In response to a previous guest article by Terry Allen, Technical Director of McFarlane ShipDesign, on classification societies and the role they play in new build and refit projects. He wrote about the benefits of Classification Societies and how they can be of benefit in the case of a dispute and ensures that vessels are built or repaired to a safe standard of practice. A few of our readers have made some interesting comments in response to this...
Thomas Wissmann, founder of Yachts Unlimited: “In general, Class societies are more about quality control of materials, methods, and equipment used in the construction and compliance with safety rules in the design. The one who is there to ensure that safety is above all is still the captain.
“Surveyors also don't grow on trees and there are many more needed to cope with thousands of ships, yachts, offshore structures, etc. But there is not enough intelligence, experience and common sense out there so the societies try it by the book. And that has already caused many avoidable fatal incidents at sea.”
Stefan Strehl, Independent Yacht and Marine Consultant: “There are very clear rules for classification but if you find that the actual construction is against these rules and safety is compromised, you cannot expect the captain to open a can of worms and argue with the Class Society! I‘ve been in court cases about these issues and it was like pissing against the wind!”
“Class Societies were once created to ensure ships are built according to acknowledged standards. Now, one and a half centuries later they appear to be a state within a state, and their present surveyor generation turned to be spineless heelers. If the shipowner is willing to pay more than the annual block fee he will get a class certificate for every blunder and every rust bucket. I know what I'm talking about, I was once one of them, but I kept my spine and my head upright!
“In response to Terry’s quote that Classification Societies have their own code which reflects what is covered in IACS that the flag states adhere to, this is untrue. Each classification and building rule must comply with "Unified Requirements" (UR) and "Unified Interpretations" (UI) maintained by IACS. Misinterpretation of class-related rules and regulations should by all means not occur. In other words, whatever class you choose the rules do not differ (much)! Moreover, there are "Procedural Requirements" (PR) which are binding to all member societies. One of them is PR-17 that requires a surveyor to (secretly) report any ISM-related deficiency noted during a shipboard class survey. So, while it's true that the Class is not acting as a police force, it may be condoned that a Class Surveyor has the right to act as some sort of spy who gets paid by his client who he is going to snoop on. But if a good Surveyor applies this frequently he will end up on the blacklist. Last not least, Class Societies "are there simply to ensure that safety is above all", but reality tells us somewhat different!
Capt. Pete, Marine Consultant: “I always get stomach aches when I read such songs of praise for the Class Societies, IMO, ISF etc. Either these people do not have the necessary understanding how the NGOs collaborate, or they are on their payroll... We live in the post-information age, and it's never been easier to form an own accurate opinion about our ‘brave new world’. “
Bernard Vivegnis, Compliance and Refit Consultant: “One could argue that the flag rules are rather the base of it all than the icing on the cake, since those are the rules that make both classification and international instruments mandatory. For a short while, I ran the deontology class at the Antwerp Maritime Academy. One of the issues we addressed was how to deal with the particular situation of the classification societies. Ship owners are their clients and they have to remain satisfied, which is not an ideal position for them to be in. That was in the times when full delegation was very rarely granted, but it has become the rule today. Being a class surveyor is often a tight wire exercise.”
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