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Countdown to ISM, are you ready?


What is the ISM code?

The International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention (ISM Code) addresses the responsibilities of the people who manage and operate ships and provides an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention.
The application of the ISM Code should support and encourage the development of a safety culture in shipping. Success factors for the development of a safety culture include: commitment, values and beliefs.
The Code establishes safety-management objectives and requires a safety management system (SMS) to be established by "the Company", which is defined as the shipowner or any person, such as the manager or bareboat charterer, who has assumed responsibility for operating the ship. The Company is then required to establish and implement a policy for achieving these objectives. This includes providing the necessary resources and shore-based support.

Why is 1 July 2002 a critical date?

By 1 July 2002, all cargo ships and mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs) of 500 gross tonnage and above must comply with the requirements of the ISM Code.
On 1 July 1998, the ISM Code became mandatory under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and from that date it applied to passenger ships, including passenger high-speed craft; and oil tankers, chemical tankers, gas carriers, bulk carriers and cargo high-speed craft of 500 gross tonnage and above.
Now other cargo ships – including general cargo ships and container ships - and mobile offshore drilling units of 500 gross tonnage and above must comply, not later than 1 July 2002.

What does a SOLAS Party need to do to ensure compliance with the ISM Code?

The Administration should ensure effective enforcement of the ISM Code, including verification that shipowners’ Safety Management Systems (SMS) comply with the requirements as stipulated in the ISM Code, as well as verification of compliance with mandatory rules and regulations.
Administrations should refer to IMO Assembly resolution A.788(19), adopted on 23 November 1995 on Guidelines on implementation of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code by Administrations.


I am a shipowner, what do I need to do to ensure that my ship complies with the ISM Code?

The ISM Code requires every company to be issued with a Document of Compliance (DOC) to show that it complies with the requirements of the ISM Code. The DOC is issued for a period of five years subject to an annual verification audit. The DOC must be carried on board the ship. The ISM Code also requires every ship to be issued with a Safety Management Certificate (SMC), which verifies that the company and its shipboard management operate in accordance with the approved safety management system.

How do I get a DOC and Safety Management Certificate?

The Document of Compliance is issued by the Administration (flag State), by an organization recognized by the Administration, or by another Contracting Government to SOLAS at the request of the Administration. The Safety Management Certificate is issued to every ship by the Administration or a recognized organization.

So what do I have to do to get these certificates?

The Company must develop, implement and maintain a safety-management system (SMS), which includes the following functional requirements:

1. a safety and environmental-protection policy;
2. instructions and procedures to ensure safe operation of ships and protection of the environment in compliance with relevant international and flag State legislation;
3. defined levels of authority and lines of communication between, and amongst, Shore and shipboard personnel;
4. procedures for reporting accidents and non-conformities with the provisions of this Code;
5. procedures to prepare for and respond to emergency situations; and
6. procedures for internal audits and management reviews.

This means there must be documentation on board the ship which outlines the procedures and policies listed above. The company must show the Administration or recognized organization assessing verification with the Code that the policies and procedures are being implemented in a practical way, in order to gain the Document of Compliance (DOC) and Safety Management Certificate (SMC).
Many ship companies already have safety management systems in place – the mandatory application of the ISM Code ensures that all companies have such a system in place.

How long does it take to get ISM Code certification, including the DOC and SMC?

You should contact your Administration (flag State). Companies who already have an established safety management procedure in place should not have too much difficulty in achieving ISM Code compliance. But in any case, you should allow plenty of time to complete the paperwork and implement the safety management system before the 1 July 2002 deadline.

What are the benefits of complying with the ISM Code?

Where can I find a copy of the ISM Code?

Purchase it from IMO Publications.
See it on the
IMO website.
Contact your Administration.

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