New ISO standards for safer shipping and cleaner oceans

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ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is developing new standards for the shipping industry that will help to prevent shipwrecks and to make maritime pollution clean-up operations more effective.

Already published are two standards defining technical specifications for, respectively, construction (ISO 15401) and repair (ISO 15402) quality of the hull structure of bulk carriers. The two standards, which contain a large amount of state-of-the-art technical data, were developed by ISO at the specific request of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Fierce competition in the bulk cargo trade can lead to cost-cutting in shipbuilding and maintenance, at the expense of acceptable safety levels. Structural failures due to flawed construction and poor maintenance are major causes of shipwreck that may add loss of life to the economic, social and environmental costs of ensuing maritime and coastal pollution.

The core of requirements, backed by international consensus, embodied in ISO 15401 and ISO 15402, have both technical and economic ramifications and they are expected to become a key instrument in the shipping industry. They concern a wide variety of stakeholders: shipowners, cargo owners, charterers, classification societies, ships' crews, national administrations (country of registration, country of charter, country of destination, port authorities, shipping authorities, coastguards, etc.), international regulatory bodies, shipyards and repair facilities, and insurance companies, amongst others.

ISO 15401 is of direct interest to shipyards building new bulk carriers. It should help foster higher quality levels and contribute to the eradication of dangerous shipbuilding practices that fail to take account of actual service conditions: for example, navigation in rough sea areas, or the high mechanical stresses produced when loading and unloading ships.

ISO 15402 will be broadly used as it applies to all bulk carriers on station around the world (except double hull ships). It is intended for all engaged in the inspection and maintenance of hulls, including ships' crews and specialized repair teams. Its specifications can serve as a reference for shipping authorities and operators.

The standard will be of major importance in promoting the use of objective technical specifications defined outside the framework of commercial negotiations and taking into account the need for worldwide harmonization, which is seen as a key factor in maintaining fair competition in the market. Because of the significant economic stakes involved, it was considered no longer admissible to leave everything to the discretion of one or other inspection body - albeit competent.

The implementation of these standards will also help to improve inspection and maintenance training. Inspection reports will be able to refer to acknowledged International Standards. The requirements of ISO 15402 should enable ships' crews to play a more effective role by giving them a better understanding of what needs to be checked, how it should be checked and how often.

Similarly, the requirements for good shipbuilding practice and repairs will be better understood by all involved, including ships' crews, instead of having to rely on the views of a single person or body. This will assist crews in preparing for inspections by classification societies.

Among related standards being developed by ISO are ones to improve emergency response to maritime pollution. These include standardized terminology, which provides a basis for effective coordination when different agencies - and different countries - need to work together, and standards for specialized equipment such as oil spill booms and skimmers. These standards give guidance to both industry and users for producing, purchasing and using such equipment and also establish the basis for compatibility of equipment - an important consideration for the speed and effectiveness of emergency response.

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