ISM Code not being used to full potential, says law academic

Costa Concordia capsized and sank after striking an underwater rock off Isola del Giglio, Tusany, 13 January 2012. Credit: Rvongher

The International Safety Management (ISM) Code needs to be better incorporated into national legislation and applied in national court rulings concerning maritime safety,

according to Northumbria’ University law academic Craig Laverick. He believes that this will ensure that shipping companies are better held to account for their roles in major maritime disasters.

According to Laverick, his research reveals that there is a “waning of enthusiasm” for the ISM code among seafarers and it is not being used to its full potential. “For example, when something goes wrong, it isn’t used to establish whether the master or the company of a vessel were to blame,” he said.

He added that there is a perception in the international maritime community that a lot of ship companies are no longer following the requirements of the ISM Code like they did when it first came into force”.

Laverick said this is down to three main reasons: financial pressures on shipping companies leading to non-compliance, a perception that the ISM has no teeth as inspectors rarely detain vessels for non-compliance to the ISM code, and a specific complacency caused by companies believing that thanks to on board technology their ships are unsinkable, and so lip service is paid to ‘abandon ship’ drills and emergency training.

Laverick expressed concerns that because national legislation is used instead of the ISM Code that companies can plea bargain with the legal process, “removing themselves from the full scrutiny of an investigation”.

“When something like this happens, and an accident or fatality occurs, it should then be for the investigations, inquiries, and the courts to determine what went wrong and why, and who is to blame for it.” said Laverick. “Once this is being seen to be done, and we have a few convictions (of both the company and the individuals concerned), we will then start to see a return to a continuous improvement of safety, tackling the waning enthusiasm and complacency problem.”

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