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ISM Code and Guidelines on Implementation of the ISM Code



The purpose of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code is to provide an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention.

The Code's origins go back to the late 1980s, when there was mounting concern about poor management standards in shipping. Investigations into accidents revealed major errors on the part of management, and in 1987 the IMO Assembly adopted resolution A.596(15), which called upon the Maritime Safety Committee to develop guidelines concerning shore-based management to ensure the safe operation of ro-ro passenger ferries.

The Code establishes safety-management objectives and requires a safety management system (SMS) to be established by "the Company", which is defined as the owner or any other organization or person, such as the manager or bareboat charterer, who has assumed responsibility for operating the ship and who, on assuming such responsibility, has agreed to take over all duties and responsibility imposed by the Code.

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.

Every company is expected "to designate a person or persons ashore having direct access to the highest level of management" in order to provide a link between the company an those on board.

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.

Amendments to the ISM Code

The ISM Code in its mandatory form was adopted in 1993 by resolution A.741(18) and entered into force on 1 July 1998. 

Amendments have been adopted: 

  • 2000 by resolution MSC.104(73), these amendments entered into force on 1 July 2002. 
  • 2004 by resolution MSC.179(79), these amendments entered into force on 1 July 2006. 
  • 2005 by resolution MSC.195(80),  these amendments entered into force on 1 January 2009. 
  • 2008 by resolution MSC.273(85), these amendments entered into force on 1 July 2010.
  • 2013 by resolution MSC.353(92)these amendments entered into force on 1 January 2015.

Guidelines on implementation of the ISM Code by Administrations

IMO recognized the need for uniform implementation of the ISM Code.  In 1995, the IMO Assembly adopted Guidelines on implementation of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code by Administrations (resolution A.788(19)).

The resolution urged Governments, when implementing the ISM Code, to adhere to the Guidelines, in particular with regard to the validity of the Document of Compliance and the Safety Management Certificate required by the ISM Code. It also urged Governments to request the companies concerned to apply for certification under the ISM Code as soon as possible; to inform the Organization of any difficulties they have experienced in using these Guidelines, so that the Maritime Safety Committee and the Marine Environment Protection Committee could  keep the annexed Guidelines under review and to amend them as necessary.

These Guidelines establish basic principles for verifying that the SMS of a Company responsible for the operation of ships or the SMS for the ship or ships controlled by the company complies with the ISM Code; and for the conduct of verifications to issue the DoC and SMC. The Guidelines are applicable to Administrations.

Amendments to Guidelines

Revised Guidelines were adopted by resolution A.913(22) in  2001, and subsequently by resolution A.1022(26) , adopted in December 2009, resolution A.1071(28) in December 2013, and revised Guidelines adopted by resolution A.1118(30) with effect from 6 December 2017.

Other provisions

Other provisions relevant to SOLAS chapter IX and the ISM Code include:

  • Revised guidelines for the operational implementation of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code by companies (MSC-MEPC.7/Circ.8), 
  • Guidance on the qualifications, training and experience necessary for undertaking the role of the designated person under the provisions of the ISM Code (MSC‑MEPC.7/Circ.6), 
  • Guidance on near-miss reporting (MSC-MEPC.7/Circ.7), Guidelines on maritime cyber risk management (MSC-FAL.7/Circ.3)
  • Maritime cyber risk management in safety management systems (resolution MSC.428(98)).