Ship Classification

Ship Classification Societies are not-profit organizations that provide ship design, compliance, inspection and other services to ship owners and operators. Open registries rely on Ship Classification Societies to provide many of the ship inspection services. Otherwise, ship inspection services must be performed by governmental regulatory bodies like United States Coast Guard.

Ship Classification is the process by which a ship is constructed in accordance with specific standards which is called rules. These rules are enforced by Ship Classification Societies and based upon the standards set out in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). If a ship is built to the ship classification society standards and rules, then that ship is said to be built to that class. After construction, ships are surveyed on a regular basis to ensure that they remain in compliance with class standards, in order to remain in that class.

Ship Classification verifys and certifies a ship’s condition. Furthermore, Ship Classification provides comfort to the ship owner and bareboat charterer. Ship Classification is also important for banks, insurance underwriters, and flag states. All maritime market players rely on the confirmations provided by ship classification societies to ensure that ships are in suitable condition for:

  • Loans
  • Insurance
  • Registration

Ship Classification Societies get started in the 18th century. London marine insurers developed a system for the independent assessment (classification) of ships which are seeking insurance. Basically, Classification assist such insurance underwriters in order to evaluate potential risks of ships. During the end of 18th century, ships were classified according to their construction and maintenance:

  • Good
  • Fair
  • Bad

Classification processes were published in the Lloyd’s Register Book. In 1834, these publications formed the Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping (LR).

Ship Classification Societies are self-regulated. Ship Classification Societies are the subject of attention by plaintiffs in ship-related accidents and incidents. 13 major ship classification societies are members of the International Association of Classification Societies Ltd. (IACS). International Association of Classification Societies Ltd. (IACS) was established in 1939. International Association of Classification Societies Ltd. (IACS) try to create uniformity among its members as to standards and practices.

Major Ship Classification Societies:

  1. American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) established in 1862
  2. Bureau Veritas (BV) established in 1828
  3. Del Norske Veritas (DNV) established in 1864
  4. Germanischer Lloyd (GL) established in 1867
  5. Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (NKK) established in 1899
  6. China Classification Society
  7. Croatian Register of Shipping
  8. Indian Register of Shipping
  9. Registro Italian Navale
  10. Polish Register of Shipping
  11. Russian Register of Shipping
  12. South Korea – Korean Register of Shipping
  13. United Kingdom – Lloyd’s Register of Shipping (LR)

About 90% of the world’s fleet of international trading commercial ships are classed by a class society. All commercial ships are classed by a class society due to insurance, commercial trade, charter or financing reasons. Most small ships that solely trading on inland waterways are not classed by a class society.

Before ordering the construction of a ship, ship owners usually ensure that the design of the ship to be ordered meets the applicable structural rules or standards of a class society. Different classification society rules have been further standardized by the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) members since 1 January 2006. International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) members adopted:

  • Common Structural Rules for Double Hull Oil Tankers (CSR-OT)
  • Common Structural Rules for Bulk Carriers (CSR -BC)

Ship construction contracts also usually specify the class society rules and standards that will apply to the ship design. Ship Classification Societies ensure that the ship is built in accordance with class rules and standards. Ship Classification Societies work on behalf of the ship owner and verify that the ship design complies with the rules and standards. Ship Classification Societies’ delegates, whom are called surveyors, attend the construction and sea trials of the ship. Ships are determined to be either in compliance with applicable rules or not:

  • Ship is in class
  • Ship is out of class

If ship classification is a successful process, Ship Classification Societies issue a class certificate. When the ship is in service, ship is inspected by Classification Societies’ delegates called class surveyors at regular intervals. Class surveyors inspect and confirm that the ship is in class or out of class. Ship Classification Societies issue documents certifying the condition of the ship:

  1. Classification Certificate
  2. Confirmation of Class
  3. Hull Survey Certificate
  4. Machinery Survey Certificate
  5. Safety Equipment Survey Certificate
  6. Radio Equipment Survey Certificate
  7. International Safety Management Certificate
  8. Automated Control Survey Certificate

Ship Classification Societies utilize a series of symbols (notations) to indicate the level and type of surveys and certifications applicable to the ship.

A classed ship by Classification Societies also subject to government inspection. Ship classification does not substitute for many government inspections. Maritime nations have port states in order to inspect ships and determine whether these ships are safe to let into port in terms of potential environmental damage and other harms. Many port states (PSC) take into account if a ship has been classed by a class society that is a member of International Association of Classification Societies (IACS). Like United States Coast Guard whom checks if the ship is classed by an International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) member. In addition, some maritime nations delegate to ship classification societies certain inspection and certification functions ordinarily undertaken by a government entity.

Many government ship registries have delegated to ship classification societies authority to issue certain certificates on behalf of the ship registry like:

  • International Oil Pollution Certificate
  • SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) Safety Certificate

Ship classification does not substitute for good ship owner practices. Ship classification is intended as one check in a system in order to ensure safe ship operation. Ship owners have the overall responsibility for the safely operation and maintenance. Usually, ship class society is not held liable for ship casualties, accidents, cargo damage or other ship-related liabilities. Certain plaintiffs have alleged defects in classification certificates, the failure of class surveyors to discover safety defects and other alleged faults allegedly causing injuries. Ship Classification Societies have been particularly able to avoid liability. Ship Classification Societies have acted as an agent for a government and may be able to avail themselves of the sovereign immunity associated with that government.