Regulation changes — 2017/2018

Updated 11 Oct 2019

Imo Gmdss

Safety is something that shipping needs to continually monitor and adapt to as new challenges arise. One of the new challenges that is sparking debate is the issue of autonomous ships. Autonomy comes in many degrees and with autopilot and unmanned machinery paces, many ships already have a degree of autonomy.

Going to the extremes of autonomy will possibly see completely unmanned ships in the future; these may be operated remotely from shore or possible by the use of AI on the ship itself. Although many see this as an unlikely future, there are supporters of the idea and the IMO at MSC 98 initiated a scoping exercise to begin to determine how unmanned ships might be regulated and what elements of the current IMO rules and regulations may need amending. The exercise is planned to run through until 2020 and doubtless there will be much input from interested bodies on both sides of the argument.

Cyberattacks are most often thought of as being aimed at the economic aspect of shipping by way of ransomware and similar threats. However, with more and more digitalisation of ship equipment especially navigation systems, the IMO has recognised that cyber security measures should also be taken in regard to safety. At MSC 98, it adopted a resolution on Maritime cyber risk management in safety management systems. The resolution reminds stakeholders that the ISM Code includes a requirement for all identified risks to ships, personnel and the environment to be assessed and for appropriate safeguards to be

established. While there is no mandatory element, flag states are being encouraged to ensure that cyber risks are appropriately addressed in safety management systems no later than the first annual verification of the company's Document of Compliance after 1 January 2021.

Also being discussed at the periphery of the regulatory process were the potential safety risks that may be encountered on the new breed of expedition cruise ships that are being ordered in greater numbers than ever before. Another topic of interest that has never really gone away

and which has been thrown into sharp focus in March 2018 is that of fires on container ships. Although regulatory measures taken following earlier incidents have come into force quite recently, the fact that incidents are still happening poses questions that will need answers.

SOLAS stability rules re-written

The question of passenger ship stability and subdivision had been a major issue at MSC since 2012 and at MSC 98 in July 2017 this culminated in a major revision of SOLAS chapter II-1, focusing in particular on passenger ships. The revision applies to cargo and passenger ships:

  • for which the building contract is placed on or after January 1 2020; or,
  • in the absence of a building contract, the keel of which is laid on or after July 1, 2020; or
  • the delivery of which is on or after January 1, 2024.

The revision includes:

  • revision of several definitions (draft, trim and bulkhead deck)
  • minimum metacentric height (GM) or maximum centre of gravity (KG) is to be accompanied by maximum permissible trim versus draught
  • higher degree of subdivision as per the revised subdivision index R for passenger ships
  • revision of the limits of heel for cargo ships fitted with cross-flooding devices
  • calculation of the probability to survive in the final equilibrium stage of flooding
  • coverage of small wells arranged in double bottoms o acceptance of butterfly valves, suitably supported by a seat or flanges and capable of being operated from above the freeboard deck, in lieu of screw-down valves in piping on cargo ships, which pierces the collision bulkhead for dealing with fluid in the forepeak tank
  • acceptable deviations of the minimum double bottom height in way of small wells, including wells for lubricating oil under main engines
  • specifications for carrying out damage control drills on passenger ships, which are to take place at least every three months

As a consequence of the many changes the IMO issued Resolution MSC.429(98) – revised explanatory notes to the SOLAS chapter II-1 subdivision and damage stability regulations.

A related issue ensuring that the master of passenger vessels receive support in determining stability resulted in approval of amendments to SOLAS II-1/8-1 that were expected to be adopted at MSC 99 in May 2018.

The amendments will enter into force on 1 January 2020. They require that the master on existing passenger ships constructed before 1 January 2014, is provided with on-board or shore-based computerised stability support for safe return to port after a flooding casualty not later than the first renewal survey after of 1 January 2020. SOLAS II-1/8-1 was previously revised in 2012 by resolution MSC.325(90) to require passenger ships constructed on or after 1 January 2014, to comply with these provisions so the new change brings in all other passengers built before that date.

The changes to the stability requirements were not the only changes to rules affecting passenger ships. Also adopted were amendments to SOLAS regulation II-2/ clarifying the requirements for fire integrity of windows on passenger ships carrying not more than 36 passengers and on special purpose ships with more than 60 (but no more than 240) persons on board and amendments to SOLAS regulations III/1.4, III/30 and III/37 on damage control drills for passenger ships. This change will require damage control drills to take place on all passenger ships from 2020.

Life-saving systems

The debate around lifeboat drill safety and the performance of systems has been a regular feature of recent MSC meetings and at MSC 98, the IMO adopted amendments to the LSA Code (chapter VI, section 6.1) relating to the proof load tests and safety factors that launching appliances and their elements have to withstand and related amendments to the Revised Recommendation on testing of life-saving appliances (resolution MSC.81(70)).

The IMO guidelines on safety during abandon ship drills using lifeboats and for developing operation and maintenance manuals for lifeboat systems have been reviewed since their adoption in 2016 as have the related SOLAS amendments which make them mandatory. The package of requirements, expected to enter into force on 1 January 2020, has made mandatory measures to prevent accidents with survival craft and to address longstanding issues such as the need for a uniform, safe and documented standard related to the servicing of these appliances, as well as the authorisation, qualification and certification requirements to ensure that a reliable service is provided.

Other safety measures approved

The 2017 set of draft amendments (04-17) to the IMSBC Code, to update requirements for a number of cargoes, was adopted at MSC 98. The amendments also included those relating to paragraphs 4.5.1 and 4.5.2, highlighting the responsibility of the shipper for ensuring that a test to determine the transportable moisture limit (TML) of a solid bulk cargo is conducted. Also included were amendments related to substances which are harmful to marine environment, to require the shipper to declare whether or not a solid bulk cargo, other than grain, is harmful to the marine environment.

Work at the MSC on the revision and modernisation of GMDSS is continuing and involves the MSC and the NCSR sub-committee. Although concrete details have yet to emerge, the plan envisages the development of amendments to SOLAS and related instruments for approval in 2021 and their adoption in 2022, with entry into force in 2024.

Regulation changes MSC 100

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 will 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.

2020 Fuel-related safety

Since 2016 and the IMO’s decision to cut the permitted sulphur level in fuels used outside of ECAs to 0.5%, debate has raged over how ships can best comply with the requirement. The cut is of course a MARPOL rather than a SOLAS matter and emissions and fuel choices are rightfully covered under the MARPOL convention.

However, many have argued that there is also a safety aspect to the new rules that has been mostly overlooked in the scrubber v LNG v new fuels debate. The safety issue is not merely a repeat of what took place when the permitted sulphur limits in ECAs were reduced some years ago, although it has to be said that the same concerns that arose them will come into play on a much wider scale.

Ships calling regularly to the four existing ECAs or to EU ports have by and large learned how to manage changeovers, but this will be new ground for many ships’ crews around the globe when the new rules come into effect on 1 January 2020. With so many new compliant fuels promised to be introduced in time for the new rules, concerns over compatibility and miscibility of the fuels have been raised. Thus, many believe there is a high risk of ships suddenly losing power or suffering engine damage, fires and explosions under certain circumstances.

At MSC 100, it was agreed for the committee to include in its agenda for MSC 101 a new item on “Development of further measures to enhance the safety of ships relating to the use of fuel oil”. This followed the consideration of submissions concerning the potential need for guidance and advice concerning possible safety issues related to the implementation of the 0.50% limit of the sulphur content of fuel oil outside emission control areas. At the same time, the committee endorsed the view that, while fuel safety was a longstanding existing concern which needed to be carefully addressed, this should not affect Member States’ commitment to implementing the 2020 sulphur limit from the date of application.

Member States and international organisations were invited to submit concrete proposals to MSC 101 in June 2019 under the new output. The scope of work was agreed as follows: “Based on the review of existing safety provisions for fuel oil and information concerning the safety implications associated with the use of fuel oil, develop further measures to enhance the safety of ships relating to the use of fuel oil.” The target completion date is 2021.

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73) in October 2018 invited the MSC to consider relevant safety issues associated with the use of low-sulphur fuel oil, following the Intersessional Working Group on Consistent implementation of regulation 14.1.3 of MARPOL Annex VI (ISWG-AP 1).

The MSC agreed that a joint MSC-MEPC circular on ensuring fuel suppliers deliver compliant fuels should be developed by the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 6) held in February 2019, with a view to approval by MEPC 74 and MSC 101. MSC also noted the initiative of industry organisations to develop guidance to address potential safety and operational issues related to the supply and use of 0.50% sulphur fuels. The potential problems were identified as:

  • Stability – Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil, which does not have the same stabilising effect as aromatic components in current fuels, can cause sludge build-up and blockage of centrifuges and filters due to the existence of paraffinic (wax) components.
  • Compatibility Issues – segregation of Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil (paraffinic-based versus aromatic-based) to facilitate proper management and handling.
  • Cold Flow Properties – proper temperature management is needed to mitigate wax crystal formation at temperatures below the pour point when operating in colder regions which can lead to blockages at the filters and reduced fuel flow to the machinery plants.
  • Acid Number – fuels with high acid number test results cause accelerated damage to marine diesel engines. However, there is no recognised correlation between an acid number test result and corrosive activity of the fuel.
  • Flashpoint – the expectation that distillates will be supplied with flashpoints less than the 60°C SOLAS requirement not only presents an increased risk of fire and explosion but violates SOLAS.
  • Ignition and combustion characteristics – operational problems, engine damage and even total engine breakdown can occur when using fuels with poor ignition and combustion properties.
  • Cat fines – abrasive wear of cylinder liners, piston rings and fuel injection equipment can occur if not sufficiently reduced by fuel treatment systems.
  • Low-viscosity distillate – this is highly temperature-dependent and requires proper temperature management to avoid viscosity less than 2cSt, which can challenge the performance of the fuel pumps.
  • Fuel Blending – clear cause and effect between blend components and associated operational problems is limited and there is a lack of statistical studies available to know which components are typically found in fuels and at what concentration.

As well as looking at the issues around new fuels, MSC 100 also approved revisions to the IGF Code which governs the use of gas and low-flashpoint fuels. The revisions apply to ships of 500gt and above and all passenger vessels using low-flashpoint fuels. The revisions will likely be adopted at MSC 101 and that it will assign the following dates to define new ships:

  • a building contract placed on or after 1 January 2021; or
  • in the absence of a building contract, the keel of which is laid or which is at a similar stage of construction on or after 1 July 2021; and
  • regardless of the building contract or keel laying date, the delivery is on or after 1 January 2025.The revisions include the following provisions:
  • Where cargo tank insulation and location make the probability for the tank contents to be heated up due to an external fire very small, higher loading limits than calculated using the reference temperature may be permitted, but not more than 95%.
  • Gaseous fuel pipes, except fully welded fuel gas vent pipes led through mechanically ventilated spaces, which pass through enclosed spaces, except piping in fuel preparation rooms or spaces surrounding all tank connections and valves, shall be protected by a secondary enclosure which may be a ventilated duct or a double-wall piping system.
  • Exhaust systems of internal combustion engines of piston type shall be equipped with explosion relief systems unless designed to accommodate the worst case overpressure due to ignited gas leaks or justified by the safety concept for the engine.
  • Crediting the use of fuel storage hold spaces as a cofferdam for type C tanks that are not located directly above category A machinery spaces or other rooms with high fire risk.

In another fuel-related measure, MSC 100 instructed its relevant sub-committees to consider parts of the draft interim guidelines for the safety of ships using methyl/ethyl alcohol as fuel prepared by CCC 5.

The detailed interim guidelines provide requirements for the arrangement, installation, control and monitoring of machinery, equipment and systems using these types of fuel to minimise the risk to the ship, its crew and the environment, taking into account to the nature of the fuels involved.

Measures relating to autonomous ships

In its considerations of autonomous shipping, the IMO is currently undertaking a scoping exercise that is aimed at determining which aspects of SOLAS will need changing and what new rules might be needed. This is a work in progress and is not expected to be completed until late 2020 but some progress has been made in agreeing on definitions of autonomy. As far as the IMO is concerned there are four degrees of autonomy identified for the purpose of the scoping exercise, which are:

  • Degree one; ship with automated processes and decision support: Seafarers are on board to operate and control shipboard systems and functions. Some operations may be automated and at times be unsupervised but with seafarers on board ready to take control.
  • Degree two; remotely controlled ship with seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. Seafarers are available on board to take control and to operate the shipboard systems and functions.
  • Degree three; remotely controlled ship without seafarers on board: The ship is controlled and operated from another location. There are no seafarers on board.
  • Degree four; fully autonomous ship: The operating system of the ship is able to make decisions and determine actions by itself.

Quite clearly there must be rules governing the interactions between ships and understanding of standard procedures that are demanded for safety reasons. Until the IMO has completed its deliberations on the issue of autonomous shipping, it will be for individual port and flag states to determine what the rules are and what is permitted in the state’s own waters.

A similar situation existed for ships using LNG as a fuel before the IGF Code was adopted. But there is a major difference: the use of LNG as a fuel did not directly affect other ships whereas a vessel that has minimal or no human control interacting with other ships that are conventionally operated could very well be a recipe for disaster.

It could also be argued that for the IMO to spend a lot of time and resource on an issue that may not even be commercially viable is a waste of effort that could be better directed elsewhere. A number of countries have delineated areas for testing autonomous ships but how successful the concept proves to be remains a matter of conjecture.

At MSC 100 in December 2018 it was agreed that a review of the IMO instruments under the purview of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) should be conducted during the first half of 2019 by a number of volunteering member states, with the support of interested international organisations. In addition, an intersessional MSC working group is expected to meet in September 2019 to move forward with the process with the aim of completing the regulatory scoping exercise in 2020.

The list of instruments to be covered in the MSC’s scoping exercise includes those covering safety (SOLAS); collision regulations (COLREG); loading and stability (Load Lines); training of seafarers and fishers (STCW, STCW-F); search and rescue (SAR); tonnage measurement (Tonnage Convention); Safe Containers (CSC); and special trade passenger ship instruments (SPACE STP, STP).

With particular regard to the testing of autonomous vessels by some member states, MSC 100 noted provisional principles for the development of guidelines on maritime autonomous surface ship (MASS) trials. The principles include ensuring that such guidelines should be generic and goal-based and taking a precautionary approach to ensuring the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of MASS. Interested parties were invited to submit proposals to MSC 101 in June 2019 taking into account these principles.

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