International Ship Management Association (Isma) outgoing president Harry Gilbert has expressed doubts about the effectiveness and implementation of the International Safety Management (ISM) code intended to improve safety on ocean-going vessels. He said he was not against the code but questioned the methods by which many shipping companies met the certification deadline on July 1 last year when classification societies had said many would be unable to do so. 'I have yet to meet or hear of anyone that has failed to have gained accreditation,' he told members of Isma and the Hong Kong Shipowners Association at a luncheon. Mr Gilbert said he could not understand how companies obtained accreditation at the 11th hour because it took time and effort to become certified from the preparatory stage up to the audit stage without short cuts. 'Given that the [ISM] code was meant to put the substandard operator out of business, I see very little evidence of this happening,' said Mr Gilbert, who is also managing director of the Wallem Group of companies. In July last year, the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) released figures as of June 30 that showed about 9,600 ships had been awarded ISM certification. The figure was equivalent to 77 per cent of the 12,500 vessels believed to require certification, and 10 per cent less than the International Maritime Organisation estimated would comply. Several hundred vessels were said to be exempted because they operated in coastal trade in one country, especially in the mainland. Others were excluded because they were on government business where ISM rules did not apply. One Middle Eastern country also was believed to have exempted a large part of its fleet because it realised it would not receive ISM certification in time, but could allow its ships to trade locally. Mr Gilbert said far too many companies had hastily obtained accreditation and he doubted certification helped their safety efforts. He said he heard stories that some companies had moved crews from one vessel to another to enable them to pass the auditing stage and that some classification societies had been 'too generous' in their auditing. Port state control inspections had identified auditors who had underperformed their duties, he said. Controls were needed to ensure the ISM code was followed to the letter. If all vessels entering the United States had documents of compliance, what criteria did the US Coast Guard use for inspecting a vessel? Authorities were targeting vessels classified by certain societies, ships owned by certain owners or operators, or when vessels simply looked bad, he said. He questioned how ships carrying multinational crews who had been through different standards of training were able to meet ISM code requirements. If a crew was not properly trained, the ISM code could not be effective. Mr Gilbert said he hoped owners would put money into training seafarers.