Safety Management System for Ships - ISM Code Explained

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Most of the shipping regulations deal with safety of life at sea and marine pollution. ISM (International Safety Management) code is formed with an aim to organize all the regulations that deal with the technical aspects of the ship, traning of ship personnel and marine pollution. This is done to make the shipping process more streamlined. ISM forms a framework that enumerates all the regulations that the shipping companies are required to follow. Thus it emphasis on the aspect of Shipping managment. But this doesn’t mean that ISM tells the companies how to do business or the ways to follow the laws. It is upto the companies to decide how they will go about following the codes.

By doing this ISM ensures safety at sea, prevention of loss of human life and preservation of marine environment.

What does it do?

Now, it is a fact that 80% of all the accidents are the result of human errors. Thus ISMs main concern is safety which it tries to achieve by minimizing human errors. So what are the main things the management system of ISM comprises of? It enhances the working of safety management system by doing three main things:

What are its objectives?

The ISM objectives are as follows:

  • To ensure that all the regulations, both national and international, such as SOLAS, MARPOL, Union and Labor laws are followed.
  • Creating awareness to carry out safe procedures and efficient working practices on ship and on shore.
  • Making and implementing safe procedures to tackle emergency situations.
  • Ensuring technical planned maintenance is carried out on schedule and in an efficient way. Ensuring safety at sea and prevention of marine pollution. Conducting training of Ship’s Personnel . All these elements have a business approach which are relevant to safety and environment.

How does it work?

All the shipping companies that come under ISM code should possess a DOC (Document of Compliance). Acquiring this certificate means that the ship is approved by the ISM and the company must abide by the rules of ISM-code. Out of all the codes, the code to develop and execute a Safety Management System (SMS) is the most important one.

DOC can be issued to a company only after the ship has been approved by a Classification Bureau. The certificate is valid for 5 years, but can be terminated in between if the results of the annual surveys by the classification society are not satisfactory.

A Safety Management Cetificate (SMC) is also provided to a ship only if the ship already has a DOC. SMC is also valid for 5 years with 2-3 inspections in between.

Audits and Surveys

To check that the companies are carrying out all the regulations properly both on ship and on shore, audits are carried out. These are mainly done to find out if the companies are able to successfully carry out the regulations or not. If the companies are lagging behind in some area, ISM gives them a warning and keeps a track of the goals that are asked to be achieved. Audits are mainly divided into - Internal and External Audits. A certificate is granted to the ship after successful completion of every survey.

The internal audits are carried out by the company itself. This is to ensure that all the on board practices and methods are in accordance with the SMS.

The external audits are carried out by the classification bureau and a DOC is granted only if the conditions are met satisfactorily.


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Ship Knowledge- A mordern encyclopedia by K. Van Dokkum