Successful implementation of the International Safety Management (ISM) code depends on costs to shipowners and a level playing field from port state control inspections, Marine director Ian Dale, says. He said the reaching of agreement on various port state control memorandums of understanding around the world has been a significant step in creating a more equitable environment for owners while maintaining the necessary degree of safety of inspection and control. The Marine Department also had adopted measures which would make the costs faced by shipowners reasonable in operating within parameters of the ISM code, Mr Dale said. The code, which is another chapter of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Solas convention, must be implemented by flag states, operated by owners, and checked and maintained by port states by the middle of 1998. Sven Ullring, president and chief executive of Det Norske Veritas, recently said that only 2.5 per cent of the world fleet had been certified to show compliance with the code. Mr Dale said Hong Kong was ready for the ISM code because the Marine Department's surveyors had been trained and the system details had been worked out entirely within IMO guidelines. However, the territory, like elsewhere, had to go through the process of a learning curve. In operating the ISM system within the Hong Kong Shipping Register, Mr Dale said: 'First, there is the need to ensure that the principles of ISM were fully implemented both in practice and in spirit.' And secondly, that the cost of achieving the first was reasonable, he added. Mr Dale said if the Marine department's surveyors did everything with no classification society involvement at all, it would cost the shipowner a great deal of money to fly surveyors all over the world, compromising the second principle. On the other hand, shipowners could hand over the whole process to classification societies, which was probably be the cheapest method but one which was not acceptable to the Marine Department, he said. The Marine Department had therefore consulted, negotiated and compromised on the process while ensuring that the system remained intact, with Marine staff retaining a high degree of 'hands-on' control, Mr Dale said. The main elements of the system adopted by the Marine Department include: Department staff carrying out all the work for Document of Compliance (DOC)'s and Safety Management Certificate (SMC)'s for passenger vessels without any involvement by classification societies. Seven classification societies contracted by the department to do all work leading to the issue of DOC's and SMC's for cargo vessels, bulk carriers and tankers. After successful audit of companies, classification societies may issue interim DOC's, but full term DOC's will be issued by the Marine Department. Classification societies can issue full SMC's provided a DOC has been issued and is valid to cover a particular period. The department's surveyors will monitor the standards of assessment being applied by classification societies in issuing DOC and SMC, at the time they regularly survey vessels under the Hong Kong flag. This is on initial entry to the register and every five years. Mr Dale said the industry, flag and port state authorities and responsible shipowners had to try to strike a reasonable and sensible balance between cost and principle in implementing the ISM code into the global maritime industry. 'Anything we can do to rid the seas of sub-standard ships is a move in the right direction,' he said.