ISM Code

According to IMO, the main objective of the ISM code is to provide an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for their pollution prevention.


  • Governments are required to take the necessary steps to safeguard the shipmaster in the proper implementation of his/her responsibilities with regard to maritime safety and the protection of the marine environment.
  • Recognized the need for the shipping companies to set up appropriate management system to enable them to respond to the need of those on board ships to achieve and maintain high standards of safety and environmental protection.

The ISM code is effectively a shipping-specific International rules and regulations with the ultimate objectives:

  • To ensure safety at sea;
  • To prevent human injury or loss of life;
  • To avoid damage to the environment and to the ship.

The ISM code is based on some general principles and objectives. These are expressed in broad terms so that ISM code can have a widespread application to all different type of organizations involved in shipping despite their diverse business. Clearly, different levels of management, whether shore-based or shipboard, will require varying levels of knowledge and awareness of the items outlined.

SOLAS adopted the ISM code in 1994 and incorporated it into its chapter IX. By 2002 almost all of the international shipping community was required to comply with the ISM code. In order to comply with the ISM code, each ship must have a working Safety Management System (SMS). Each SMS would consist of the following elements:

  • Commitment from top management;
  • A top-level defined policy manual;
  • A “procedures manual” that documents what is done on board the ship, during normal operations and in emergency situations;
  • Procedures for conducting both internal and external audits to ensure that the ship is doing what is documented in the “procedures manual”;
  • A designated person ashore to serve as the link between the ship and shore staff and to verify the SMS implementation;
  • A system for identifying where actual practices do not meet those that are documented; and the associated corrective actions;
  • Regular management reviews.

Another requirement of the ISM code is for the ship to be maintained in conformity with the provisions of relevant rules and regulations and with any additional requirements which may be established by the shipping company itself. As part of ISM code, compliance verification should be in place. Each ISM compliant ship is audited, first by the company itself (internal audit) and then each 2,5 to 3 years by the flag State “maritime administration” to verify the effectiveness of the SMS. Once SMS is verified and it is working and effectively implemented, the ship is issued with a Safety Management Certificate (SMC).

It should also be noted that a ship’s planned maintenance scheme is a statutory requirement of the ISM code. The ISM code requires that the ship’s management provide sufficient resources to maintain the ship safely and the company must supply the necessary resources in the way of parts or shore-side assistance to do this. Poor maintenance can mean that either the ship cannot meet its commercial obligations (for example unable to meet the minimum speed requirements defined in the contract) or can pose a potential safety or environmental hazard. The management should ensure regular audits of ships to verify that the maintenance required by the planned maintenance system is being carried out. This inspection of the ship should be part of the internal audits required by the ISM code and should not be left for statutory or class surveys at a later stage (MariEMS 2017).