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A classification society is a non-governmental organization that establishes and maintains technical standards for the construction and operation of ships and offshore structures. The society will also validate that construction is according to these standards and carry out regular surveys in service to ensure compliance with the standards.
Classification societies set technical rules, confirm that designs and calculations meet these rules, survey ships and structures during the process of construction and commissioning, and periodically survey vessels to ensure that they continue to meet the rules. Classification societies are also responsible for classing oil platforms, other offshore structures, and submarines. This survey process covers diesel engines, important shipboard pumps and other vital machinery.
Classification surveyors inspect ships to make sure that the ship, its components and machinery are built and maintained according to the standards required for their class
In the second half of the 18th century, London merchants, shipowners, and captains often gathered at Edward Lloyds’ coffee house to gossip and make deals including sharing the risks and rewards of individual voyages. This became known as underwriting after the practice of signing one's name to the bottom of a document pledging to make good a portion of the losses if the ship didn’t make it in return for a portion of the profits. It did not take long to realize that the underwriters needed a way of assessing the quality of the ships that they were being asked to insure. In 1760, the Register Society was formed — the first classification society and the one which would subsequently become Lloyd's Register — to publish an annual register of ships. This publication attempted to classify the condition of the ship’s hull and equipment. At that time, an attempt was made to classify the condition of each ship on an annual basis. The condition of the hull was classified A, E, I, O or U, according to the state of its construction and its adjudged continuing soundness (or lack thereof). Equipment was G, M, or B: simply, good, middling or bad. In time, G, M and B were replaced by 1, 2 and 3, which is the origin of the well-known expression 'A1', meaning 'first or highest class'. The purpose of this system was not to assess safety, fitness for purpose or seaworthiness of the ship. It was to evaluate risk.
Samuel Plimsoll pointed out the obvious downside of insurance:
- "The ability of shipowners to insure themselves against the risks they take not only with their property, but with other peoples’ lives, is itself the greatest threat to the safe operation of ships."
The first edition of the Register of Ships was published by Lloyd's Register in 1764 and was for use in the years 1764 to 1766.
Bureau Veritas (BV) was founded in Antwerp in 1828, moving to Paris in 1832. Lloyd's Register reconstituted in 1834 to become 'Lloyd's Register of British and Foreign Shipping'. Where previously surveys had been undertaken by retired sea captains, from this time surveyors started to be employed and Lloyd's Register formed a General Committee for the running of the Society and for the Rules regarding ship construction and maintenance, which began to be published from this time.
In 1834, the Register Society published the first Rules for the survey and classification of vessels, and changed its name to Lloyds Register of Shipping. A full-time bureaucracy of surveyors (inspectors) and support personnel was put in place. Similar developments were taking place in the other major maritime nations.
The adoption of common rules for ship construction by Norwegian insurance societies in the late 1850s led to the establishment of Det Norske Veritas (DNV) in 1864. RINA was founded in Genoa, Italy in 1861 under the name Registro Italian, to meet the needs of Italian maritime operators. Germanischer Lloyd (GL) was formed in 1867 and Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK) in 1899. The Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (RS) was an early offshoot of the River Register of 1913.
As the classification profession evolved, the practice of assigning different classifications has been superseded, with some exceptions. Today a ship either meets the relevant class society’s rules or it does not. As a consequence it is either 'in' or 'out' of 'class'. Classification societies do not issue statements or certifications that a vessel is 'fit to sail' or 'unfit to sail', merely that the vessel is in compliance with the required codes. This is in part related to legal liability of the classification society.
However, each of the classification societies has developed a series of notations that may be granted to a vessel to indicate that it is in compliance with some additional criteria that may be either specific to that vessel type or that are in excess of the standard classification requirements. See Ice class as an example.
Flags of convenience
Flags of convenience have lower standards for vessel, equipment, and crew than traditional maritime countries and often have classification societies certify and inspect the vessels in their registry, instead of by their own shipping authority. This made it attractive for ship owners to change flag, whereby the ship lost the economic link and the country of registry. With this, also the link between classification society and traditional maritime country became less obvious - for instance Lloyd's Register with the United Kingdom and ABS with the United States. This made it easier to change class and introduced a new phenomenon; class hopping. A ship owner that is dissatisfied with class can change to a different class relatively easily. This has led to more competition between classes and a relaxation of the standards. In July 1960, Lloyds Register published a new set of rules. Not only were scantlings relaxed, but the restrictions on tank size were just about eliminated. The other classification Societies quickly followed suit. This has led to the shipping industry losing confidence in the classification societies, and also to similar concerns by the European Commission.
To counteract class hopping, the IACS has established TOCA (Transfer Of Class Agreement).
In 1978, a number of European countries agreed in The Hague on memorandum that agreed to audit whether the labour conditions on board vessels were according to the rules of the ILO. After the Amoco Cadiz sank that year, it was decided to also audit on safety and pollution. To this end, in 1982 the Paris Memorandum of Understanding (Paris MoU) was agreed upon, establishing Port State Control, nowadays 24 European countries and Canada. In practice, this was a reaction on the failure of the flag states - especially flags of convenience that have delegated their task to classification societies - to comply with their inspection duties.
Today there are a number of classification societies, the largest of which are Bureau Veritas, the American Bureau of Shipping, Lloyd's Register and DNV GL. Classification societies employ ship surveyors, material engineers, piping engineers, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers and electrical engineers, often located at ports and office buildings around the world.
Marine vessels and structures are classified according to the soundness of their structure and design for the purpose of the vessel. The classification rules are designed to ensure an acceptable degree of stability, safety, environmental impact, etc.
In particular, classification societies may be authorised to inspect ships, oil rigs, submarines, and other marine structures and issue certificates on behalf of the state under whose flag the ships are registered.
As well as providing classification and certification services, the larger societies also conduct research at their own research facilities in order to improve the effectiveness of their rules and to investigate the safety of new innovations in shipbuilding.
There are more than 50 marine classification organizations worldwide, some of which are listed below.
List of classification societies
- International Association of Classification Societies
- Category:Classification societies
- Prestige oil spill, an incident and following lawsuit that could have radically changed the role of class societies.
- European Maritime Safety Agency
- IACS, "What are classification societies?" (PDF), eagle.org, p. 2,
Such a certificate does not imply, and should not be construed as an express warranty of safety, fitness for purpose or seaworthiness of the ship. It is an attestation only that the vessel is in compliance with the standards that have been developed and published by the society issuing the classification certificate.
- The Sundancer (7 F.301 1077) per George C Pratt, Circuit Judge,
Put simply, the purpose of the classification certificate is not to guarantee safety, but merely to permit Sundance to take advantage of the insurance rates available to a classed vessel.
- Devanney, Jack (2006), The Tankship Tromedy, The Impending Disasters in Tankers (PDF), Tavernier, Florida: CTX Press, pp. 9–11, ISBN 0977647900
- Jack Devanney (2006): The Tankship Tromedy, The Impending Disasters in Tankers, CTX Press, Tavernier, Florida, ISBN 0-9776479-0-0, p. 21-23
- The Commission shares the concerns often expressed in various sectors of the maritime industry that the performance of classification societies does not always meet the standards required. COM(2000) 142 final, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the Safety of the Seaborne Oil Trade, p. 19
However, largely due to the commercial pressure exercised on the classification societies, and to the growing number of organisations operating in the field without having sufficient expertise and professionalism, the confidence of the shipping community in these organisations has declined in the recent decades. p. 23
- "Top 100 2012: the top 10 classification societies". Lloyd's List. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
- Since 2004 in Bureau Veritas
- IACS document explaining Classification societies
- ABS American Bureau of Shipping
- ACS Asia Classification Society
- ARS Register of Shipping Albania (Regjistri Detar Shqiptar)
- BKI Biro Klasifikasi Indonesia
- BRS Bulgarian Register of Shipping (Български Корабен Регистър)
- BV Bureau Veritas
- CCS China Classification Society
- CR CR Classification Society (former name: China Corporation Register of Shipping)
- CRS Croatian Register of Shipping (Hrvatski Registar Brodova)
- DBS Dromon Bureau of Shipping
- DNV Det Norske Veritas
- GBS Guardian Bureau of Shipping
- GL Germanischer Lloyd
- HRS Hellenic Register of Shipping
- IBS Isthmus Bureau of Shipping
- ICS Iranian Classification Society
- ICS Class Intermaritime Certification Services
- IRS Indian Register of Shipping
- IROS International Register of Shipping
- KR Korean Register of Shipping
- LR Lloyd's Register
- NK Nippon Kaiji Kyokai (ClassNK)
- OMCS Overseas Marine Certification Services (ClassOMCS)
- PRS Polish Register of Shipping (Polski Rejestr Statków)
- RBNA Brazilian Register of Shipping (Registro Brasileiro de Navios)
- RCB Registro Cubano de Buques (RCB Sociedad Clasificadora)
- RINA Registro Italiano Navale
- RINAVE Registro Internacional Naval
- RS Russian Maritime Register of Shipping (Российский морской регистр судоходства)
- RU Shipping Register of Ukraine (Регістр судноплавства України)
- SCM Ships Classification Malaysia
- TL Turk Loydu
- VRS Venezuelan Register of Shipping
- VR Vietnam Register
- ICSM International Classification of Ship Malaysia
- PMS Pacific Marine Services (PMSClass)