Prior to an upcoming audit on board, either by a shipping company, a recognized organization, a flag administration or port state authorities, vessels and crew should be prepared appropriately. The inspector starts by taking a first general impression of the external vessel’s situation and focuses on oil leakages, load line marking and hull damages. Then, he continues deeply in all the vessel's spaces. The main preparation for the inspection is comprised of the following elements:
Ship certificates, manuals, safety plans and logbooks: Due to the fact that every inspection typically starts from the Master's office, all the necessary certificates must be available and valid on board for examination. Here are some of the most important certificates and documents that will be checked by Inspectors or Port State Control Officers: Certificate of Registry, Minimum Safe Manning, Ship Station License, Class certificate, International Tonnage Certificate, Document of Compliance(DOC), Safety Management Certificate(SMC), International Ship Security Certificate(ISSC), Cargo Ship Safety Construction Safety Certificate, International Oil Pollution Prevention Certificate, Maritime Labor Convention Certificate along with DMLC Part I & II, Oil record book, Muster list and emergency instructions, International Conventions(SOLAS, MARPOL etc.)Fire, damage and garbage control plans, cargo handling procedures, ship security plan and bridge log book.
Navigation & radio communication equipment: High standards of navigation are fundamental for the safety of the vessel, crew, cargo and environmental protection. The inspection usually continues in the bridge, where updated nautical publications and charts should be available. Also, voyage passage plans, lights, sounds signals and gyro compasses should be in proper working condition. Crew needs to ensure that LRIT is turned on, AIS is properly programmed and GMDSS & EPIRB is operating effectively. It is very important to ensure that the voyages are safe, smooth and effective and that standards of navigation and watchkeeping are maintained.
Crew certification & familiarization: Officers and ratings on board are mandatory to meet the Minimum Safe Manning composition, hold valid certificates and endorsements as per STCW requirements and have medical examination certificates. Additionally, crew members should be familiar with their duties and have effective communication with each other. Relevant drills for emergency cases are also a mandatory part of preparation.
Life saving equipment: Undoubtedly the safety of life at sea is one of the most important issues in the shipping industry. Lifeboats, life rafts, life jackets, lifebuoys and rescue boats should be valid and in good condition with the relevant launching devices, whistles and lights so as to prevent unpleasant situations. Additionally, we should point out the importance of on board crew training in the operation of life saving equipment.
Firefighting equipment: Fire is one of the major causes of accidents on board. Thus, during an inspection all fire protection systems and appliances must be in good order and available for use. Fire main piping along with the emergency fire pump need to be in good condition without signs of corrosion. Also, fire doors and fire dampers should be in accordance with the updated fire plan and portable fire extinguishers should be available on board and properly marked with the date of servicing.
Main & auxiliary machinery spaces: Engine room needs to be clean and main propulsion system, bilge pump, bilge alarms and oily water separator equipment to work properly. Also, all spaces need to have sufficient light and ventilation and emergency generators to be tested satisfactorily. It is very important also, tools and equipment to be stored properly and emergency exits to be clear. Additionally, documents and records related to dry docks and repairs of the vessel must be available.
Load Line: It is a fact that many incidents in sea occurred due to overloading. To prevent them, the stability and loading manual should be updated accordingly and load line and freeboard marks should be successfully painted according to the Load Line Certificate.
Safety: SOLAS training manuals must be available on board with specific instructions, escape ways need to be accessible without obstacles and pilot ladders are mandatory to be in good condition. One other important issue is the Muster List, which should be updated in the vessel's working language.
Deck & anchoring: Anchoring is a vital operation of a vessel and it is important to point out that hull, hatch covers, hatch coamings, weathertight closing appliances, related piping, anchoring and mooring devices need to be maintained in satisfactory condition.
MLC: Maritime Labour Convention, related to a set of regulations for protection at work, efficient living conditions, employment and health. In view of the above, crew on board need to have signed Seafarer Employment Agreements and wages to be paid in accordance with this agreement. Additionally, accommodation spaces should be clean and have proper lighting. Hospital should be properly equipped and spaces for storage of food should be in good condition. Ship is mandatory to be provided with enough drinking water, and food of valuable quality. Muster list and drills must be carried out at specific times.
ISM & ISPS code: Purpose of ISM code is to provide regulations for the safe management and operation of vessels and pollution prevention and ISPS code related to a framework that prevents security threats on board. The implementation of these codes is extremely important in the maritime industry. Thus, during an inspection, Relevant ISM manuals & procedures should be found updated on board in the vessel's language, along with any non-conformities and incidents. Crew should be familiar with the company's safety and environmental protection policy, and a certified Ship Security Officer must be on board, along with a person responsible for controlling access to the ship. Inspector will also investigate issues related to the emergency response team.
Considering all the above elements, it is important to mention here that we can consider an inspection successful only if the vessel and the crew meet the international regulations and standards, there are no detainable & ISM related deficiencies and outstanding deficiencies from previous inspections have been rectified. It is mandatory for shipowners to ensure that each ship is properly manned, maintained and operated safely. With the scheduled surveys during the year, and a good cooperation between flags and recognized organizations, many deficiencies on board can be prevented. It is highly recommended that the Master has all the necessary documents and certificates organized and ready for review and officers and ratings be familiar with their duties and with all vessel’s spaces and equipment. A warm welcome to the inspector in a polite way and presentation of all the identified issues with relevant corrective actions will be very helpful.