News Article 17/11/1997

ISM Code Remains a Dominant Concern

17/11/1997 - Lloyd's List

Probably uppermost among the many regulatory issues preying on the minds of Greek shipping executives internationally is the International Safety Management Code (ISM).

The ISM system has been singled out by leading voices within the community as a factor likely to constrict the traditional breadth of the Greek market, which includes a predominance of smaller shipping firms.

While it is fair to say that the initial reaction of most Greek operators was to be paralysed by fear of the Code, today there is a more diverse range of views as individual companies grapple with the implications for themselves.

Occupying the middle ground are firms which have not shed their qualms about ISM but are " in time-honoured Greek fashion " responding in a practical manner to the challenges it poses.

One of these is Paralos Maritime which has benefited from the connections of its London agency Lyras Shipping Limited to help develop a new computer-based system which is said to adopt all the necessary procedures but make them more accessible and useful to both shore and shipboard personnel.

Task Assistant, as the system is called, approaches the code's requirements according to individual task and role, so that it can be accessed by any person in the firm or on a vessel without wading through unwieldy and difficult manuals.

According to company director Nikos Mikelis, the programme was developed so as to also offer an answer to the wealth of valuable information which passes through a shipping company but is liable never to be retrieved after filing, due to staff changeovers and other factors.

"You can slot in relevant practical advice, specific cases or whatever you like, and all that is accessible when the person needs it," said Dr Mikelis.

Although the company contributed to it and is the first to have installed the system, it was developed by Systems Ltd, and is available to other firms.

"The aim was to have an operation-driven system rather than one driven bv a software house and there is plenty of scope for further development," said Dr Mikelis, who felt the looming challenge of ISM compliance was a factor in converting the company's culture from being "anti-computer" to one which sought to maximise the cost and operational benefits of information technology.

The group's offices were now linked on-line to the ships and it was in the throes of establishing a video conferencing facility between Greece and the UK.

"We are a small firm and I do not think there is a shipping company that cannot get through lSM if it wants to, even if it is messy to start with.

"We have accepted it is there and once you start thinking about it, ISM opens up new avenues which are worth exploring," said Dr Mikelis.

Among negative aspects of ISM, in Dr Mikelis' view, was that it "encapsulates our era in shipping", which he defined as one where a facade of being seen to be acting counted for more than reality "We seem to be moving into a PR era."

He said: "I am concerned because the majority of Greek ship owners are very simple in their approach, and it is a simple business when you think about lt.

"The importance now given to political correctness goes against the grain of the average Greek," he added. "I am not sure that the underlying theme of this and other developments is quality or safety."

The far-reaching legal consequences which ship owners may face as a by product of ISM has been pointed out in several speeches and articles by Tony Vlasto, a partner of Clifford Chance

Mr Vlasto, who himself has partly Greek lineage, recently warned that the "greater transparency" the code would bring to the industry, as well as onerous documentation requirements it places on firms, could heighten their exposure to a wide range of liabilities, including criminal offences.

However he said that the principles behind the code would be torpedoed if lawyers encouraged an increase in litigation to make it into a "paradise" for themselves.

In Mr Vlasto"s view, there may be some difficulty in translating Greek shipping culture into the rigours of ISM, particularly in the case of the many smaller owners within the community.

"Individualism and respect for the old traditions are among the most endearing aspects of the Greek character," he noted, but he was confident that "ship owners will adapt and no doubt the Greeks will still be there at the forefront of the industry."

Although Mr Vlasto foresaw that the documentation engendered by the code could have an impact on tax exposure, among other areas, he was guarded about whether it might hold any special terrors for those residing in the UK.

"I am not sure that the ISM Code will necessarily make a difference to how Greeks view London as a service centre," he said. "All the implications of ISM remain to be tested."