Q&A with Konstantin Petrov, IACS Accredited Representative to IMO, IACS

In a nutshell, how would you describe IACS’ main role?

IACS (International Association of Classification Societies) is a voluntary association of highly experienced technical organisations (known as "classification societies", with 260 years of experience) which believe that the unity of their actions on the safety of shipping benefits the general public. Therefore, the role of IACS is to find consensus on the most appropriate solutions and to work to unify measures which are designed to de-risk the construction and operation of ships. Within the Association, its Members (classification societies) work in panels, expert groups, and project teams to establish minimum technical standards and requirements which address maritime safety, security and environmental protection. An important element of IACS role is to ensure consistent application of those requirements by its members; it is achieved through a Quality System Certification Scheme (QSCS) with which its Members comply.


What is the biggest challenge facing IACS today at IMO?  

While individual classification societies are participating in projects that are exploring changes in technology and developing new tools to receive, analyse data and derive conclusions therefrom, the experience shows that a global industry usually expects globally acceptable solutions. In my opinion, the challenge facing IACS at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is to persuasively articulate to the IMO Member States and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) the acceptability of regulatory solutions to issues emerging out of the transformation of the industry, as a proven alternative to the accepted conventional safety regime. 

I do not believe it is an insurmountable challenge and in some respects a nice challenge to have, however, it requires extensive collective effort to manage and communicate the obtained knowledge, using the assembly of data and experience from application of new tools and technology, while in parallel demonstrating compliance with the conventional safety regime.  As per its historical model, IACS develops unified requirements based on rules and regulations already developed by individual IACS Members - everyone contributes with their own rules into the review and analysis process. However, in my observations, the speed of change in our current world, and associated elevated expectations, create a shift to the left of the time axis such that the "review and analysis" process needs to receive not the pre-developed individual rules but results of research and practical deployment of experimental projects which could then lead to the collaboration on the formulation of rule proposals in IACS projects. One or two classification societies can do their research and publish results, however, in my opinion, it would take a larger group of recognised peers to give those results the needed international credibility; this is where IACS comes in as a mechanism of that validation through review, debate and conclusions drawn on the basis of robust accepted procedures, in a manner similar to IMO and other recognised international institutions. 

That process also caters for the additional value which comes from exposing such IACS conclusions to a wider industry scrutiny through ad-hoc mechanisms of joint working groups, and as submissions to IMO where scopes overlap. Listening to comments of various interested parties, I believe that classification requirements or statutory proposals based on such early collaboration and wide international scrutiny is what is expected by flag States (with multiple recognized organisations), underwriters, industry, and others who work at IMO.


How do IACS and IUMI work together?

I consider that the two organisations have a well-established dialogue which leads to collaboration on critical technological fronts. Historically, insurance gave birth to classification societies; that umbilical cord remains the feeding mechanism supporting the functioning of both institutions: assessment of risks by insurers is based on the results of the work by classification societies, while the data accumulated by insurers contribute to the justification of the need to improve/develop classification requirements or proposals to IMO. 

The fundamentals of that relationship remain strong.  The present-day mutual reliance is becoming critical when one starts to consider the risks associated with deployment of new technologies.


Is there anything that you would like to see underwriters do differently or better?

I understand that to assess and manage their underwriting risks individual insurers accumulate information and data about the assets they insure. Some of the data are invaluable for the purpose of classification rule development. I recall a conversation with one syndicate back in 2003 when I needed to support the work of an IACS working group on machinery damages, aimed at improving IACS unified requirements. I was looking for a compilation of cases of machinery failures (not all are reported to class, but all are expected to be reported to underwriters). To my question: could you please share the details with IACS, I received the answer that it was not possible due to the competitive nature of the data.  While appreciating the business imperatives, I believe it would greatly assist to the sharpening of rule development if technical data (sanitised) becomes available to complement the analysis by classification societies to determine evidence to support a regulatory action. Recent examples of the dialogue between IUMI and IACS make a significant steps in that direction, and I hope that more will emerge.


If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in the shipping industry what would it be?

Forgive the banal observation, but the shipping world is as old as people and seas. So I fear no wands on their own would change it. Whilst the multitude of differences which are present in shipping, e.g. language, culture, people, background, designs, experience, etc. make it so fascinatingly and uniquely captivating, those differences also complicate it for the industry and the general public.  It would be nice if by magic anyone who is related to shipping or potentially influences it, or the general public for that matter, is supplied with "probably the oddest thing in the universe" - a babel fish tailored to shipping.  Then, may be, the industry may become easier to evolve, easier to explain to the general public, while still preserving the excitement of its differences.


If you were not in your current role what would be your ideal job?

For me the ideal job would have been the one I believed I would be doing when I was choosing my university education.  During my last years of high school I considered that I would go on to study astrophysics. However, with already two generations of naval architects in the family, my preferences have been overridden by their persuasive arguments. I do not regret following the advice of elders and do maintain an interest in astrophysics, quantum mechanics. 

What persuaded me into naval architecture was the versatility of the application of the knowledge; my grandfather (a respected naval architect) explained to me that "with the knowledge and skills one receives as a naval architect, one can design and build anything from the frying pan to a spaceship". As you can imagine, it’s the perspective of the latter that persuaded me to compromise towards naval architecture. With time I realised the significant value of the engineering profession to the society in general, where people use the creations of engineers in their daily life.


What do you like doing when not working?  

In the mornings, I like swimming and make myself go running. After work, I like cooking for the family (as they are always very complimentary of it, although I suspect there is an ulterior motive), reading books on history. During holidays, I enjoy travel, walking with friends and family. I still hope that there will come a time when I can go sailing.