Part A of International Safety Management Code or ISM Code for Ships


ISM code is a very popular standard introduced by the IMO for the maritime industry. While it was first adopted in the year 1993, it has since undergone many beneficial changes that make it one of the most robust and reliable standards in the shipping industry.

In this article, we explore the ISM code’s Part A and its various elements. Let’s start from the beginning.

What is the International Safety Management code or ISM code?

The International Safety Management (ISM) Code is a comprehensive international standard adopted by the IMO in 1993 to ensure maritime safety and pollution prevention.

It is also known as the International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention.

It was introduced in Chapter IX of SOLAS, and the ISM code became mandatory and entered into force in 1998.

The ISM code focuses on improving the safe management and operation of ships. It provides a framework for managers, owners, bareboat charterers or any other party that manages the day-to-day operations of a ship to follow safe procedures.

The code’s beginning goes back to the 1980s when the poor practices of ship managers and operators led to frequent safety and pollution incidents. Investigations revealed that managers were making many preventable mistakes.

As a result, the code was developed to provide a standard, all-inclusive framework for safe ship operations.

It applies to all vessel types such as oil tankers, chemical tankers, car carriers, gas carriers, container vessels, passenger ships, bulk carriers, and even Mobile Offshore Drilling Units (MODU).

The ISM code provides general principles, guidelines, and objectives as it is understood that no two shipping companies are alike. Since it became mandatory, the ISM Code has been amended five times in the following years – 2000, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2013.

Purpose of ISM code

The primary objectives of introducing the ISM code are as follows:

  • Ensure safety at sea by preventing human injury
  • Prevent damage to ship equipment, ship, and the cargo
  • Prevent damage to and pollution of the marine environment

The onus of meeting these objectives is on the Company that manages the operation of ships. The Company, among other things, must ensure that the following safety management objectives are fulfilled to satisfy the requirements of the code:

  1. Provide a safe workspace complete with safe procedures for shipboard operations.
  2. Establish suitable barriers that assess and minimize the risk exposure to the crew, vessel, and environment.
  3. To constantly upgrade the safety skills of the employees aboard their vessels and ashore. This also includes emergency preparedness to deal with situations pertaining to safety and pollution prevention.

To achieve these goals, the Company must develop a good Safety Management System (SMS) that ensures compliance with obligatory rules and regulations devised by the flag state, Organizations, Classification societies and maritime industry organizations.

The complete safety management system is compiled into a document known as the safety management manual. A copy of this manual is always kept available onboard for reference.

ISM code elements

The ISM code is divided into two main parts – Part A and Part B.

Part A provides the requirements for the implementation of the code and consists of 14 elements. Part B provides guidance for ISM certification and verification. It consists of four elements.

Part A – Implementation

The 12 elements in Part A are as follows:

  1. General
  2. Safety and environmental protection policy
  3. Company responsibilities and authority
  4. Designated person(s)
  5. Master’s responsibility and authority
  6. Resources and personnel
  7. Shipboard operations
  8. Emergency Preparedness
  9. Reports and analysis of non-conformities, accidents and hazardous occurrences
  10. Maintenance of ship and equipment
  11. Documentation
  12. Company verification, review and evaluation

Part B – ISM Certification and Verification

The four elements in Part B are as follows:

  1. Certification and Periodical Verification
  2. Interim Certification
  3. Verification
  4. Forms of Certificates

International Safety Management Code Part A – Implementation

Part A provides definitions and guidance on the implementation of a safety management system (SMS). We shall now summarize the twelve elements in Part A.

1: General

The first element provides definitions for important terms used throughout the ISM Code, such as the ISM code, Company, Administration, Safety Management System, Document of Compliance, Safety Management Certificate, Objective Evidence, Observation, Non-conformity, Major Non-conformity, Anniversary Date and Convention.

It also covers the objectives of the Code, its application and the functional requirements for a safety management system

2: Safety and environmental protection policy

The second element emphasizes the importance of establishing, implementing and maintaining a safety and environmental protection policy at all levels on board the vessel and ashore.

3: Company responsibilities and authority

The third element stresses the need for the management company to define and record the responsibilities and authority of the different company personnel and shipboard personnel who are directly responsible for safety and pollution prevention.

The Company must also provide the necessary resources for these employees and crew members to effectively discharge their duties.

4: Designated person(s)

The fourth element defines the role of the Designated Person. This person, when based ashore, is known as the Designated Person Ashore or DPA.

The DPA has direct access to the highest levels of the management company and focuses on safety and pollution prevention matters related to the vessel.

He ensures that the vessel has access to adequate resources and support for normal and emergency operations.

5: Master’s responsibility and authority

This element enumerates the authority and different responsibilities provided to the master to assist him in the implementation of the safety management system.

It clarifies that the Company must provide the ship’s captain with overriding authority in matters relating to safety and pollution prevention.

The Master must seek the company’s assistance for the proper discharge of his duties as needed.

6: Resources and personnel

This element guides the Company on how to provide quality staff to operate its vessels in accordance with national and international requirements.

It urges the Company to allow only qualified, certificated and medically fit seafarers that are effective at supporting the safety management system.

An adequate understanding of the applicable codes, regulations, guidelines and relevant rules ensures that the shipboard management operate in accordance with the provided SMS.

When they board ships, they must be familiarized with their duties and if required, trained to support the safety management system. All communications related to the execution of SMS duties must be effective.

7: Shipboard operations

This element informs the Company of its responsibility to provide instructions, checklists, plans and procedures as required to ensure the safety of the crew, vessel, and the environment.

The checklists must be comprehensive and take extreme scenarios into consideration.

8: Emergency Preparedness

Not every ship is vulnerable to the same emergency situations. For instance, an oil tanker is much more prone to an oil spill than a container vessel.

This element of the ISM Code urges the Company to identify possible ship-specific emergency situations and set up procedures to prevent their occurrence.

It suggests the use of shipboard exercises and drills at appropriate intervals to ensure preparedness.

The Company must ensure that the crew is ready in case of an emergency aboard its vessels.

9: Reports and analysis of non-conformities, accidents and hazardous occurrences

There are always holes and inadequacies in any company’s SMS. This element requires the Company to set up documented procedures to report, investigate and analyse the non-conformities, hazardous situations and accidents.

All the findings must be used to further improve the safety management system. Corrective actions must be undertaken to prevent a recurrence.

10: Maintenance of ship and equipment

The failure of technical systems, such as steering gear and generators, can very easily result in hazardous situations. It is therefore critical that all such systems and their backups are maintained diligently.

This element of the Code focuses on providing measures such as routine testing and operation of critical equipment, to improve the reliability of critical equipment.

Man maintaining machinery
Crew member maintaining machinery

When a defect does arrive, the Code requires that their cause is investigated, corrective action is undertaken and the event is recorded for future reviews.

11: Documentation

Documentation refers to all the mandatory valid documents, certificates and data pertaining to the safety management system.

The Company must ensure that these documents are available at all relevant locations. Those that expire are renewed as soon as possible, and any document changes are approved by authorized personnel and the appropriate organization.

12: Company verification, review and evaluation

The last element of Part A of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code encourages the company to set up internal safety audits to verify the implementation of the SMS in the correct manner.

At least one safety management audit is to be carried out every 12 months. This period may not be extended by more than three months. As far as practicable, the person carrying out the internal audits must be independent of the areas being audited.

Communication with the management personnel responsible for the area being audited must be ensured so that timely corrective action to address the identified risks.

Management reviews of the safety management system are also an important part of this ISM Code element. The Company must periodically evaluate the procedures established for operational implementation.


We hope that this article gave you a brief overview of what the ISM Code’s Part A is about. We will also be covering Part B in a subsequent article.