Ship Classification Societies

Ship Classification Societies

Ship Classification Societies are non-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 verifies 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 Ship 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 Classification 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.

What is Ship is in Class? What is Ship is Out of Class? 

“Ship is Out of Class”
refers to a status in the maritime industry, where a ship is no longer in compliance with the rules and regulations set by its classification society. Classification societies are third-party organizations that establish and maintain technical standards for the construction and operation of ships and offshore structures.

When a ship is “in class,” it signifies that the ship meets all the necessary safety and technical standards, and it’s periodically inspected to ensure ongoing compliance. If a ship is “out of class,” it indicates that the ship either has not been inspected within the required timeframe, has not met the necessary standards during an inspection, or there are some issues (damage, mechanical failures, etc.) that are not resolved yet.

Being “out of class” can have serious implications. It can result in:

  • insurance companies refusing coverage
  • ports denying entry
  • inability to legally carry cargo or passengers

Therefore, ship owners and operators usually strive to maintain their ships “in class” by regular inspections, maintenance, and necessary repairs.

Classification societies are non-governmental organizations that establish and maintain technical standards for the construction and operation of ships and offshore structures. They certify that designs and calculations meet these standards, and they survey ships to ensure that they continue to meet these standards once they are in service.

If a ship falls out of class (i.e., fails an inspection or does not meet the necessary standards), it can have serious implications, including invalidating the ship’s insurance. This makes “in class” a very important status for any ship.

The most recognized classification societies are member organizations of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), including:

  • American Bureau of Shipping (ABS)
  • Bureau Veritas (BV)
  • China Classification Society (CCS)
  • DNV GL (Det Norske Veritas Germanischer Lloyd)
  • Korean Register of Shipping (KR)
  • Lloyd’s Register (LR)
  • Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK)
  • Registro Italiano Navale (RINA)
  • Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS)
  • Indian Register of Shipping (IRS)

Each society has its own specific rules and guidelines, but they all aim to verify the structural soundness and reliability of a ship’s machinery and equipment.

What happens if a ship falls out of Class?

Falling out of class is a serious issue for any ship. It can have significant legal, financial, and operational consequences, and it is always in the best interests of the ship owner to maintain their ships in class and in a safe and seaworthy condition.

“Class” refers to the certification issued by a classification society. Classification societies are non-governmental organizations that establish and maintain technical standards for the construction and safe operation of ships and offshore structures. If a ship falls out of class, it means the ship has not met the standards set by the classification society. The consequences can vary, depending on the specific circumstances:

  1. Loss of Insurance: Many insurance companies will only insure ships that are in class. So if a ship falls out of class, the ship’s insurance could be invalidated.
  2. Legal Consequences: A ship that’s not in class could be in violation of international and national laws and regulations. It could face penalties or fines, and the ship’s captain and owners could also face legal consequences.
  3. Port State Control Inspections: Ships that are out of class are more likely to be targeted for inspections by port state control. These inspections can lead to detention if the ship is found to be unsafe or not in compliance with international conventions.
  4. Charter and Commercial Implications: Charterers and shippers generally prefer, or require, that the ships they use are in class. A ship that is out of class could face difficulties in finding business.
  5. Safety Concerns: More than anything else, a ship that falls out of class could be unsafe. The standards set by classification societies are designed to ensure the safety and seaworthiness of ships. A ship that is not in class could pose a risk to the crew, the cargo, and the environment.

Once a ship falls out of class, it is generally the responsibility of the ship’s owner to apply for reclassification. This process begins with an initial survey, which is a thorough inspection of the ship’s structure, systems, and equipment to identify any issues that led to the loss of classification. This can involve dry-docking the ship for underwater inspection, or can be an in-water survey depending on the class society and the ship’s condition.

If deficiencies are found during the initial survey, the classification society will issue a list of conditions that need to be met before the ship can be considered for reclassification. The ship’s owner will then have to correct all of these deficiencies, which might involve anything from minor maintenance tasks to major repairs or overhauls.

Once the deficiencies have been corrected, the ship will need to undergo a follow-up survey to verify that all the required work has been done and that the ship now meets the classification society’s standards. If the follow-up survey is satisfactory, the ship will regain its classification.

However, keep in mind that falling out of class can have long-term implications for a ship. It might affect the ship’s reputation among charterers and insurers, making it harder to find business or secure insurance coverage. It might also lead to increased scrutiny from port state control or other regulatory authorities.

Moreover, the cost of regaining classification can be substantial, especially if the ship requires major repairs. In some cases, a ship owner might decide that it is not financially viable to regain classification and instead opt to sell the ship or use it for purposes that do not require classification.

To get back into class, the ship would need to be inspected by the classification society. Any issues identified during the inspection would need to be corrected before the ship could regain its class status. Depending on the issues found, this could be a time-consuming and costly process.


What are the Tasks of Classification Societies?

Classification societies are private entities functioning as technical authorities in ship safety. The responsibilities of classification societies, often referred to as “classes,” encompass two main aspects:

  1. Classification on behalf of the shipowner The primary role of classification societies is to assess a ship’s compliance with their own set of class rules. On behalf of the shipowner, classification societies certify adherence to regulations concerning ship type, construction, equipment, maintenance, and surveys. Class surveyors regularly inspect ships to ensure conformity. Upon verification of compliance with the class rules, a “class” designation is granted, and class certificates are issued. The purpose of classification is to evaluate a ship’s characteristics in terms of ship sales, ship insurance, and cargo insurance. It also reflects the ship’s seaworthiness and establishes its range of service. All seagoing passenger and cargo ships must undergo classification.
  2. Authorization by flag states In numerous countries, classification societies undertake statutory duties related to ship safety on behalf of flag state administrations. In this capacity, classification societies ensure adherence to statutory instruments, which encompass the technical safety requirements laid out by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and subsequently issue international ship safety certificates.

The scope of authorization may vary from state to state. Some flag states delegate a significant portion of their tasks to classification societies, while others, such as Germany, only delegate specific, narrowly defined duties.

European flag states may delegate their responsibility for ship surveys exclusively to classification societies that are recognized by the European Commission based on Regulation (EC) No 391/2009. Generally, these societies align with one of the esteemed classification societies that are members of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS). Each flag state selects its preferred classification society from these options, considering their specific scope of authorization. Only the chosen societies are appointed as “Recognized Organizations” (RO) on behalf of the flag state. In matters of security, additional provisions apply, and classification societies may act as “Recognized Security Organizations” (RSOs).


What is the Oldest Classification Society?

The oldest classification society is Lloyd’s Register, founded in 1760 in England. Classification societies are non-governmental organizations that establish and maintain technical standards for the construction and operation of ships and offshore structures. They also validate that construction is according to these standards and carry out regular surveys in-service to ensure ongoing compliance. Lloyd’s Register was originally established as a maritime classification society, but has since grown to provide compliance, risk, and technical consultancy services for numerous industries.

Lloyd’s Register resolved a dispute with a rival shipping register back in 1834, by coming together to establish Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. As the era of steam surpassed sail and timber was replaced by iron and steel, ships of extraordinary size were constructed. Lloyd’s Register faced these challenges and drew upon practical experience to formulate guidelines for existing ships and those still under construction.

Lloyd’s Register Gaining International Esteem

The Lloyd’s Register swiftly garnered international respect, yet its General Committee declined persistent overseas requests for the appointment of surveyors abroad. Lloyd’s Register preferred to wait until the Society’s network of outports in the UK had been fully established. Eventually, repeated requests from the Quebec Board of Trade led to the assignment of Thomas Menzies as the resident exclusive surveyor for Quebec and the St. Lawrence River in 1852. Assisted by Charles Coker, Menzies significantly contributed to elevating the construction standards of local shipbuilders. In 1853, it was Menzies’ ingenious idea to use the Maltese Cross in the Register Book and on classification certificates to denote a ship built under special survey.

In the 1860s, further appointments were made in continental Europe, including Antwerp (1866) and Rotterdam (1868). Antwerp surveyor, Louis Meyer, became one of the first individuals to be given responsibility for an entire country when he was promoted to cover Belgium in 1869. Subsequently, a series of appointments followed in Shanghai, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Sydney, and Hobart.

By the early 1880s, Lloyd’s Register classed almost half of the world’s shipping. In 1914, with an increasingly international outlook, the organization underwent a name change to become Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. From 1916, the organization established numerous national and area committees to foster better understanding of local conditions.

Lloyd’s Register Expanding Expertise

Inspection of materials and fabrication became an integral part of the classification process. By the early 1800s, surveyors were applying their skills onshore, assessing everything from anchors and cables to the quality of iron and steel. As ships grew more sophisticated, the Society’s range of inspections expanded beyond maritime areas, starting with refrigerated cold stores for the Port of London Authority in 1911.

With its foundation in one of the world’s leading manufacturing nations, the expertise and reputation of Lloyd’s Register became attractive to many foreign governments and overseas organizations seeking assurance on the quality of goods produced in and shipped from the UK. During the First World War, the Society provided quality assurance for various products, such as shell steel for the French and copper pipes and other shipping items in the USA. By 1934, surveyors were inspecting 10 million cubic feet of cold storage, not only in the UK but also in places like Antwerp, Basel, the Congo, and Singapore.

Throughout the inter-war years, Lloyd’s Register retained its position as the leading classification society, partly due to its significant overseas operations. Long-standing clients with interests beyond shipping began to engage Lloyd’s Register in new fields, most notably the oil industry. This led to considerable expansion after 1945, eventually resulting in the creation of a separate division for non-marine work, providing a new focus for further growth.

Technological Advancements

The Second World War hastened the pace of change in shipping and industry, and Lloyd’s Register played a crucial role in validating many innovations. Post-war reconstruction allowed the organization to gradually revive its activities overseas. In the mid-1950s, there was a shipping boom and new challenges emerged as the balance of shipbuilding influence shifted towards Asia. Japan led the way in large-scale, assembly-style construction, with South Korea and China following suit.

Lloyd’s Register experienced remarkable growth in its non-marine operations. Lloyd’s Register provided consultancy and inspection services to atomic energy plants, including the UK’s Calder Hall, which, in 1956, became the world’s first nuclear power station to generate electricity on an industrial scale.

During the 1960s, Lloyd’s Register facilitated change as the shipping boom continued. Ships became increasingly larger, and containerization revolutionized the global flow of goods. The oil crisis of the early 1970s resulted in a severe depression in shipping, but Lloyd’s Register weathered the storm through its involvement with the expanding energy industry and offshore business. The Lloyd’s Register led the pioneering development for the extraction of oil and gas under the North Sea.

Lloyd’s Register’s Diversified Journey

Following a challenging period, the maritime sector witnessed scant growth in tonnage until 1990. Simultaneously, the offshore industry endured a downturn due to the collapse in oil prices. Nevertheless, Lloyd’s Register (LR) managed to fortify its position in Asia, diversify its offshore operations worldwide, and solidify its standing as the foremost classification society for passenger ships and liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers. Notably, the remarkable success of Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), a management systems business established in 1985, stood out as a pivotal development.

During the early 1990s, the idea of establishing a consultancy-based rail business was contemplated, and in 1996, Lloyd’s Register Rail came into existence. However, significant growth in this sector only commenced a decade later when governments worldwide made substantial investments in major rail projects, spanning from the Netherlands to Dubai and Taiwan. In 2015, Lloyd’s Register (LR) made the decision to sell its rail business to Ricardo plc, recognizing that this move would allow Ricardo plc to provide the strategic focus needed to cultivate a world-class global rail enterprise.

On 2nd July 2012, Lloyd’s Register (LR) underwent a transformation, converting its status from an industrial and provident society to a company limited by shares, known as Lloyd’s Register Group Limited. The ownership of shares in Lloyd’s Register Group Limited lies with the Lloyd’s Register Foundation (LR Foundation), which is a registered charity.

Lloyd’s Register (LR) Ever-Advancing Progress

Lloyd’s Register (LR) continuously strives to evolve and adapt to meet novel needs and challenges. This spirit is eloquently reflected in the evolution of our brand identity throughout the years. Dating back to 1799 with Lloyd’s Register;s (LR) initial collection of “Ladybadges” gracing the covers of the early Register Books, depicting sirens and goddesses, the Lady’s various incarnations have come to represent distinct eras and developments, both culturally and within the shipping industry.

Over time, Lloyd’s Register’s (LR) logos have also undergone a metamorphosis. The most recent iteration, unveiled in 2021, embodies a bolder and more confident interpretation of the LR stamp – the true “brand” that our surveyors have imprinted into steel as a testament of approval since 1884. The logo’s new marine green color signifies our unwavering dedication to the environment and sustainable maritime practices. Additionally, its innovative cut-through format of the Lloyd’s Register (LR) letterform serves as a metaphorical window into the industry, symbolizing our strong connection with clients and stakeholders.

Similar to Lloyd’s Register’s (LR) logo, the Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s emblem is adorned with the word “Foundation” within the plinth. Its vibrant Foundation Fuchsia hue highlights the organization’s charitable status.

Innovation and collaboration lie at the very core of Lloyd’s Register’s (LR) values as we stand hand-in-hand with our clients and the maritime sector, working tirelessly to foster a safe, sustainable, and flourishing ocean economy.


Ship Registration and Classification Process

Every ship exceeding 100 GT (Gross Tonnage), regardless of whether it is a cargo, fishing, or passenger ship, must undergo registration and be affiliated with a specific state (Flag State).

Registration bestows upon the ship both physical and legal protection under the flag state, covering vital aspects such as cargo safety and the well-being of those onboard.

By affiliating a ship with a state, the system of ship registration signifies that the designated state possesses the right to safeguard the ship under international law. Upon registration, the ship will be granted an Official Number by the ship registry, serving as its unique identifier.

The registration of a ship plays a significant role in ensuring its safety and security, making substantial contributions to the protection and preservation of the marine environment.

In accordance with IMO (International Maritime Organization) regulations, all ships must undergo surveys to guarantee that the ships under their respective register/flag meet structural integrity and comply with design and safety standards. Subsequently, certificates are issued to confirm the seaworthiness of the ship.

The responsibility for conducting the surveys and inspections lies with the Flag State of the ship, which is accomplished through the process of Ship Classification.

Ship classification is defined as “the verification of the structural strength and integrity of the essential parts of a ship’s hull and its appendages, as well as the authentication of the reliability and functionality of its propulsion and steering systems, power generation, and other features and auxiliary systems built into the ship to maintain essential onboard services for safe operation.”

According to the IMO (International Maritime Organization), the Flag State may “entrust the inspections and surveys either to surveyors nominated for the purpose or to organizations recognized by it” (SOLAS Chapter 1, regulation 6).

In practice, these “Recognized Organizations” are often referred to as Classification Societies.

Classification Societies are responsible for classifying ships, establishing and maintaining technical standards for ship construction and operation, and ensuring that the ship’s design and mechanisms adhere to the standards set by their class.


Liability of Classification Societies

Due to the diverse range of services offered by classification societies and the increasing reliance and responsibility bestowed upon them by key stakeholders in the maritime industry, there is a burgeoning trend where those who experience losses seek compensation from these societies. They are singled out as potential “deep-pocket defendants” by various claimants, especially when limitations on shipowners’ liability or repudiation of claims by insurers result in inadequate compensation for the claimants.

Classification Societies are witnessing a growing demand for accountability in both civil and common law systems. Since no international convention or regime exists to address this issue, there is no uniform approach across different jurisdictions, as evidenced by an analysis of decisions made by foreign courts.

It is vital to consider that liability may be pursued either through contract or delict/tort, depending on the circumstances. In a contractual context, parties have the freedom to exclude or limit their liability by incorporating necessary contractual provisions, exclusions, or indemnities within the agreement itself. Well-established contract law principles in each jurisdiction would then govern such contracts, as they do in any other case, keeping in mind that choice of law and exclusive jurisdiction clauses in these contracts may influence the applicable laws. Challenges, however, arise more frequently when parties, including third parties with no existing contractual relationship, attempt to hold classification societies liable for negligence in tort.


Origin of Classification Societies

Before elucidating the current roles of Classification Societies, it is imperative to delve into the inception of these institutions. When comparing the historical narrative to the present, the newfound significance of Classification Societies becomes unequivocally clear.

One cannot overlook the esteemed figure of Edward Lloyd, indelibly associated with Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, who operated a coffeehouse in the bustling city of London in the late 1680s. Concurrently, this ingenious proprietor gathered vital information on ships, including their ages, characteristics, and masters. This information was disseminated to his patrons through announcements delivered by a waiter from a pulpit. The coffeehouse soon became a hub of attraction for shipping businessmen, primarily underwriters, seeking intelligence on ships available for charter. Through the exchange of information among themselves, they assured a degree of protection.

As European colonization expanded, and world trade flourished, underwriters formed a committee to compile comprehensive handwritten registers of ships known as “Green books.” These books classified ships according to a letter and number system based on their general condition.

However, the “Green Book” essentially reflected the interests of underwriters, displaying a certain bias. For instance, during 1797-1798, while a ship constructed on the Thames could retain its highest-class status for 13 years, a similar ship built elsewhere could only remain in the first class for eight years. This discrepancy provoked the ire of the shipping community, leading them to create their own committee and establish their register, known as the “shipowner register” or “Red book.” Naturally, the “Green Book” and the “Red Book” found themselves in opposition. Their rivalry endured for 35 years, nearly causing financial ruin for both parties. Thankfully, reason prevailed, and the two registers amalgamated, giving rise to Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping in 1834, which later assumed the well-known title of ‘Lloyd’s Register of Shipping (Lloyd’s).’

This singular register was governed by a general committee, composed of shipowners and underwriters alike, and it published the first universally recognized rules. Henceforth, modern classification systems were put into effect. This guiding principle not only shaped other countries’ development of their registers at that time but also influenced their subsequent endeavors.


Requirements and Objectives of a Classification Society

The primary obligation of a Classification Society is to furnish classification, statutory certification, and services as a Recognised Organization, acting on behalf of a flag Administration. Moreover, it aims to provide assistance to the maritime industry and regulatory bodies concerning maritime safety and pollution prevention, drawing upon a wealth of maritime knowledge and technology.

The purposes of the Classification Society encompass:

  1. Formulating and publishing its own classification rules pertaining to the design, construction, and survey of ships.
  2. Applying, maintaining, and regularly updating these rules and regulations.
  3. Verifying compliance with these rules during the construction phase and periodically throughout the life of a classified ship.
  4. Compiling and publishing a register of classed ships.

Classification societies conduct comprehensive inspections and surveys of ships at all stages of their construction, development, and operation, ensuring adherence to the highest standards in ship design, component selection, materials, and machinery installation.

A Classification Certificate, issued by the Classification Society based on the inspections and surveys conducted, is a mandatory requirement to be held on board the ship for any inspections carried out by Port State Controls or other relevant authorities from time to time.


Does Classification Guarantee Ship Safety?

Whenever a maritime disaster occurs, the scrutiny and evaluation capabilities of Classification Societies come under scrutiny, prompting inquiries into the role and accountability of ship classification societies in greater depth.

However, according to the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), “a classification certificate does not warrant a ship’s safety, fitness-for-purpose, or seaworthiness. Instead, it confirms that the ship, on a specific date, complied with the Rules established and published by the issuing society.”

Classification societies do not act as guarantors for the safety of life or property at sea, nor for a ship’s seaworthiness. This is because ship classification assumes that it is being handled, operated, and maintained properly by competent and qualified personnel, and the classification society has no control over how the ship is operated and maintained between its periodic surveys conducted to ensure compliance with the relevant requirements.

Proper maintenance and operation by shipowners or operators, as well as the seafarers on board, are crucial for the safe operations of ships and other floating structures.

Consequently, the responsibility lies with the shipowner or ship operator to promptly inform the classification society of any discovered defects that may impact the ship’s classification or any sustained damages.

As per the classification society’s terms, if the conditions for maintaining the class cannot be met, the class may be suspended, withdrawn, or revised to a different notation, as deemed appropriate by the society when it becomes aware of the prevailing conditions.


Ship Classification Concept

From a traditional standpoint, classification has historically been rooted in experiential knowledge of measurement, mathematics, precise quantifiable dimensions, and strengths, as well as thickness and material quality, all pertaining to technical aspects. This ensures that ships are designed, constructed, and maintained throughout their entire lifespan in accordance with robust technical standards established by Classification Societies.

The classification process for a new building involves the following phases:

  1. Approval of plans
  2. Supervision during construction, dock trials, and sea trials
  3. Completion of the new building
  4. Ongoing classification maintenance during the ship’s lifetime

The aforementioned steps indicate that classification solely encompasses the structural and mechanical strength of ships, without considering aspects of life safety and pollution prevention, which are governed by the SOLAS Convention (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) and the MARPOL Convention (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships).

Necessity of Ship Classification

While the classification conducted by Classification Societies is not legally mandatory, it can be deemed indispensable.

Originally, the term “Class” was coined to evaluate the condition of ships, which underwriters required to assess the risks they faced. However, even today, classification remains vital for ship insurance, and insurance agreements often include strict clauses stating that non-classified ships are ineligible for coverage. Apart from the aforementioned reasons, when shipowners commission new ship constructions with shipbuilders, they often demand that the new ships be classified by Classification Societies to ensure compliance with specific quality standards. Moreover, ships with a valid classification certificate hold greater value in the market.

Distinction between Classification and Certification

Classification and certification are often subjects of discussion, but distinguishing one from the other can be challenging.

  • “Classification” is an ongoing process that spans the entire lifespan of a ship. It encompasses the verification of compliance with standards established by the class society, applying to the ship as a whole.
  • “Certification” is a statement of fact for a specific time and can pertain to the entire ship, an entire installation, or a single piece of equipment. It involves adherence to national, international, or industrial standards.


Root of Classification Societies

The backbone of any Classification Society, and the foundation of all its expertise and usefulness, lies in its individual rules. While all Classification Societies share the common objectives of developing and maintaining high technical standards and enhancing safety at sea for both property and life, each society creates its own set of rules.

Since 1834, when Lloyd’s introduced the first rule, the development of rules has evolved alongside the progression of ships, transitioning from wooden ships to modern iron and steel ships. These rules were the result of extensive research and development to keep pace with advancing technology and incorporate feedback from real-world experience.

Classification Societies encompassed detailed requirements for:

  1. Materials
  2. Ship structures
  3. Main and auxiliary machinery
  4. Control engineering systems
  5. Electrical installations

Throughout a ship’s lifetime, after the building plan is established, the new ships undergo administration through a design view and survey process. Following construction, surveyors from Classification Societies conduct periodic surveys to determine if the ship is being maintained in accordance with the rules, ensuring its overall condition remains compliant.

Traditional Inquiry for Satisfaction of Classification

The term “Survey” pertains to a series of activities conducted or supervised by recognized Classification Societies’ surveyors. These activities include examinations, inquiries, investigations, inspections, measurements, as well as ship repairs and recoveries. From a traditional standpoint, the class survey represents a unique undertaking by Classification Societies, defined by their distinct survey procedures.

Upon the completion of a newly constructed ship, built and surveyed in accordance with the Classification Societies’ standards, the First-Class Certificate is issued. To maintain and meet the class standards throughout the ship’s lifetime, interval surveys, as required by class rules, should be diligently carried out.

In the event of a ship running aground or sustaining damage, modifications, or maintenance repairs that may impact its classification, an additional survey should be conducted. This survey is referred to as an “Occasional Survey.”


What is Port State Control (PSC)?

Port State Control (PSC) is a system of inspection used by maritime authorities across the world. This system allows for inspections to be carried out on foreign ships that are visiting ports, in order to verify their compliance with various international maritime conventions. These conventions typically address issues like safety, pollution prevention, and seafarers’ living and working conditions.

Inspectors, often known as Port State Control Officers (PSCO), survey and assess ships to make sure they meet all necessary standards. This can include examining the ship’s condition, the crew’s competency, operational procedures, and necessary documentation.

If a ship fails to comply with the relevant standards, it can be detained in port until the necessary improvements or corrections are made. This system of inspections is intended to ensure a “level playing field” for all ship operators, as well as to prevent “sub-standard” ships from sailing, thereby promoting safer and cleaner seas.

PSC is not operated by a single, worldwide organization, but is rather a function carried out by national or regional maritime authorities. Regional PSC regimes include organizations such as the Paris MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) in Europe, the Tokyo MoU in Asia, and the US Coast Guard in the United States.

The international conventions which Port State Control (PSC) is mandated to enforce include:

  1. Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS): This convention deals primarily with the safety of merchant ships. It sets minimum safety standards in construction, equipment, and operation of merchant ships.
  2. International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL): This convention aims to prevent and minimize pollution from ships—both accidental pollution and pollution from routine operations.
  3. Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention: This convention establishes basic requirements on training, certification, and watchkeeping for seafarers.
  4. International Load Lines Convention (LLC): This sets the minimum permissible free board (vertical distance from the waterline to the upper deck level).
  5. International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships: This is about the determination of ship’s tonnage, which can be used to calculate port dues, safety rules, and other matters.

When a ship is inspected, there are multiple areas that may be scrutinized. Some of the most common areas of focus include the ship’s structure and equipment, navigational safety, living and working conditions, and environmental standards.

If a ship is found to be in violation of the regulations, the PSC officer has the authority to detain the ship until the deficiencies have been rectified or a plan of action to rectify them has been approved. In some cases, the ship may be banned from the region for repeated detentions or very serious deficiencies.

Through these measures, PSC plays an integral role in ensuring that the seas are safer and cleaner, and that the people who work at sea are treated fairly. It provides an essential enforcement mechanism to ensure that all ships, regardless of the country in which they are registered, follow the same international standards.


Classification Societies and Port State Control (PSC)

Classification Societies shall wholeheartedly cooperate in the process of rectifying any safety deficiencies pertaining to their class. Members are authorized to represent the ship’s flag administration exclusively concerning safety-related matters governed by statutory services.

Port states may formally request the presence of surveyors on board ships to assist in addressing reported deficiencies or discrepancies. Prior to embarking, the surveyor shall duly inform the ship’s owner or their designated representative of the surveyor’s role and function.

During Port State Control (PSC) inspections, Classification Societies will extend their cooperation by:

  • Ensuring that a class surveyor is present when deficiencies related to class and statutory matters are identified, and fostering harmonized interpretations of class and statutory requirements.
  • Furnishing Port State Control (PSC) inspectors with pertinent information and details concerning outstanding conditions related to class and statutory items.
  • Collaborating with the flag state, as agreed beforehand, and the owner’s representative, to ensure complete awareness of actions taken that have implications on class-related or statutory-related matters.

Port states are required to enumerate deficiencies in connection with specific conventions, providing relevant details of the pertinent certificate, including its issuer.

In general, the listings should encompass:

  • All pertinent deficiencies as documented in the Port State Control (PSC) inspection report.
  • Comprehensive information about the actions taken to address each deficiency, including those concerning class items and statutory certificates issued.
  • Any deficiency that persists on the ship with the concurrence of the surveyors and Port State Control Officer (PSCO) shall undergo special re-examination and receive appropriate attention by a specified date.

Reported deficiencies are promptly analyzed, and the following actions are implemented:

  • Concerned surveyors shall provide in-depth comments on any deficiency, whether class-related or statutory in nature, within the purview of Classification Societies or the authority delegated to them.
  • The flag state shall be provided with an updated summary of all deficiencies and the corresponding remedial actions undertaken.



How many Ship Classification Societies are there?

Currently, there are around 50 ship classification societies around the world, but 12 major ones are members of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS).

Here are the 12 members of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS):

  1. American Bureau of Shipping (ABS)
  2. Bureau Veritas (BV)
  3. China Classification Society (CCS)
  4. DNV GL
  5. Indian Register of Shipping (IRS)
  6. Korean Register of Shipping (KR)
  7. Lloyd’s Register (LR)
  8. Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK)
  9. Registro Italiano Navale (RINA)
  10. Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RMRS)
  11. Croatian Register of Shipping (CRS)
  12. Polish Register of Shipping (PRS)

In addition to these, there are many other national and international ship classification societies, each with its own focus and scope. The exact number can vary, as societies can be established or closed, and some may merge or change their status. Therefore, the total number could be more than mentioned here as of the current date in 2023. For the most accurate, up-to-date list, I would recommend checking the latest publications or websites of relevant maritime organizations.



Top 10 Classification Societies In The World

Currently, here are the top 10 classification societies in the world, based on the number of ships classified, the total tonnage, and their overall global presence:

  1. American Bureau of Shipping (ABS): ABS is a maritime classification society established in the United States. ABS contributes to the safety of life, property and the environment by helping its members and clients comply with international safety, security and environmental regulations.
  2. Bureau Veritas (BV): A French company, Bureau Veritas, provides a wide range of services related to risk analysis, quality assurance, and certification. Its maritime division is one of the world’s leading ship classification societies.
  3. China Classification Society (CCS): CCS, based in China, offers classification services and other maritime-related technical services. The organization has gained a global presence with branches in several countries.
  4. Det Norske Veritas (DNV): Based in Norway, DNV is an independent foundation that provides risk management and quality assurance services to several industries, including maritime, renewable energy, oil & gas, electrification, food & beverage, and healthcare.
  5. Lloyd’s Register (LR): Based in London, United Kingdom, Lloyd’s Register is one of the oldest and most well-known classification societies. It offers independent assurance to companies operating high-risk, capital-intensive assets in the energy and transportation sectors.
  6. Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK): Known as ClassNK or NK, it is a ship classification society based in Japan. The society classifies a broad range of ships and has a significant presence globally.
  7. Korean Register of Shipping (KR): KR is a not-for-profit classification society that conducts safety surveys for ships, marine structures, and related industrial products to safeguard life, property, and protect the marine environment.
  8. Registro Italiano Navale (RINA): RINA, based in Genoa, Italy, offers services in ship classification, certification, and control, and it also conducts research in these areas.
  9. Indian Register of Shipping (IRS): IRS is an internationally recognized independent ship classification society, providing ship classification and certification services in India and globally.
  10. Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS): RS is a classification society based in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It focuses on the certification of shipping, river, fishing, and special equipment for compliance with international and national norms related to safety at sea.