International Safety Management (ISM) Code


Marine safety management systems have been around for some time although they didn’t become universally recognized until the adoption of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code which was adopted by the members pf the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 1994. The Code provides an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention.


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 were required to comply.

The application of the ISM code to domestic vessels was left to the discretion of the Flag States although there was a recommendation that it be implemented.

The introduction of Safety Management Systems provided the first opportunity to assess the operating company in addition to the ships which have always been subject to inspections. Under the code the company is subject to annual audits to verify that certain management functions are being carried out in accordance with the requirements of the code. If successful, the company is issued a Document of Compliance (for specific ship types), valid for 5 years (subject to satisfactory intermediate audits). Upon successfully attaining a Document of Compliance, each vessel in a fleet will be audited against the requirements of the code and, if successful, the vessel will be issued a Safety Management Certificate, valid for 5 years with one intermediate audit. The DOC is the overarching certificate, without it no vessel may be issued a Safety Management Certificate and, where it has been suspended or withdrawn, any previously issued dependent Safety Management Certificates become invalid. A vessel which has its Safety Management Certificate suspended or withdrawn is not permitted to sail until corrective actions have been implemented and the certificate is re-validated. In addition to the audits carried out by, or on behalf of, flag states, the vessels may be subject to Port State Control inspections focusing on the ISM code among other things.