Small Passenger vessel

31 Mar 2021

Implementing Safety Management Systems for Passenger Vessels

Excerpt below is from White Paper by ‘Implementing Safety Management Systems for Passenger Vessels’ by Dr. Inderjit (IJ) Arora (QMII), Julius Desilva (QMII) and Captain Lee Boone (USCG, Retired). To continue reading the paper click on link in text.


All too often, major accidents are the catalyst for change in the maritime industry. Evidence of this is seen in the development and implementation of maritime conventions and codes in existence today. The International Safety Management (ISM) Code, the result of such a catalyst, was meant to change this reactive nature. The ISM Code intended to promote a safety culture wherein risks are properly considered, work is effectively planned, personal accountability is enhanced, and operations are continually improved.

Unfortunately, this target was missed in many cases and a pervasive by-product called compliance culture set in, wherein the system achieves the minimum and only to satisfy regulators. The maritime industry and regulators learned much from this experience. We know now that if the true value of safety management systems (SMS) is not realized, further implementation efforts become self-defeating. This leads to even more than normal resistance from many who have seen colleagues, shipmates and competitors negatively impacted. A carefully planned implementation strategy expanding the use of safety management systems (SMS) to domestic passenger vessels should therefore be executed to avoid these pitfalls. As Safety Management Systems for domestic passenger vessels are intended in the same way as those for SOLAS1 vessels, we must apply lessons that have been learned from similar regulatory efforts.

In this paper, recommendations are made for implementing SMSs for domestic passenger vessels (PV) based on the concepts of incentives, scalability, and collective use of resources. When implemented in the right way and for the right reasons, the value that SMSs offer passenger vessel owner/operators is maximized, while the cost of implementation is minimized.


Looking at the data from the 1980’s to date, one would expect to see a decline in marine casualties starting in 1998 when the ISM code’s first compliance deadline came into effect. Initially the data shows a downward trend for a few years and then a spike starting in 2001. Those resisting change brought about by the ISM code would argue that the code had not delivered any improvements. However, the upward trend peaked in 2008 and has since seen a decline.

When a new management system is put in place, irrespective of industry, the first sign of success albeit non-intuitive, is a spike in accidents, incidents and hazardous occurrences. This leading indicator should be accepted as a positive as it demonstrates that the personnel within the system have started reporting non-conformities that went unreported before. This reporting enables corrective action to be taken in a systematic manner to prevent a similar non-conformity from occurring again.

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