Industry groups appear to have succeeded in their request to the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) to offer shipping companies’ greater flexibility amid coronavirus crisis by agreeing to set up a Covid – 19 task force to identify and assess measures that can be implemented in a coordinated fashion to help facilitate business continuity.

In a letter to industry members, April 20, IACS chairman Arun Sharma broadly expressed support for such calls, even though he was careful to stress that measures to maintain validity of classification and statutory certificates will continue to need to be made by individual class societies on a case-by-case basis. In the letter Shama said: “IACS members also recognise, however, that a consistency in approach between the various Class Societies is required.”

Among those leading the call for greater leeway was Greece’s influential maritime technical managers who proposed late March a set of specific measures that could be adopted by classification societies to help avert a potential immobilisation of seaborne trade amid the coronavirus pandemic. Technical Managers Association in Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean (Martecma), which brings together executives of 160 ship management companies operating a fleet of some 2,800 ships of 270m dwt, sent a letter to IACS members, proposing the measures.

Shama noted the task force has already acted. In response to a Martecma proposal to extend the window for annual surveys by six months, from the conventional three months, he said: “Although the existing +/- 3 months period is included in Imo and IACS documentation, in the case of Force Majeure the survey may be part held and postponed remotely where the flag will permit a corresponding extension to validity of statutory certificates”.

IACS said the remote survey associated with the Force Majeure “will use information supplied from onboard the vessel to be confirmed by an authorised surveyor remotely, to postpone the annual survey for up to an additional three months”. Martecma had said: “The most critical issue is the extension of the special survey and the associated dry-docking beyond the three months that are foreseen by the Imo.

Sharma said in the letter that IACS was also working on amendments to facilitate the transfer of class, by allowing the gaining classification society to better plan the surveys in advance, in cooperation with owners. Classification societies have also taken “a unanimous stand” to use existing provisions to use each other’s exclusive surveyors, where necessary, to help avoid unnecessary travel in restricted areas.

“These provisions will be supplemented by the development of a standard request form that may be used by each IACS member when seeking to utilise the exclusive surveyor from another IACS classification society,” said Sharma. Furthermore, specific health and safety guidelines for class surveyors are currently drawn up to protect the health of both surveyors and crews.

“Through a close and constant dialogue with all stakeholders, we are confident appropriate mechanisms can be put in place that meet the needs of the shipping industry while ensuring the safety of the ships, their crews and the marine environment remains uncompromised.

“IACS looks forward to working with the industry, flag states and regulators during these exceptional circumstances and to playing its part in keeping the shipping industry moving,” concluded the IACS chairman.

Filed: 2020-04-29