IMO Issues ISM Code Warning

Monday, January 21, 2002
As the countdown to implementation of "Phase 2" of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code continues apace, the IMO has issued a timely reminder that shipping companies need to plan and schedule their implementation activities without delay if they are to meet the impending deadline of July 1, 2002. Governments have been urged to take "urgent action" to ensure sufficient time is allowed for the verification process to be carried out. In a Circular, issued to all Member Governments, the IMO notes that "verification of compliance with the ISM Code should include objective evidence that the Company Safety Management System (SMS) has been in operation for at least three months and an SMS has been in operation on board at least one ship of each type operated by the company for at least three months prior to the issue of valid Documents of Compliance and Safety Management Certificates."

The Circular stresses the "considerable time needed for effectively implementing the ISM Code" and the consequent need to plan the implementation process well in advance. Governments are urged to bring the contents of the Circular to the attention of all concerned, in particular shipowners and operators, ship managers and recognized organizations.

The ISM Code was adopted in the early 1990s to provide a blueprint for the way shipping companies manage and operate their ships and to promote the development of a widespread safety culture and environmental conscience in shipping. By defining the company's responsibility for safety and ensuring that senior management were committed to enhanced safety and environmental protection and could more easily be held accountable, the code seeks to ensure that safety should be given top priority. It is being made mandatory for all ships in two tranches. On July 1, 1998, the Code became mandatory for passenger ships, including passenger high-speed craft; oil tankers, chemical tankers, gas carriers, bulk carriers and cargo high-speed craft of 500 gross tonnage and above. It will apply to cargo ships other than those liable to the first implementation date and mobile offshore drilling units of 500 gross tonnage and above not later than July 1, 2002. 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. Every company is expected to designate a person or persons ashore having direct access to the highest level of management. 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.

The Circular, issued following consultations between the Secretary-General and the Chairmen of the Maritime Safety Committee and the Marine Environment Protection Committee, points out that the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention does not provide for any extension of the implementation dates for the introduction of the ISM Code, and that ships which are not certified in accordance with the provisions of the Code would be regarded as not being in compliance with SOLAS.

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