ISM Code

ISM Code: 2015 edition

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

Related guidelines issued by IACS

The purpose of IACS guidance is to assist ship operators in meeting the requirements of the ISM Code with respect to PSC, certification, training, SMS failures, shipboard maintenance and others.

Related guidelines issued by IMO

IMO guidelines establish basic principles for verifying that the SMS of a Company responsible for ships operation complies with the ISM Code and for the conduct of verification to issue the DoC & SMC.

USCG guidelines

Regulatory Update at a glance

ISM Compliance Assessment Tool

Major ISM Related Accidents

  • 06/03/1987

    Herald Of Free Enterprise

    Herald Of Free Enterprise

    March 6, 1987

    The Ro-Ro vessel during good weather and day light, when sailed just outside the harbor took a side list and touched bottom. 150 passenger and 38 crew members died. The accident occurred because the bow door was left open when the ship left port allowing water to enter and flood the car deck. Read more...

  • 24/03/1989

    Exxon Valdez

    Exxon Valdez

    March 24, 1989

    The tanker grounded on a small reef near the TSS lanes after passing on the opposite side of the lane. No injuries but excessive oil spill (252 831 barrels of crude oil) occurred. Read more...

  • 28/02/2004

    Bow Mariner

    Bow Mariner

    February 28, 2004

    The vessel caught fire and exploded while crew was engaged in cleaning tanks. The cause was the ignition of fuel/air mixture either on deck or in cargo tank sourced by unknown reason, which resulted in the death of 21 crew members. As far as pollution is concerned, there were 3,188,711 gallons of ethyl alcohol and 192,904 gallons of HFO and 48,266 gallons of DO spilled. Read more...

  • 24/07/2006

    Cougar Ace

    Cougar Ace

    July 24, 2006

    Vessel experienced severe listing to its port side and transmitted the distress signal, requesting for immediate assistance, while en route from Japan to Canada. At the time of the incident, the ship was carrying out ballast water exchange (BWE) operations. All 23 crew members on board were rescued safely USCG. There was no pollution as a result of the incident. On 8th August 2006 vessel towed and secured at Unalaska Island. Read more...

  • 31/10/2006

    Harvest Caroline

    Harvest Caroline

    October 31, 2006

    Started to drag her anchor in strong northerly winds and was blown about eight cables until she grounded. There was no pollution, and damage to the vessel was limited to indentations to the hull plating in way of the engine room. There were no injuries. Read more...

  • 12/04/2007

    Bourbon Dolphin

    Bourbon Dolphin

    April 12, 2007

    The ship was pulling a heavy anchor chain, which suddenly slid across the deck and dragged the vessel over. The main engines stopped and moments later, the vessel capsizes; 8 crew members lost their lives. Read more...

  • 07/06/2007

    Pasha Bulker

    Pasha Bulker

    June 7, 2007

    Due to adverse weather conditions vessel grounded to the near beach while trying to be put to sea by Master. No casualties or pollution occurred. Read more...

  • 29/09/2007

    Viking Islay

    Viking Islay

    September 29, 2007

    Three seamen on board lost their lives as a consequence of entering an enclosed space. Two of the vessel’s seamen went forward with the intention of securing a rattling anchor chain within the chain locker. One of the seamen entered the chain locker and collapsed. It is probable that the other seaman, realising that help was urgently required, raised the alarm with the duty watchkeeping rating on the bridge before he, too, entered the chain locker in an attempt to help his companion. He also collapsed. During the consequent rescue efforts, the first rescuer found he was unable to enter the chain locker wearing a BA, and he therefore donned an EEBD. He entered the space, but at some point the hood of the EEBD was removed, or became dislodged and this rating also collapsed. All three seamen died as a result of an oxygen deficient atmosphere within the chain locker. Read more...

  • 07/11/2007

    Cosco Busan

    Cosco Busan

    November 7, 2007

    The ship was outbound from berth 56 in the Port of Oakland, California, and was destined for Busan, South Korea. Vessel was under pilotage in dense fog. While navigated through the “Delta–Echo” span (the 2,200-foot-long span between bridge towers/piers D and E) of the Bay Bridge an allision occurred with the Delta Tower pier. Resulted in damage to the pier fendering and the breaching of three port wings tanks of the ship releasing approximately 54 000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay. Read more...

  • 23/01/2008



    January 23, 2008

    During a PSC Inspection 64 deficiencies in total (8 detainable). Deficiencies identified included - the compass was not aligned to the ships head and the compass card was badly worn and unreadable on some headings .also embarkation ladders for the lifeboats were badly worn and connection eyes defective. In addition the vessels' sick bay was dirty and unhygienic with the bathroom floor broken and holed and the bath full of liquid that could not be drained. Other deficiencies identified included - the securing bolts were missing from the access hatch from the bridge deck and numerous fire dampers were unable to be closed and secured in a closed position in addition the engine room workshop vent was holed and the internal damper missing. No injuries or pollution occurred. The ISM Certification was withdrawn. Read more...

  • 16/03/2011



    March 16, 2011

    The vessel was following a great circle route that took the vessel directly over Nightingale Island. One of the navigational officers of the watch had made an error in plotting one of the way points the vessel had to follow. This resulted in a course line, which indicated that the vessel would clear the group of islands by about 10 nautical miles. The navigational officers of the watch (OOWs) was not using an appropriate large scale chart for that area and the plotting sheets in use did not show the islands ahead. No crew injuries but a wide spread pollution near the islands occurred. Read more...

  • 05/10/2011



    October 5, 2011

    Vessel approaching the area having delayed by currents. Master had authorized the watch keepers to deviate from the planned course lines on the chart to shorten the distance, and to search for the least unfavorable currents. Planned course was to pass two nautical miles north of Astrolabe Reef. OOW decided to reduce the two miles to one mile in order to save time. OOW then made a series of small course adjustments towards Astrolabe Reef to make the shortcut. In doing so he altered the course 5 degrees past the required track and did not make an allowance for any compass error or sideways “drift”, and as a consequence the Rena was making a ground track directly for Astrolabe Reef. Vessel ran aground at full speed on Astrolabe Reef. The ship remained stuck fast on the reef and in the ensuing months it broke in two. The aft section moved off the reef and sank. About 200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil were lost to the sea. A substantial amount of cargo in the containers was lost. No injuries occurred. Read more...

  • 13/01/2012

    Costa Concordia

    Costa Concordia

    January 13, 2012

    The ship was sailing too close to the coastline, in a poorly lit shore area, under the Master’s command who had planned to pass at an unsafe distance at night time and at high speed (15.5 kts). The danger was considered so late that the attempt to avoid the grounding was useless, and everyone on board realized that something very serious was happening, because the ship violently heeled and the speed immediately decreased. The vessel immediately lost propulsion and was consequently effected by a black-out. The ship turned starboard by herself and finally grounded, resulting in 26 passengers and 4 crewmembers dead. No pollution occurred. Read more...

  • 18/09/2013



    September 18, 2013

    The vessel was on passage from Rotterdam, Netherlands, to Brindisi, Italy carrying a cargo of vegetable oil. Ovit was following an autopilot controlled heading at a speed of between 12 and 13 (kts). The OOW navigated using ECDIS. As Ovit approached the Varne Bank, the deck cadet, who was standing on the starboard side of the bridge and using binoculars, became aware of flashing white lights ahead. He did not identify the lights or report the sighting to the OOW. Ovit passed close by the Varne Light Float. After few minutes ship’s speed slowly reduced until the vessel stopped when it grounded on the Varne Bank. No injuries or pollution occurred. Read more...

Marine Casualties & Incidents

Accidents Recap

SMS: All the Whys answered

Why quality is important

Why SMS are important

Why audits are important

20 years ISM Code

ISM Code implementation: The bar is set too low

Where do we stand

Nowadays, digitalization, transparency, paperwork and information availability may be the challenges for the ISM Code.

What needs to be done

Making the SMS bulky and difficult to read defeats its purpose – it should be short, simple and easily understood.

Facts & thoughts

Herald of Free Enterprise: A wake-up call for Ro-Ro safety

SeaSense: Expert Thinking on ISM Code

"Herald of Free Enterprise disaster hastened the introduction of the ISM Code. Do you consider the implementation of the Code by the shipping industry to have been successful?"

Do not miss: Useful bits

Safety Culture vs Safety Climate: What’s the difference?

ISM Code: US flag interpretations

USCG released a new guidance for stakeholders and Recognized Organizations when they are developing, implementing, and verifying SMSs, to ensure the ISM Code is effectively implemented on applicable US flagged vessels.

Measuring safety maturity

Safety maturity shows the level at which any organization can manage its actions and manipulate its internal procedures, resulting in a better safety performance promoting what is called: safety culture.

Making SMS easy to navigate

Especially the older seafarers, find it very difficult to navigate their way through the modern IT systems. What you should try to achieve with an e-SMS is no more than three clicks to get to any part of the document you need to see.