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Summaries of EU Legislation

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Safety at sea: ship inspection and survey organisations

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Safety at sea: ship inspection and survey organisations

The European Union (EU) has established a legal framework that applies to the recognition and monitoring of the activities of organisations responsible for carrying out ship inspections and surveys on behalf of EU countries in their capacity as flag states.


Regulation (EC) No 391/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on common rules and standards for ship inspection and survey organisations.



It creates a system of licensing (recognition), which is subject to a number of criteria and obligations to ensure that a recognised organisation applies the same rigour to all ships in its register, irrespective of the flag the ships fly.


EU recognition scheme

EU countries must submit a request to the European Commission (EC) to gain recognition for an organisation.

Recognition is granted and managed centrally by the EC. It is a prerequisite for any organisation to be authorised by an EU country to perform statutory inspections and surveys of ships flying its flag (Directive 2009/15/EC).

To obtain recognition, the organisation must comply with the following minimum criteria:

  • have a legal personality;
  • have professional excellence;
  • have experience;
  • be independent;
  • be governed by a code of ethics; and
  • use a certified quality management system.

The EC may require the organisation to take preventive and remedial action if it fails to fulfil the requirements or when its performance in the areas of pollution prevention and safety has worsened significantly.

Fines, periodic penalty payments and withdrawal of recognition

The EC may impose fines on a recognised organisation when worsening performance or serious or repeated failure to meet the minimum criteria or obligations of this regulation reveals serious shortcomings in the organisation’s structure, systems, procedures or internal controls. A fine may also be imposed if the organisation provides deliberately incorrect or incomplete information in the context of its assessment.

The EC may also decide to issue periodic penalty payments against the recognised organisation if it does not implement the required remedial and preventive measures.

The EC may decide, upon request from an EU country or on its own initiative, to withdraw recognition under specific circumstances. These may arise, in particular, when there is either serious and repeated failure to meet the regulation’s minimum criteria or requirements, or poor performance constitutes an unacceptable threat to safety or the environment.

Commission Regulation (EU) No 788/2014 lays down detailed rules for the imposition of fines and periodic penalty payments and the withdrawal of recognition.

Assessment of organisations

The EC, together with the EU country which submitted the request for recognition, must assess the recognised organisations at least every 2 years. Assessors must check compliance with the obligations and minimum criteria and pay special attention to safety, pollution prevention and casualty records.

Rules and procedures

Recognised organisations are requested to consult with each other with the aim of harmonising their rules and procedures and defining the conditions required for the mutual recognition of the class certificates issued for materials, equipment and components. Certificates of marine equipment conforming to Directive 96/98/EC (or, after 18 September 2016, Directive 2014/90/EU) must be accepted by recognised organisations for classification purposes.

Independent quality assessment and certification entity

Recognised organisations must set up an independent quality assessment and certification entity which is responsible for assessing and certifying their quality management systems. The work of the entity must be periodically assessed by the EC.


Rules and procedures: the technical standards produced by a recognised organisation for the design, construction, equipment, maintenance and survey of ships.

Recognised organisation: an organisation recognised in accordance with Regulation (EC) No 391/2009.

Class certificate: a document issued by a recognised organisation certifying the fitness of a ship for a particular use or service in accordance with the rules and procedures laid down by that organisation.


Directive 2009/15/EC, adopted at the same time as Regulation (EC) No 391/2009, sets up the legal framework governing relations between Member States and recognised organisations.

For more information, see the European Commission’s EU actions on maritime safety and environment protection website.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 391/2009



OJ L 131 of 28.5.2009, pp. 11-23.

last update 23.04.2015