In an effort to improve safety standards and boost trade, China is accelerating work on its ship classification system.

After a trial operation, the China Classification Society is ready for its 11 full members to take international examinations of proficiency next year, said Dong Jiufeng, president of the Chinese agency.CCS, as it is known, was established as a nonprofit agency carrying out statutory surveys of ships and offshore installations on behalf of the government.

Mr. Dong said it has created a "comprehensive quality system," according to the International Association of Classification Societies. The latter's compulsory Quality System Certification Scheme has been adopted, he said.

Passing the international examination "will make a contribution to quality control and improvement of China's shipbuilding, offshore oil exploitation and marine insurance," Mr. Dong said.

CCS also will promote wider adoption of ISO 9,000 standards in the country's industry as a means of improving the export outlook for its yards. ISO certification, formulated by the European Community, is fast becoming a necessity in international business.

Classification societies date back to Lloyd's Register in the last century, formed to ensure standards in shipbuilding and operation. The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Bureau Veritas (France), Det Norske Veritas (Norway) and Germanischer Lloyds (Germany) are among the other main world societies.

The ABS has been recognized officially by the Chinese government as a classification society since last July, but has been active in advising Chinese yards for over a decade. Without certificates from a recognized society like the ABS, Chinese yards' customers wouldn't get Western bank loans for their ships.

Mr. Dong said more than 1,400 ships aggregating 12.2 million gross registered tons now bear the CCS stamp.

China is the world's third-largest commercial shipbuilder. State-run China State Shipbuilding Corp. received orders for 1.67 million deadweight tons of ships last year, one-third of which were for export.

From January to August this year, China said it built a record 840,000 tons of new ships, an increase of 55 percent over the 1992 period.

China is forecasting 1.2 million dwt. of completed new ships this year, up

from 1.1 million in 1992. Order books stand at more than 3 million dwt., the state firm says, second only Japan and South Korea.

Shan Jinming, deputy director of the shipboard and equipment bureau, said last week that this guarantees shipyards will be in full operation for the next two to three years.

The Chinese industry has annual capacity of more than 1.5 million tons, compared with just 700,000 tons in 1979. During the 1979-92 period, China exported ships totaling 3.3 million tons valued at US$3 billion to more than 30 countries and regions.

From originally making mainly military vessels, China has moved into bulk freighters, oil, liquefied natural gas and chemical tankers, car carriers and full containerships.

As it has developed, the Chinese industry has shifted from using mainly imported plans to using its own designs. This makes international certification even more vital.