The International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention (ISM Code) became mandatory for most ships trading internationally on July 1, 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 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.
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,” 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  , 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.