International Code
Panamanian Vessels

International Code

The international institutions in charge of regulating international maritime activities and commerce decided a few years ago to revise the norms and standards on general safety at sea. Maritime safety covers (i) the adequate management and administration of ships and vessels, and (ii) the environment and maritime life. The international convention known as SOLAS 74 establishes the basis for the regulatory schemes to be followed in all aspects of maritime safety.

Under the principles of SOLAS 74 and taking into account the ageing of the world fleet, the new technological advances and dangers, and the need to strengthen current safety standards and measures, the International Maritime Organization adopted the International Safety Management Code (ISM Code) under Resolution A741, dated 18 November 1993. The objectives of the code are:

  • to guarantee life at sea;

  • to prevent accidents and loss of human life; and

  • to avoid dangers to the maritime environment and property.

In 1994 the International Maritime Organization agreed that each nation must incorporate the mandates of the ISM Code - in line with the revision of SOLAS 74 Chapter Nine - as their national maritime legislation. The ISM Code is therefore mandatory for all ships and vessels with no exemption for flags or special registries.


From July 1 1998 the ISM Code applied to:

  • all passenger vessels, without tonnage limitations;

  • high-speed vessels, whether they are for cargo or passengers, based on SOLAS 74 Rule X/1.2 (under the 1994 amendment);

  • ships transporting bulk and gas over 500 tons (gross); and

  • oil and chemical tankers over 500 tons (gross).

From July 1 2002 the ISM Code will apply to all other cargo vessels over 500 tons (gross) and from July 1 2006 the ISM Code will apply to all ships over 150 tons (gross).

Vessels exempt from the ISM Code include:

  • war vessels;

  • ships under 150 tons (gross);

  • wooden boats;

  • yachts;

  • pleasure boats; and

  • fishing boats.


To ensure compliance with the objectives of the ISM Code, every ship or vessel is required to carry special certificates. These certify that the vessel and the company in charge of the vessel's administration have implemented the necessary minimum safety and compliance requirements. The documents or special certificates necessary under the ISM Code are (i) the Document of Compliance which must be issued in the name of the ship's operating company (ie, the owner or company in charge) and (ii) the Safety Management Certificate which is issued in the name of the ship. Both certificates may be issued provisionally (i) in the case of new ships, or (ii) when a new company takes over operation of a ship.

In line with Circular 101 issued by the General Merchant Marine Directorate, the certificates must be presented in the form required under the ISM Code. The certificate may only be issued (i) by certain authorized classification societies and (ii) under the authority of the government of Panama.

ISM certificates are required by all ships whose classification falls within the ISM Code for every:

  • enrolment;

  • name change;

  • change of ownership;

  • change of tonnage; and

  • renewals and temporary registration.

All ship-owners are aware that they must maintain their ships in line with the requirements of the ISM Code. The code will be enforced at each port and any vessel that does not have its certificiates in order will be sanctioned.

Panamanian Vessels

Panamanian VesselsThis strict enforcement is not a concern to the Panamanian Ship Registry asa high percentage of ships are already approved by the ISM Code. On July 11997 only 34% of the Panamanian fleet complied with the ISM Coderequirements. It is estimated that this figure is now approximately 99%. Theimplementation of the ISM Code not only represents benefits on a general orpublic level, but also on a private level. The benefits for the ship-ownerof improved safety standards include:

  • significant savings in efficiency;

  • profitability;

  • low insurance policies and;

  • customer satisfaction.

All the necessary efforts are being made to promote the ISM Code and ensure that every ship-owner implements its measures and standards. Its implementation will not only benefit ship-owners and maritime activities in general. It will also give the Panamanian flag a higher status in the international community - offering its services as a reliable, serious and open ship registry.

For further information on this topic please contact Belisario Porras at Patton, Moreno & Asvat by telephone (+507 264 8044) or by fax (+507 263 7887) or by e-mail ([email protected]).

The materials contained on this web site are for general information purposes only and are subject to the disclaimer.