No new rules yet but times are changing

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

24 May 2018

For the first time in many years, no new equipment requirements are scheduled for ships’ navigation purposes in the immediate future beyond the last phase of the ECDIS rollout. But as the command and control centre of the ship, developments in e-Navigation are ongoing and will have implications for the future.

After what seems like a decade and a half of new carriage requirements involving VDRs, AIS, SSAS, BNWAS, ECDIS and changes to radar standards, 2018 brings the need for any new equipment to an end for a short while. The final new requirements both occur with effect from 1 July and are the fitting of ECDIS on existing ships of between 10,000 and 20,000gt built before the roll out began. The other new requirement is more mundane and demands that fire-fighting parties be obliged carry two two-way portable radio-telephone sets. Regardless of ship type these must be explosion proof.

The last of the ECDIS rollouts does not mean that carriage is now universal as all cargo ships below 3,000gt and passenger vessels below 500gt are exempt as are all cargo ships other than tankers below 10,000gt and built prior to 1 July 2014. With most of the new initiatives around e-navigation putting ECDIS at the core, these exemptions are thought by some to be a serious omission.

E-navigation has been on the IMO’s agenda for more than a decade now and is still being discussed. The first draft of the Strategy Implementation Plan (SIP) dates back to MSC 85 in 2008 after which it was debated for several years before being adopted with a time frame spanning 2014 to 2019. There have been numerous changes to the plan and the time frame with an update version being scheduled for possible adoption at MSC 99 in May 2018.

The updated SIP was released by the Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR), following its fifth meeting in February this year. There are tentative dates stretching the initial time frame out to 2021 but with some aspects still to be finalised after that date.

The e-navigation plan adopted in 2014 has five central pillars that are needed for delivering a fit for purpose e-navigation framework. These are listed by the IMO as; improved, harmonised and user-friendly bridge design; means for standardised and automated reporting; improved reliability, resilience and integrity of bridge equipment and navigation information; integration and presentation of available information in graphical displays received via communication equipment; and improved Communication of VTS Service Portfolio (not limited to VTS stations).

There has been progress across all of these five topics although some of the more futuristic bridge systems that have been seen at recent equipment exhibitions would seem to indicate that harmonisation is an alien concept to some of the designers. Innovation in bridge design seems to be the order of the day with each supplier trying to differentiate their product from those of their competitors. It is however in the areas of standardised and automated reporting and VTS development that most of the latest activity is taking place.