Shipping enters the ISM Code era with second phase of implementation

The International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention (ISM Code) becomes mandatory for most ships trading internationally on 1 July 2002.  Compliance with the Code has been mandatory for tankers, passenger ships and bulk carriers since July 1998, under the first phase of ISM implementation, and now all other vessels covered by the SOLAS Convention, which includes all but the smallest internationally-trading vessels, must comply.

“This is a significant day for the shipping industry and for all those involved with shipping,” said Mr. William A. O’Neil, Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).  “This is a positive step which contributes to IMO’s goals of safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans,” he added.

Mr. O’Neil said that development of the ISM Code and making it mandatory for SOLAS ships can be considered one of the most important developments in maritime safety in recent years. 

“Previously, IMO's attempts to improve shipping safety and to prevent pollution from ships had been largely directed at improving the hardware of shipping - for example, the construction of ships and their equipment.  The ISM Code, by comparison, concentrates on the way shipping companies are run,” he said.

“This is important, because we know that human factors account for most accidents at sea - and that many of them can ultimately be traced to management. The Code is helping to raise management standards and practices and thereby reduce accidents and save lives,” Mr. O Neil said.

The mandatory ISM Code provides an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention.  It places direct responsibility on shoreside management to ensure that its ships operate to the prescribed level of safety.  Evidence so far suggests that the impact of ISM implementation has had a positive effect and the Code is beginning to achieve its aim of creating a culture of safety within shipping companies throughout the world.

Commercially, there are indications that ISM certification proves its worth. Studies have shown that the implementation of the ISM Code has already had a positive effect on safety.  In fact, companies which have safety management systems in place have reported a reduction in casualties and spills, as well as a downward trend in detention rates while companies which have fully embraced the ISM Code have a better approach to safety management.

A claims analysis by The Swedish Club [1] , which provides both hull and Protection and Indemnity cover, showed that, in 2000, vessels required to comply with the ISM Code by 1 July 1998 were having around 30 percent fewer claims than vessels covered by the second deadline of 2002.

ISM Code background

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.
From 1 July 2002, other cargo ships – including general cargo ships and container ships - and mobile offshore drilling units of 500 gross tonnage and above must comply.

It has been estimated that some 12,000 ships had to comply by the first deadline with the second phase of implementation bringing in another 13,000 ships. All commercial ships (above 500 gross tonnage) on international voyages now have to comply with the Code.

The 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.

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.

The procedures required by the Code should be documented and compiled in a Safety Management Manual, a copy of which should be kept on board. Regular checks and audits should be held by the company to ensure that the SMS is being complied with and the system itself should be reviewed periodically to evaluate its efficiency.

Ship operators and owners can seek more information and guidance on implementing the ISM Code through their flag State Administration  - who in turn follow recommendations contained in IMO Assembly resolution A.913 (22)  - Revised Guidelines on the implementation of the ISM Code by Administrations.

The full and successful implementation of the ISM Code will ensure that a company has safety and environmental pollution risks under control. Among other things, a proper safety management system as required by the ISM Code should:

-         ensure that all applicable international standards are complied with
-         help prevent accidents occurring
-         ensure procedures are in place for dealing with any shipboard emergency
-         ensure there are adequate communications between ship and shoreside personnel
-         ensure that all individuals know their role and responsibility and are adequately trained and have the appropriate resources to do their job
-         ensure that all activities and operations are planned, controlled and verified.

The 1 July 2002 date for the second phase of ISM Code implementation coincides with the entry into force of amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 (SOLAS). (See also Briefings 21/2002 and 22/2002)

Further information on ISM Code:

IMO website:  - See the Human Element section – Safety Management -

IMO – the International Maritime Organization – is the United Nations Specialized Agency with responsibility for the safety of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

For further information please contact:
Lee Adamson, Public Information Manager on 020 7587 3153 (

[1] LL 27/1/00 Swedish Club proves that ISM Code cuts claims"