Maritime classification societies were born out of a need to ensure the continued safety and security of the maritime domain with respect to the vessels and the various marine aiding constructions. The role of a classification society is thus quite set and of utmost importance.
In the absence of classification societies for ships, there would be no benchmark or guideline standards for vessels and other constructions to adhere to.
The initial practice by a group of merchant marine underwriters to try and come up with a distinct module for the assessment of ships, in the mid-1700s in London, England led to the formation of the first classification society.
This module involved assigning various notational systems for vessels so that in case of any problems arising later on, the insurance processes could be aided better.
Since these marine underwriters used to assemble at a coffee house called the Lloyd’s Coffee House, the compilation of their notations and specifications became to be known as the Lloyd’s Register, which officially came to existence in the year 1764.
In the years following, there have emerged various other classification societies for ships, like the Det Norske Veritas in the year 1864, Germanischer Lloyd in the year 1867 and Bureau Veritas in the year 1828.
Role and Significance of a Classification Society
At present, more than 50 classification societies exist. A classification society is required to notate grades or classes for vessels, vessel structuring and its maintenance along with the structuring aspect of various constructions located in the high seas.
However, the core point is that while a classification society for ships annotates the necessary classification, it’s not an official body per se. In consideration of this, classification societies do not take any responsibility in case of vessels not meeting with the prescribed standards, encounter an accident.
At the same time though, the conventions of UNCLOS and SOLAS have made special provisions to specify that in the better interests of the shipping community, vessels need to be classed. There is a specific association of classification societies known as the IACS (International Association of Classification Societies).
In order to be a part of this association, a classification society needs to comply with its set stipulations. A senior official of each of the 50 classification societies is a representative of his society in the IACS. Similarly, while each classification society has its own charter of rules and regulations, there are some common grounds which are laid down by all the members of the IACS.
A classification society for ships helps to achieve the following:
- Coming up with a detailed notational system for the vessels and constructions to be graded
- Ensuring that the vessels and constructions comply with this grading system by carrying out appropriate appraisals
- Assigning the required class or grade to a vessel and continued appraisals to ensure that the vessels adherence to the prescribed class notations
Right from the blueprints of a vessel’s designing till its constructional aspects, the classification societies are required to pay strictest attention. However there are certain omissions like individual inspection of parts and components utilised in the ships’ or any other marine constructions’ structuring.
Classification societies have been incorporated into the maritime system quite seamlessly. They have been a vital cog in the overall maritime operations for more than two centuries, an early development quite unlike any.