As the first string to the IMO bow, SOLAS appears to have been somewhat relegated in importance in recent years with environmental measures grabbing most of the headlines and attention from outside the world of shipping. However, that is not to say that safety is completely forgotten and with two IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) meetings each year and numerous sub-committee meetings also taking place, some element of safety is always under review or undergoing changes. Last year (2018) also saw an auspicious milestone take place with the 100th MSC meeting being held at IMO headquarters in early December.
It could also be said that many aspects of ship operations that have safety implications have not really changed very much over time and it is not so much new regulation that is needed as more adherence to best practices and a less cavalier attitude to safety that is best managed by ships’ officers and shipowners’ in-house procedures and practices.
The last 12 months of safety-related regulation has been dominated as much by future events as longstanding issues. Official reports of MSC 99 and MSC 100 have both opened with the subject of autonomous surface ships. Autonomy comes in varying degrees and does not necessarily mean unmanned, although that is the usual interpretation of the term.
Further down the agenda, other subjects have also been progressed some of which will require many changes to SOLAS.
First of these is the GMDSS system which is undergoing a thorough overhaul. That work is still ongoing but, at long last, Iridium has been accepted as the first satellite service provider other than Inmarsat to be recognised as meeting GMDSS requirements. This will require changes to SOLAS Chapter IV where all references to Inmarsat must be replaced with references to a recognised mobile satellite service.
Iridium itself has now completed its NEXT satellite constellation and is in the process of developing the equipment needed to meet its role as a GMDSS provider. Until the equipment is type-approved and available, Iridium cannot actually be accepted as meeting the current requirements of GMDSS.
At MSC 99, amendments to SOLAS regulations II-1/1 and II-1/8-1, concerning computerised stability support for the master in case of flooding for existing passenger ships, were adopted. The amendments are expected to enter into force on 1 January 2020.
Also adopted were amendments to update the IMDG Code (Amendment 39-18). These include new provisions regarding IMO type 9 tanks, a set of new abbreviations for segregation groups and new special provisions for carriage of lithium batteries and vehicles powered by flammable liquid or gas. The amendments are expected to enter into force on 1 January 2020, although governments were invited to apply them on a voluntary basis from 1 January 2019.
Some other changes in relation to other aspects of safety are scheduled for adoption at MSC 101 in June 2019 including a provision under the LSA Code for the dedicated rescue boat on cargo ships to be manually launched (in lieu of being fitted with stored mechanical power) provided its mass does not exceed 700kg in its fully equipped condition without the crew and that a means is arranged to bring and hold the craft against the ship’s side so that persons can embark safely. A decision on the application statement of these provisions will be decided prior to adoption at MSC 101.
MSC 100 also approved a comprehensive set of revisions for the carriage requirements of products in Chapter 17 of the IBC Code, primarily as a consequence of the revised Chapter 21 on the criteria for assigning carriage requirements for products subject to the IBC Code. Additionally, specific products are now required to undergo prewash procedures under MARPOL Annex II. Chapter 15 was revised to require hydrogen sulphide detection equipment to be provided on board ships carrying bulk liquids prone to its formation. Similar amendments were approved for the BCH Code. Entry into force of the amendments is subject to adoption by MEPC 74 in May and then MSC 101.
Fatigue has been cited as a root cause in many incidents on ships and at MSC 100 Guidelines on Fatigue were adopted. These aim to provide for more practical and non-academic text so as to be more user-friendly. In providing information on the causes and consequences of fatigue and the risks it poses to the safety and health of seafarers, the revised guidelines aim to raise awareness of all parties leading to better management of fatigue.