A background to software on ship rules

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 12 November 2017


Within SOLAS there is only one instance of the word software appearing and that is in Chapter XII Additional safety measures for bulk carriers Regulation 11 Loading Instruments.

This regulation dates back to 1998 when, following a string of bulker casualties, the IMO determined that vessels above 150m in length must be equipped with a loading instrument. Although the term is a little ambiguous, it is generally accepted as meaning a PC with a dedicated program to calculate hull girder shear forces and bending moments, and to more readily compare the values with the permissible limits.

The IMO rule came about more or less simultaneously with requirements from IACS contained in UR21. However, the IACS requirement applied to vessels above 65m in length and not only the 150m required by the IMO. At MEPC 66 in April 2014, new rules requiring tankers and gas carriers to carry stability instruments were adopted. The rules required them to be mandatory on new vessels built after 1 January 2016 and fitted on board existing tankers built before that date at the first renewal survey or by 1 January 2021 whichever is earlier. Now that the January 2016 deadline has passed, the rollout programme is underway and should be completed by the later date.

Casualties still driving change

There may be more changes to the regulations governing loading instruments and more specifically the software used in them following the official report into the loss in 2015 of the US-flagged Con-ro vessel El Faro. The report was published in September 2017 and included two recommendations that relate to software.

The relevant section of the report is Section 10 recommendations. It reads as follows:-

Recommendation 7 - Approval of Software for Cargo Loading and Securing.
It is recommended that Commandant direct a regulatory initiative to require review and approval of software that is used to perform cargo loading and securing calculations. Furthermore, it is recommended that Commandant work with the IMO to implement international requirements for review and approval of such software.

Recommendation 8 - Review and Approval of Stability Software.
It is recommended that Commandant update policy to address Coast Guard review and approval of stability software, and delegate review and approval authority to ACSs, where appropriate. This should include establishing specific policy and assigning technical requirements for review and approval of stability software by the Coast Guard, which may be required to review and approve such software for vessels that do not fall under the Alternate Compliance Program (ACP) or Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 3-97 authorities.

It will be some time before these recommendations are discussed at the IMO and there is no certainty that their aims will be adopted. Nevertheless, they are noteworthy in that they recognise that it is software and not the loading instruments themselves that is the important element.

To some extent this has already been recognised as by 2006, the IMO had developed guidelines for the performance standards for stability instruments which were release in January 2007 in MSC.1/Circ.1229. The following year, the IMO produced its International code on intact stability known more usually as The IS Code 2008 in which a whole chapter (Chapter 4) deals with stability instruments. The code is almost 100 pages in extent and therefore not suitable for reproduction here.

Furthermore, most of chapter 4 of the code deals with aspects of the calculation rather than the software directly. The software is nevertheless subject to regulation and must be approved by the flag state when first installed and again if there are any modifications to either the ship or the software. It also has to be tested against more traditional means of calculations.

The software approval includes verification of type approval, if any, verification that the data used is consistent with the current condition of the ship, verification and approval of the test conditions and verification that the software is appropriate for the type of ship and stability calculations required.

The accuracy of the computational results and actual ship data used by the calculation program for the particular ship on which the program will be installed should be to the satisfaction of the flag state.

If any software related to stability measures such as sea keeping abilities of the vessel, evaluation of in-service inclining experiments and processing the results for further calculation, as well as the evaluation of roll period measurements is installed on board, such software should be reported to the flag state for consideration. Program functionalities should include mass and moment calculations with numerical and graphical presentation of the results, such as initial stability values, righting lever curve, areas under the righting lever curve and range of stability.

Noticeable by its absence

Elsewhere in SOLAS, regulation with direct regard to software itself is absent although reference to data capture and use appears frequently in regulations, equipment performance standards and guidelines. It is safe to assume that the ship should be able to rely on type approved equipment to meet the required standards using any embedded software or firmware as such is often referred to as.

When talking of shipping software, it should be recognised that some will be used on board and some in the shore offices of operators and other organisations such as crewing agencies and shipbrokers. What is used on shore will mostly fall outside of any regulatory regime although where it is part of an ISM/ISPS safety management or security system there may be
some requirement within the system itself for some form of official approval.

Shipboard software is also not subject to very much in the way of regulation but it is of course at the heart of so many modern technologies and since some products used on ships are subject to IMO performance standards and type-approval. The software on which these systems rely is also subject to scrutiny. The best examples of this are perhaps in loading computers and ECDIS.

Navigating and command software

Aside from the loading computer, the most obvious regulatory requirement for computers and software on board modern ships is the ECDIS. There are different means of achieving the ECDIS performance standards but while they may have different operating systems they are clearly little more than a marinised computer with appropriate software.

Just as with all types of software, improvements are continuous but while commercial organisations can chose which version to operate with, some change to the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) ECDIS display standards IEC 61174 adopted in 2015 have resulted in a requirement for all ECDIS units to need to be upgraded to meet the new requirements.

ECDIS units with an earlier edition of IEC 61174 remained valid until 31 August 2017 after which they should have been upgraded or the ECDIS replaced. The requirement is laid down in IMO circular SN.1/Circ.266, covering the maintenance of ECDIS software.
The requirement to upgrade is not possible with every early ECDIS set and some models have therefore been made obsolete by the new ruling. This has come as something of a surprise to early adopters of ECDIS but it is a foretaste of what can be expected to happen when computer equipment and software is mandated under regulations.

Facilitating trade

Since time immemorial, ships arriving at ports anywhere in the world have been required to complete certain formalities. Over centuries many regimes appeared so that in modern times a need existed for some degree of standardisation. The IMO FAL treaty, first adopted in 1965, was that attempt and it aimed at securing a high degree of uniformity in formalities and other procedures, including mandatory “Standards” and “Recommended Practices” on formalities, documentary requirements and procedures which should be applied on arrival, stay and departure to the ship itself, and to its crew, passengers, baggage and cargo.

These include standardised forms for the maximum information required for the general declaration, cargo declaration, crew list and passenger list; and agreed essential minimum information requirements for the ship’s stores declaration and crew’s effects declaration.

The basic forms will be familiar to all ships masters and port agents around the globe, and while there are subtle local variations and additional requirements in some ports, the paper documents are practically interchangeable. There are some software products aimed at ships that already exist that can produce the required documents but generally it has been left to port agents to complete the forms.

In April 2016 at FAL 40, the IMO adopted mandatory requirements for the electronic exchange of information on cargo, crew and passengers as part of a revised and modernised annex to the FAL Convention. The new standard relating to the obligation of public authorities to establish systems for the electronic exchange of information, within a period of three years after the adoption of the amendments, is among important changes in the revised Annex, which is expected to enter into force on 1 January 2018, under the tacit acceptance procedure.

There will be a transitional period of 12 months from the date of the introduction of such systems to make electronic transmission mandatory, during which period paper and electronic documents would be allowed. It remains to be seen what systems the public authorities will adopt and whether the software currently on the market will be compatible.

A number of countries already have systems for receiving electronic reports already up and running but there is as yet no universal standard. Among those in use some make use of XML standards, others Excel and others various versions of Electronic Data Interchange For Administration, Commerce and Transport (EDIFACT).

Since the reporting and clearing of ships also involves presentation of ships SOLAS safety and other documents as well as the information on the voyage, cargo and passengers, it is intended that electronic versions of ships certificates will also be included in the electronic exchange of information. Some flag states and classification societies have already begun issuing e-certificates and information on these should eventually be recorded on the IMO’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS) website.

Avoiding trouble

Computers may be a key aspect of modern ship operation but while generally reliable they can also be the weakest link in the operation and management procedures. Regardless of whether or not software used on board is subject to regulation, the most important thing is to ensure that it is protected from data corruption by equipment failure or virus/malware attack.

Cyber security has become a hot topic in recent times and while the onus will be on operators and crews to practise vigilance, the IMO is also taking an interest in the subject. This is not surprising given that vulnerabilities in systems could have an adverse effect on IMO plans for e-navigation and more.

At the FAL 41 meeting in April 2017 and later at MSC 98 in June 2017, the IMO approved guidelines on maritime cyber risk management.
The Guidelines were included in an annex to MSC-FAL.1/Circ.3 5 July 2017 GUIDELINES ON MARITIME CYBER RISK MANAGEMENT. They provide high-level recommendations on maritime cyber risk management to safeguard shipping from current and emerging cyberthreats and vulnerabilities. The guidelines also include functional elements that support effective cyber risk management.

Shipowners and managers should ensure that their ISM procedures protect essential equipment and in fact identification of essential equipment is a part of the ISM Code itself.

Where computers are considered as essential equipment they should be password protected and only persons with administrator rights allowed to add or change software. On no account should unauthorised and unlicensed software be installed as often this will be a potential route for viruses to infect the system. The computer hardware will, if type-approved, most likely have a protected power supply but if this is not the case and the software application is considered as being essential to the ship then actions should be taken to protect the hardware.

Cyberattacks could involve an attack or ‘hack’ of a company or ship’s IT network via internet connections. A major attack was perpetrated on the computer networks of AP Møller Maersk in the summer of 2017 and although it would appear that no ship was compromised and the problems suffered affected shore networks it was seen as a wakeup call for the industry.

Efficiency and emissions

A very large proportion of recent regulation from the IMO has been under MARPOL and related particularly to emissions and efficiency. The regulations do not impose any specific requirements in relation to software but whereas emission control relies mostly on technology, proving compliance and measuring efficiency can involve software products and services.

IMO regulation on CO2 reduction began a little later than other exhaust gases and although many measures such as SEEMP have a mandatory element, they do not actually require any efficiency savings to be made. That changed when the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) was developed. The EEDI rules came into effect in 2011 and as things stand place a requirement to reduce the emissions from ships by 30% over 2011 standards by 2025. As well as IMO rules, the EU has imposed upon itself a regional commitment to emission reduction under the 2015 Paris Agreement equal to a cut of 40% over 1990 limits by 2030 and has intentions to impose this on shipping despite the Paris Agreement specifically excluding shipping.

On the face of it, the EU target looks more stringent but since it is based on 1990 figures it may be seen as less onerous given the increase in efficiency of ships from 1990 to 2011.

Generally better designs and use of CFD as well as improvements in engines all contributed to efficiency savings. All told, efficiency savings of new ships over this period probably exceeded 10% and when slow steaming which became imperative following the 2008 economic upheaval is added the saving on some ship types conceivably extends to a conservative 15%. That added to the 30% demanded by EEDI will mean new ships in 2025 will probably be 45% or so more efficient than ships built before 1990.

Since the end of August this year, almost every vessel in the world commercial fleet above 5,000gt registered in an EU or EEA flag state or registered elsewhere but planning to call to an EU or EEA port must have taken the first step in complying with the EU Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) regulations.

From 1 January 2018 the regulations developed by the EU come into full force. This will mean that affected ships have to monitor and report on CO2 emissions based on ship fuel consumption. Reporting is on both a per-voyage and an annual basis, and emissions monitoring plans and reports must be verified by an accredited verifier.

The EU has pushed the IMO into imposing a similar system of MRV, although it begins a year later and, unlike the EU system which is planned as a precursor to bringing shipping into the EU’s emission trading scheme, is for recording purposes only. The EU has put further pressure on the IMO by requiring the IMO to take action for further reductions in CO2 before 2023.

For ships planning to make calls to ports in the EEA – effectively any EU member state plus Iceland and Norway – the EU rules are laid out in Regulation (EU) 2015/757 which is supplemented by Regulation (EU) 2016/2072 that covers the accreditation and appointment of verifiers and Regulation (EU) 2016/1927 which details the requirement for monitoring plans and which includes a very useful plan template. The regulation is easy to find online and is worth downloading for information and for the template itself.

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