code (International Safety Management Code):

The purpose of the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) is to provide an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and pollution prevention. Section 1.2:

1.2.1 The objectives of the Code are to ensure safety at sea, prevention of human injury or loss of life avoidance of damage to the environment, in particular to the marine environment and property.
1.2.2 Safety management objectives of the ‘Company’ should, inter alia: provide for safe practices in ship operation and a safe working environment establish safeguards against all identified risks; and continuously improve safety management skills of personnel ashore and aboard ships, including preparing for emergencies related both to safety and environmental protection.
1.2.3 The safety management system should ensure: compliance with mandatory rules and regulations; and that applicable codes, guidelines, and standards recommended by the organization, classification societies, and maritime industry organizations are taken into account.”

ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) and Crew Training

Shipowners have to employ competent crew members. Nevertheless, the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) now dictates that records of the recruitment of key personnel be kept and that training records are up to date. Crew training is a requirement of STCW (Standards in Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping) which is another IMO convention relating to training standards.

In respect of the Master, section 6.1 of the Code states:
“ The company should ensure that the Master is:
1. Properly qualified for command;
2. Fully conversant with the company’s Safety Management Systems (SMS);
3. Given the necessary support so that the Master’s duties can be safely performed.”

There is a further requirement that senior ship officers should have a working knowledge of the ISM Code’s (International Safety Management Code) requirements while the crew must certainly be aware of the basic safety drill requirements.

ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) and the Charterer

Substantive compliance with the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) is the responsibility of the shipowner and the ship manager to whom the shipowner has entrusted the ship. There are however some significant implications for the Charterer.

The introduction of the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) was intended to create a new culture of safety at sea whereby accidents and particularly pollution incidents would not be tolerated. When a disaster occurs in the ocean, society wants someone to blame. In the case of the loss of the tanker MT Erika off the coast of France in 2000 much of the blame for the serious oil pollution of the French holiday beaches attached to the Charterers, the French oil company Elf TotalFina, because unlike the shipowners they had a very obvious public image.

Implementation of the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code)

Originally, the major maritime nations including the USA, European Union countries, Norway, Australia, Canada, and Japan embraced the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) wholeheartedly while other nations particularly some minor maritime nations in the Far East were less concerned. Lately, the skeptics have seen the advantages and today the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) is enforced by the most flag and port states.

ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) Procedures

ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) requires formal procedures for all activity relating to the safe management and operation of the ship both in the offices ashore and in the ship afloat. In the same way as in other ‘quality systems’, the procedures need to be fully documented. While documented Ship and Safety Management systems can be bought off the shelf these will still need to be substantially tailored to the requirements of the individual company, the types of ships it operates, and even the trade routes with which it is involved. The best practice is to write the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) procedures in-house so that they reflect the best actual practice used in the company. All employees both ashore and afloat need to be inducted into the system although the degree of involvement will vary considerably with seniority and areas of responsibility.

A crucial aspect of any management system is identifying and reporting non-conformities. This is especially the case with accidents, near misses, and navigational discrepancies which may be seen to challenge a particular officer. These may occur because the system is not being followed in which case corrective action needs to be taken to prevent re-occurrence. Nevertheless, non-conformance is often the result of a badly written ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) procedure which does not reveal the reality of the activity, in such cases the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) procedure needs to be replaced. Reporting and investigation of non-conformance are at the heart of systems improvement.

ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) Audit

The object of the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) is safe management coupled with continuous improvement. There has to be an audit trail to prove this and the management office is audited annually by external auditors authorized by the flag state. Each ship must be audited twice every five (5) years. Between these external audits, the ship managers must undertake internal audits to ensure that there is proceeding compliance and must retain the documentary evidence of the internal audits. The audits have to show that what is written in the procedures takes place in practice and that there is evidence of this. Shipboard and office procedures are linked so that for example, Masters’ or Chief Engineers’ reports become quality records to support the ship maintenance the office planned or ordered.

ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) and Port State Control (PSC)

The proper understanding and application by the ship’s command of the ship Safety Management Systems (SMS) are subject to Port State Control (PSC) inspection. Port State Control (PSC) inspector’s role, in this case, is not to cancel the ship’s Safety Management Certificate, that is a matter for the Flag State, but the ship can be detained until any breaches of the Safety Management Systems (SMS) are corrected.