It is 30 years since the 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?

Efthimios E. Mitropoulos
IMO Secretary-General Emeritus & Chairman, “Maria Tsakos” Foundation
Capt. Kuba Szymanski
Secretary General, InterManager
The “Herald of Free Enterprise” sinking caused a public outcry and triggered a chain reaction at IMO. Although the contents of the ISM Code did not revolutionise the way shipping companies were managed, segments of the industry were rather sceptical as to the motives of those supporting the new instrument. It took “Estonia” disaster for the maritime community to decide to make the Code mandatory through reference in a new SOLAS Convention Chapter IX. Once mandatory, it applied on all ships it addressed. I consider its implementation to have been highly successful and its impact on maritime safety and pollution prevention beneficial as can be verified by the continuous improvement in both according to statistical information; however, the case of the Korean ferry “Sewol” being a tragic exception. As a man who loves statistics, I would like to show a simple example: In 2008 at a global fleet of 40,000 ships, 130 ships sunk; in 2016, at a global fleet of 80,000 ships, less than 100 ships sunk. Could I reasonably say that the shipping industry has considerably improved its safety record? I believe so. Would that be possible without the strong safety foundation which the ISM Code plays a crucial part? Is there a room for improvement? Absolutely. Just ask any seafarer and she/he would tell you what needs to be done: decrease paperwork; stop with the “compliance and blame culture” but understand the real causes; use our seafarers’ knowledge. Invite us to the decision making table, and let us together be part of the improvement process.

Øssur Hilduberg
Head of DMAIB

Capt. Fared Khan
Marine Director, Wallem Ship Management
From a purely regulatory standpoint has the implementation of the Code been successful. However, the consequences of the implementation have to some extent been counterproductive. The proceduralization of safety has let shipping companies and flag State administrations to believe that safety is about exercising social control of seafarers via bureaucracy. This thinking has created large safety managements systems with little relevance for the everyday work on board. Safety management systems have expanded to include more than safety. The management of safety now includes the marketability, liability and reputational risks of organizations, which results in defensive reporting and demonstrating ‘safety on paper’ purely for compliance purposes. This takes the industry away from the core objectives of the Code. The implementation of the ISM code has been partly successful but the application of basic standards from the Shipping industry and regulatory bodies is inconsistent. Organizations with committed sea and shore staff have seen tangible improvements in safety and in pollution prevention. Others focusing solely on compliance, rather than embracing the code for improvement, continue to have major casualties including fatalities, total loss of ship and increased insurance claims. Holding shore management accountable for safe ship operations has inadvertently taken the “seamanship” sense away from sea staff, creating a new generation dependent upon guidance from shore staff. To achieve its fundamental aim of raising the safety and pollution prevention standards for the whole industry, the code needs to effectively address the human element in maritime safety.
Capt. Panagiotis Nikiteas
HSQE Manager / DPA / CSO, Anangel Maritime Services
Colin Gillespie
Deputy Director of Loss Prevention, The North of England P&I Club
Going back to the 1980s, poor management standards instigated the need for IMO to develop and implement international standards, first time involving shore-side, for the safe management of ships and pollution prevention. Since then, various studies from Academia, Clubs, Administrations and PSC MOUs, support that the ISM Code implementation had a statistically significant positive correlation with a reduction in major accident/incidents, less hull claims and improved inspection results. Although statistics support improvement, there are still voices claiming that, occasionally, the Code implementation is a “paper exercise”. It is without a doubt that the companies that have selected, through top management unconditional commitment, to embrace the Code at all levels, are enjoying tangible positive benefits in terms of efficiency and performance. Yes. The ISM Code is a key element in ensuring that the world fleet is operated in a safe and environmentally friendly way. The systems, procedures and risk assessments within an SMS provide companies and seafarers with the framework for safe operations. This framework has served the industry well. Of course things aren’t perfect. North’s own claims analysis has revealed that incidents often occur when systems are not properly implemented. This is a behavioural - safety culture - issue. So while the ISM Code has led to a focus on systems and procedures it is not as successful in the active promotion of safety behaviours. Procedurally derived safety improvements are increasingly difficult to achieve and going forward the focus should shift towards safety behaviours and culture.

Stavros Meidanis
DPA/CSO, Safety & Quality Manager, Capital Ship Management Corp.

Capt. John Dickie
Managing Director, Joint Development Associates Ltd.
ISM Code’s success of its implementation depends, to a great extent, on the continued commitment, competence, attitudes and motivation of individuals, at all levels, in the Company and on board ships to which the ISM Code applies. In our days, with all the transparency and available information, it will be much harder for owners to hide behind the crew and blame them for the fault. ISM Code cannot stop incidents – only to limit the numbers of them to a minimum. There will always be incidents that could not have been prevented, even with the best of will and all the SMS in place. ISM is about compliance with a simple, logical and uncompromising concept, based on quality ship management principles & Industry Best Practices. How successful has the ISM Code been? We will never know as there are no statistics for those accidents, incidents and near misses that were averted because a SMS was in place. But instead of looking back we must look forward. How will the ISM Code evolve to cope with autonomous ships? The core of the Code is based on people but what happens when there are ships with no persons onboard? This is especially true when the transition from manned to unmanned ships takes place. By 2020, autonomous ships will be in operation. The question is whether or not the global the shipping industry will be ready and able to respond and cope. Only time will tell. Interesting times!

Mark Bull
Maritime Consultant, Trafalgar Navigation Limited

Marlon Rono
President, Magsaysay People Resources Corp.
I was a huge supporter of ISM when introduced; I implemented the system onboard my last ship, took it through the first external audit, completed master’s review. I then moved ashore putting an entire fleet through the process. I am now disappointed with the results and consider the Code in its current format is no longer fit for purpose. The root cause is quite simple – the Code is just too generic and does not recognise the disciplines under which a ship operates. Furthermore the persons carrying out the verification are not qualified to identify major deviations existing in these disciplines. On many ships the ISM external audits are the only opportunity for these key safety related activities to be viewed independently. There’s the perception that the ISM Code, embodied through the Company’s SMS, has placed undue burden to the very parties that were supposed to benefit from it. Despite all complaints, what we do know is that the ISM Code succeeded in establishing standards in working procedures that guided crew members to carry out their tasks correctly, efficiently, and safely, made learning faster and easier for new and current staff, and ensured continuity in vessel operations and minimal disruption with the immediate access to procedure manuals, forms, and checklist as references. Companies with successful SMS have recorded a marked improvement in safety consciousness and motivation amongst its staff, resulting in a significant decrease in personnel injuries, pollution claims, cargo damages, collisions and near misses.