Classification societies are committed to ensuring the safety of vessels and are not typical profit-driven commercial companies. Therefore, classic marketing is not suitable for their principal activity — classification and statutory issues. The main area of a classification society activity focuses on the development of rules for shipbuilding and supervision of design, the building process and further supervision of the ship in operation to assure compliance of the ship with these rules and statutory requirements. Class societies are vetted by flag states and dedicated entities (e.g. QACE) to verify whether class societies have solid foundation and credibility to issue certificates on behave of the flag states.

In order to gain recognition by a flag state classification societies must show experience in assuring ship safety gained over decades or even centuries, must have top quality rules, services and, what is of utmost importance, must have high quality staff. The class staff performance is complementary to the rules and regulations. Regulations alone never cover all possible occurrences in a ship’s lifecycle so it is the surveyor who must undertake decisions basing on his knowledge and experience. Classification societies must also run R&D divisions to develop safety criteria.


Classification societies provide services for flag states and insurers/underwriters though shipowners are the service payees. Maritime Administrations and underwriters require owners to present evidence of ship compliance with national and international regulations in force in order to operate. Thus the major clients of classification societies are flag states and insurers/underwriters. Classification societies must seek flag state recognition. Shipowners chose the services of classification societies operating on the market for technical supervision and resultant certificates, compelling societies to compete for clients in terms of advanced technical rules, quality of supervisory services in newbuildings and ships in operation. The present IACS concept of common rules levels the rules technical merit leaving ground for competition in terms of the ship survey services themselves and technical instruments facilitating safety assurance.


Taking into account the IACS concept of common structural rules for bulk carriers and tankers there is not too much room for the development of safety criteria for these types of vessels by individual classification societies. Also, on the other hand, the development of rules within the concept of Goal-Based Standards — safety level approach (GBS-SLA), which is an deductive approach (reasoning from general to specific) is very complex and requires co-operation of classification societies, universities, flag states etc. and it seems that in the near future development of the rules will be obtained in joint effort. Therefore, individual efforts are placed in other areas, for example, PRS has developed a new criterion and method for measuring stability of small vessels, even if there is no technical documentation of the ship.

Classification societies can develop new technologies in the field of supervision of ship during construction and operation. Polish Register of Shipping has developed the SURVEY system to provide the Society with a better picture of the ship condition as

well as online monitoring and verification of surveyor performance in progress and on completion. Lists of survey items tailored to the type of ship, type of survey, age of the ship etc., data regularly fed to the system by surveyors with their comments/notes/ descriptions, illustrated by pictures and films, raise surveyor aware of both the particular (each survey item) and general (the hull, machinery etc.) condition, facilitating surveyor decisions/conclusions. The detailed information on the ship’s technical condition that previously often remained the knowledge of particular surveyors performing the given survey is now retained in PRS database in full.


With the construction of the series of four Kamsarmax bulk carriers (82 thousand dwt each) in the Japanese shipyard Tsuneishi Polish Steamship Company terminated its 2005 launched fleet renewal program. The shipowner decided on exclusive PRS classification supervision of this new tonnage in operation.The first Karpaty was delivered in January 2013 with the others to be delivered in March,August and October 2013, respectively.


There are different reasons why ships, including bulk carriers, are lost each year. The random nature of shipping operations, involving uncontrolled weather and sea waving conditions, indiscriminate loading condition, arbitrary shipping routes and decisions of the crew sometimes fatigued, sometimes with limited experience, is one of the reasons that underlying safety is at risk.

The second reason lies in the traditional approach to the development of ship construction safety criteria: casualties usually trigger development of new safety criteria covering this case. Adoption of such an approach, which is an inductive approach (reasoning from specific to general), means, in terms of logic, that exceptions may appear and further regulations are required. In effect we suffer proliferation of regulations.

The third reason is the development of new ship type structures and new improved materials and building of bigger and faster ships. New loading technologies, improved propulsion systems and computerized deck control systems revolutionized shipping. New ship types appear, tailored to the types of provided cargo. Appropriately developed safety rules stay behind leaving a gap between innovative solutions and safety standards. 

Identifying the very essence of the problem using advanced physical theories and developing safety criteria can rectify this problem. However, the process is time consuming as can be seen on the example of the history of the development of the ship's stability criteria.

Casualty statistics show that “during a period of 25 years between 1982 and 2007, there were 419 bulk carriers lost, along with nearly 2,000 lives” (Lloyd’s List, 10 March, 2008). The detailed statistics of INTERCARGO indicate that about 30% of bulk carrier total losses were caused by failure of ship structure or her equipment (Bulk Carrier Casualty Report, INTERCARGO, 2005).

Following the series of catastrophes, mainly due to the reasons mentioned, new requirements, often retroactive in nature, were developed creating a maze of regulations, which is difficult to embrace. For some ro-ro passengers ships and bulk carriers new retroactive requirements meant rebuilding of ships in operation.

The proliferation of regulations caused a proliferation of controlling/auditing bodies. This approach to assuring safety at sea created a new culture — the ‘regulatory compliance culture’. This culture assumes that the more inspections the more

regulatory compliance can be expected. This could be true provided the inspections were carried out by professional organizations with interpretive capacity. Excessive number of inspection bodies generate an adverse attitude to safety and could be destructive to the safety system.

In reaction to this regulation culture the IMO Maritime Safety Committee started the development of Goal Based Standards, which was initiated in 2002, comprising five-tiers.

GBS as adopted by IMO, are based on the prescriptive approach. However, the problem of quantification of the functional requirements has led to the concept of GBS SLA, currently being developed. It was assumed in this approach that goals of Tier I take the form of safety objectives (for ship, cargo, passengers, crew, environment, etc.), defined by risk level (eg. probability of failure and fatality); and that these safety objectives are achieved when each ship function (Tier II) such as manoeuvrability, sea-keeping performance, stability and floatability, ship strength and fire protection, satisfies the risk level set for each function. Verified class rules (Tier IV) are assumed to meet the functional requirements and consequently meet the goals. The aim of the rules of classification societies is to transpose the required set safety level to the safety level of ships.