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Roles and responsibilities of Classification Societies

Hello everyone and welcome to 2021.. Hope you had a good and safe entry into the new year..

The business of shipping hinges on the collaboration and action of various entities.. Shipping lines, ports, customs, ship owners, ship operators, ports and many more, all work in unison to get the cargo moving around the world..

This collaboration and co-operation is critical to ensure the safety of the ships carrying the cargo and the safety of the crew members operating the ships..


Ship Registration and Classification

Any ship over 100 GT (Gross Tonnage) irrespective of whether it is a cargo vessel, fishing vessel or passenger vessel, has to be registered and linked to a particular state/flag..

Registration grants the ship physical and legal protection of that flag state which may be applied to vital areas such as safety of cargo and life of those on board the ship..

By linking a ship to a State, the system of ship registration indicates that that State has the right to protect that ship in international law and upon registration, the ship will be assigned an Official Number by the ship registry which becomes it identification..

The registration of a ship plays an important role in ensuring safety and security of the ship and significantly contributes towards the protection and preservation of the marine environment..

As per IMO regulations, all ships must be surveyed in order to ensure that the ships under their register/flag are structurally sound and subscribes to design and safety standards and issue certificates which establishes a ship’s seaworthiness..

The Flag State of the vessel is the party responsible for the above survey and inspection.. This is achieved through Ship Classification..

Ship classification is defined as “the verification of the structural strength and integrity of the essential parts of a ship’s hull and its appendages, as well as the authentication of the reliability and function of its propulsion and steering systems, and power generation, alongside other features and auxiliary systems built into the ship to maintain essential onboard services for safe operation“..

As per the IMO, “The Flag State (“Administration”) may “entrust the inspections and surveys either to surveyors nominated for the purpose or to organizations recognized by it” (SOLAS Chapter 1, regulation 6)“..

In practice, these “recognized organizations” are often Classification Societies..

Classification Societies classify ships, establish and maintain technical standards for the construction and operation of a vessel, ensure that the ship’s design and workings are in accordance with the standards set by their class..


Requirements and Purpose of a Classification Society

The requirement of a Classification Society is to provide classification, statutory certification and services as a Recognised Organisation acting on behalf of a flag Administration, and assistance to the maritime industry and regulatory bodies as regards maritime safety and pollution prevention, based on the accumulation of maritime knowledge and technology..

Its purposes are

  • To publish its own classification rules in relation to the design construction and survey of ships;
  • To apply, maintain and update these rules and regulations;
  • To verify compliance with these rules during construction and periodically during a classed ship’s life;
  • To publish a register of classed ships;

Classification societies carry out inspections and surveys of the ship at all stages of its building, development and operation to ensure that the design of the ship, the components/parts/material used and all the machinery installed on the ship meets the standards..

A Classification Certificate is issued by the Classification Society for the inspections and surveys done and this certificate is required to be present on board the ship for any inspections by Port State Controls or other authorities from time to time..

An example of a Classification Certificate can be seen below..

Classification Society Classification Certificate


A Classification Society is not controlled by any ship-owner, shipbuilder or others engaged commercially in the manufacture, equipping, repair or operation of ships..


IACS (International Association of Classification Societies)

The IACS (International Association of Classification Societies) consists of 12 member societies as listed below :

  1. American Bureau of Shipping (ABS)
  2. Bureau Veritas (BV)
  3. China Classification Society (CCS)
  4. Croatian Register of Shipping (CRS)
  5. DNV-GL
  6. Indian Register of Shipping (IRS)
  7. Korean Register (KR)
  8. Lloyd’s Register (LR)
  9. Class NK (NK)
  10. Polish Register of Shipping (PRS)
  11. RINA
  12. Russian Maritime Register of Shipping

The shared expertise of all the IACS Members gives them unrivalled technical knowledge of ships and floating structures and the classification rules of each IACS Member created on the basis of this expertise has been honed over many years through extensive research and development as well as service experience..

The IACS is a Non-Governmental Organization which was granted Consultative Status with IMO in 1969.​.


Is classification a guarantee of safety..??

Whenever there is a maritime disaster, the verification and audit capabilities of Classification Societies has been called into question with people asking for the role and accountability of ship classification societies to be looked at in greater detail..

As per the IACS however “a classification certificate is not a warrant of a ship’s safety, fitness-for-purpose or seaworthiness. A classification certificate is a confirmation that the vessel – at a certain date – complied with the Rules developed and published by the society issuing the certificate.

Classification societies are also not guarantors of the safety of life or property at sea, or the seaworthiness of a vessel.

This is because classification of a vessel is based on the understanding that it is loaded, operated and maintained in a proper manner by competent and qualified personnel, and a classification society has no control over how a vessel is operated and maintained between the periodical surveys it conducts to check that a vessel remains in compliance with the relevant requirements.

Proper maintenance and operation by shipowners or operators, as well as the seafarers on board, is vital to the safe operations of ships and other floating structures“..

The onus it seems is therefore on the shipowner or ship operator to inform its classification society if any defects are found that may affect class, or if any damages are sustained..

As per the terms of the classification society, if the conditions for maintenance of class cannot be complied with, class may be suspended, withdrawn or revised to a different notation as deemed appropriate by the society as and when it becomes aware of the conditions..

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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


  1. Many thanks for the article. It true that classification society are now too commercial, but still they are doing a good job. Without those regulares inspection, many ship owner could may be not follow the regular maintenance of the ship.

  2. Good educational write up but
    the Class Societies have lost their purpose. They have become too commercial and not doing what they supposed to do plus not standing up & being counted. They have become to tech., IT, futuristic etc just flowing with the commercial world. Too $$ minded. They seem to have forgotten their roots and the basics which is extremely important in todays environment !!!!


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