Commercial Shipping and the ISM Code

As part of our comprehensive, industry-leading suite of commercial shipping services, Bachmann Group is responsible for a multitude of aspects relating to the management of an ever-growing number of seagoing vessels. This service is provided to our diverse array of clients in full compliance with the International Safety Management (ISM) code. In this edition of our blog we focus more closely on the ISM code, revealing its history and development as well as details of its current scope.

The ISM code, created by the International Maritime Organisation, comprises a complete list of the standards that must be adhered to in order to ensure the 'safe management and operation of ships at sea'. It represents a chapter in the IMO's Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, the first version of which was adopted over a century ago in 1914 as a direct response to the disastrous sinking of the Titanic.

In March of 1987 a ferry named 'Herald of Free Enterprise' sank due to water flooding into the vessel's lower car deck. 193 of the 450 passengers and 80 crew members on board tragically lost their lives as a result. The Herald of Free Enterprise was a modern vessel that had been completed just seven years prior to its sinking; it was described as being 'equipped with advanced technology and operated by a highly qualified crew'. 

The subsequent public inquiry, headed by Justice Sheen, found that the accident could have been prevented had the tired and overworked assistant boatswain not been sleeping in his cabin. Though the boatswain was found to be guilty of negligence, the Sheen Report noted that this was 'simply the last in a long string of actions that laid the groundwork for a major accident'.

In his report, Justice Sheen also laid blame squarely at the door of Townsend Car Ferries Ltd, the company responsible for the vessel's shore management operations. It was revealed that several ship masters working for Townsend had sent a number of memos to the company 'pointing out the need to implement safety-enhancing measures or address serious deficiencies on board their vessels' and that these memos 'went unheeded'. The preventable sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise directly led to the IMO developing and subsequently implementing the ISM code. 

Compliance with the ISM code begins with the company responsible for a vessel's operation submitting its unique Safety Management System Manual (SMS). Following the submission of the SMS, the company must undergo a full, highly-detailed audit and be approved by either Flag Administration or an officially-recognised organisation. Key elements that must be part of the SMS include:

  • Commitments from the highest levels of management
  • An exhaustive policy manual
  • A manual that catalogues every procedure that should be used onboard the vessel, both in standard and emergency situations. The manual should also include details of the procedures used to conduct external and internal audits
  • The contact information of a Designated Person Ashore (DPA), who serves as a link between onboard and onshore staff members as well as being responsible for verifying that the SMS is being implemented 

Please browse the Bachmann Group website to find out full details about our commercial shipping services which, in addition to ship management, also include consultancy, recruitment and the management of crew and payroll.

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