the earliest times, the sea has always been synonymous with
insecurity for those who venture on to it. He that would sail
without danger must never come on the main sea, as the proverb
puts it. This endemic absence of safety probably explains why
early maritime trade was mainly the preserve of adventurers. The
sea was associated with the idea of chance or fate. a concept
still to be found in expressions such as "maritime perils".
Seaborne transport developed in such a laissez-faire way that
the many accidents of which bold navigators were victims were
soon accepted as part of the natural course of things. As a
leading contemporary professor of maritime law puts it, The
frailty of the human factor, in the face of the inexhaustible
and indefinable sea, confers on the effort of navigation the
character of a bold venture, which may succeed and prove quite
profitable, but which can also fail and cause irreparable
The history of navigation since ancient times
shows that the needs of safety came only
gradually to the fore, in the wake of accidents
and disasters, bringing about huge changes in
the individual and collective behaviour of those
engaged in maritime activities, who clung to
ancient practices and habits.
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It might be thought that there were relatively
few risks at sea in olden times, when craft of
modest size, and few in number, using sails or
oars as their mode of propulsion, never ventured
far from the coast. In fact, the period was one
of persistent insecurity, making sea voyages
extremely hazardous. In addition to bad sea and
weather conditions, piracy was rife throughout
the Mediterranean. Ships were hard to handle and
could so easily be tossed about by winds and
currents. Shipwrecks, usually caused by storms,
remained a frequent occurrence.
Until the end of the Roman
Empire, seafarers were ill equipped to confront
bad weather. Passengers and bulky cargoes were
packed together on deck. Ships were loaded well
beyond safety limits. Navigators knew little
about winds. Derisory efforts were made to
combat storms: the ship was bound round with
ropes fore and aft, to prevent it splitting
apart, and an anchor was dragged behind to slow
down its progress.
Another method of dealing
with imminent danger was to cast objects
overboard: the cargo, rigging and even victuals
were jettisoned to lighten the vessel. The
decision was taken by the pilot, the ship's
owner, or the most prominent or experienced
passengers. The Romans: adopted their own
interpretation of the practices of navigators
from the island of Rhodes. The Lex Rhodia de
Jactu stated that, if part of the cargo had to
be jettisoned, the loss was to be borne by the
owner of the ship and the owners of the cargo.
This provision survives in modern maritime law,
with the system of "general average".
One of the most effective
preventive measures was a ban on sailing in
winter, putting the seas out of bounds during
the worst weather.
The ban was not applied uniformly. In Rome, the
period during which navigation was permitted
lasted only from 27 May to 14 September. Certain
calendars were even more restrictive, providing
for a period of only fifty days starting at the
summer equinox. The practice of laying-up in
winter was justified mainly by meteorological
conditions, particularly the dreadful storms.
Cloudy skies often made it impossible to observe
the stars, customarily used to determine the
direction of the ship. The ban on sailing was
accompanied in Roman law by an administrative
penalty: no ship could leave port unless it held
a dimissorium, a kind of sailing permit issued
by the appropriate official.
Ultimately, the safety of a
voyage rested on the shoulders of a single man,
the equivalent of the captain in ancient times.
He bore technical responsibility for and the
choice of the safest route and ports of call.
However, his decisions were overridden by
shipowners anxious to earn higher profits by
sailing even in bad weather. Some ships took
even greater risks than warships, and this
explains the frequency with which shipwrecks
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Conditions of navigation
underwent very little significant change
throughout the Middle Ages. Ships stayed in port
in winter. Until the end of the l8th century,
the Levantines sailed only from 5 May to 26
In the Baltic, maritime traffic was banned
between Martinmas and Saint Peter's Day (22
February), on pain of confiscation of the cargo.
Ships never went out of sight of the coast.
Open-sea navigation was initiated in the
Mediterranean from the 13th century, but not
until the 15th century in the North. Hanseatic
mariners found the position of their ships by
using a sounding lead to measure the depth of
the seabed at any point on their voyage.
Advances in ship safety did
occur in the Middle Ages, with the
implementation of the first preventive rules on
loading. According to commentators, these
originated in the Lex Rhodia. From the mid-13th
century, the maritime authorities in large
Mediterranean ports introduced very strict
legislation on freeboard, in order to combat the
abuses of unscrupulous shipowners and captains
who overloaded their ships, at the risk of
losing them, in order to earn more from the
The very first regulations appeared in Venice in
1255. They made it illegal to exceed the
draught, marked on each ship by a cross. Similar
provisions were to be found in Cagliari and Pisa
at the same period, and also in Barcelona, in
the decree issued by Iago de Aragon in 1258, and
in the maritime statutes of Marseilles in 1284.
The most elaborate regulations appeared in the
14th-century Genoese statutes.
In 1330, the maritime
authorities in Genoa had already laid down not
only very precise rules for calculating the
maximum draught of certain ships, but also an
inspection procedure and a whole range of
penalties for anyone contravening the rules. The
Afficium Gazarie appointed officials to measure
ships in accordance with the rules in force, and
attend to the affixing of irons to the hull, the
precursors of loadlines. On every voyage, the
captain or owner had to designate two of the
merchants on board to keep watch on these iron
markers. A system of guarantee payments and
fines ensured that the law was applied strictly.
Despite these measures,
shipwrecks remained a common occurrence in the
Mediterranean, particularly during the winter
season. A single storm, such as occurred in 1545
in the Adriatic, could sink fifty vessels.
Northerners relied on repression: the
Hanseatic League introduced very severe
criminal legislation to discourage the most
audacious adventurers. Measures applied mainly
to the pilot, who was responsible for directing
the ship. The Sea Laws of Oleron mention very
stringent penalties for anyone failing in his
duty. The captain, who exercised absolute
authority on board, was empowered to cut off the
luckless pilot's head if by ignorance he had
endangered the cargo and the crew. In fact,
these punishments were so barbarous that they
were practically never applied.
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As the modern age dawned, the growth of seaborne
trade, marked by an increase in the number of
ships, their greater speed and capacity, and the
value of the property transported in them,
provided an incentive for the introduction of
policing methods among the major maritime
Preventive rules became
more generalised. A Spanish ordinance of 1563
required shipbuilders and owners to see to the
perfect seaworthiness of their vessels, check
the low water level, and lash the cargo securely.
A Venetian law of 8 June 1569 prohibited
shipowners from placing goods at certain places
on the ship. In France, an edict on the
Admiralty issued by the French king Henri III in
March 1584 required maritime cities to oversee
the abilities of ships' captains. The Marine
Ordinance of August 1681 devoted a whole section
to seamen and ships.
The most innovative measure consisted of
stipulating ship surveys by the authorities in
order to prevent accidents caused by the poor
condition of a ship or inadequate equipment.
Northern countries were the first to impose a
system of surveys. The Recesses of the Diet of
the Hanseatic League of 1412, 1417 and 1447
contain references to this requirement. The Low
Countries Ordinance of 1549 instituted a double
survey, before and after loading of the cargo.
The Genoese law of 1607 entrusted surveys to the
"magnificent curators of the sea".
In France, organization of
the administrative supervision of shipping in
ports dates back to Colbert's Naval Ordinance,
which introduced the office of
huissier-visiteur, or surveyor. A Royal
declaration of 17 August 1779 completed these
provisions by instituting the requirements of
dual survey of ships, on the outward voyage and
on the return trip. The most important text was
adopted under the Revolution, with the Act of 9
August 1791 concerning navigational policing.
This laid a strict obligation on captains of
ships equipped for long voyages to solicit a
survey before equipment and then before loading
of the vessel. Inspections were carried out by
surveyor-officers or surveyor-inspectors,
consisting of certain navigators, builders or
carpenters, appointed by the Commercial Courts,
or by the local Mayor.
Despite these measures,
risk prevention remained a very rudimentary
matter. The safety of maritime trade was ensured
mainly by introducing legislation to provide
compensation and protection for the financial
interests of shipowners. An original legal
system was gradually established, based on the
principle that the various parties with an
interest in maritime transport had to bear their
share of liability, and that only they were
concerned with such problems.
Several legal provisions met these requirements:
joint ownership of ships, for instance, aimed at
reducing hazards by sharing risks. Other
mechanisms, such as bottomry, allowed their
A third technique met with prompt success. It
consisted of the involvement of a third party,
the insurer, who took the place of the person
normally bearing the risk.
The events that led to accidents remained
largely unknown and highly diversified, so that
legislation to define the sharing of liabilities
and repair of damage finally appeared as the
most cogent solution and the most appropriate
answer to the problem of insecurity.
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innovations that accompanied the Industrial
Revolution encouraged the development of
maritime transport during the 19th century. The
most important developments were undoubtedly the
introduction of steam-powered engines on board
ships and the construction of iron and then
steel hulls. These technical advances were
accompanied, however, by an increase in risks at
sea, corresponding to the greater number, size
and speed of the vessels engaged in trade.
Accident statistics reflect the acuteness of the
problem: during the winter of 1820 alone, more
than two thousand ships were wrecked in the
North Sea, causing the deaths of twenty thousand
The principal attempts to achieve greater safety
took place within a purely private framework:
administrative supervision of shipping was
regarded as a hindrance to free trade. There
were fears of over-zealous states adopting
excessively restrictive and invasive
regulations, out of place in an industry subject
to such fierce international competition. It was
generally considered that the proper interest of
the shipowner, who had committed all his wealth
to the acquisition of ships, ultimately
represented the best guarantee of safety for all
concerned. This laissez-faire attitude remained
predominant through the first half of the 19th
century, which saw the birth of the earliest
classification societies. These purely private
organizations made a fundamental contribution to
the assessment of the safety of merchant ships
by providing maritime insurers with accurate and
regular information on the quality of shipping
and ship equipment.
The middle of the century marked a decisive
turning point on the issue of safety at sea,
with the proliferation of preventive rules,
increasingly introduced within an official
framework. Two essential factors explain this
growing state interventionism:
- Maritime transport was
becoming a real industry, and so it was normal
for the authorities to exercise their general
policing powers, to monitor the safety
conditions on board ships. This was in the
interests of seamen, but also of the increasing
numbers of other people who went on board ships.
Gradually, industrial legislation affecting
equipment, manpower and operating conditions
were applied to the merchant navy;
- The need to harmonise
national rules, habits and customs in the yea of
navigation also helped reinforce the role of
States, the only entities entitled under
international law to sign agreements, treaties
and other mandatory instruments.
resulted in an extraordinary increase in the
number of public law provisions relating to the
safety of ships and navigation.
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Two countries that displayed considerable
transformations in preventive regulations and
ship survey procedures were France and Britain.
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Promulgation of the 1808
Commercial Code did not make any fundamental
changes in the previous system. It repeated
provisions on surveys of departing ships laid
down in 1779 and 1791 texts. These requirements
concerning annual surveys were gradually
extended to other vessels: steamships under the
terms of an order of 17 January 1846, fishing
craft and vessels engaged on home-trade
navigation, under the Decree of 4 July 1853,
ships carrying emigrants under the Act of 18
July 1860, steam packets under the Decree of 11
September 1896, and lifesaving equipment, under
the Decree of 26 June 1903.
From 1870, legislation on the carriage of
dangerous goods was introduced. Loading and
unloading of such cargoes were regulated by a
Decree of 2 September 1874.
Laws on merchant shipping,
adopted on 29 January 1881 and 30 January 1893.
and the Decree of 1st February 1893 reinforced
inspection procedures. This Decree stipulated
annual surveys of steamships by surveillance
commissions instituted by the Préfets of
territorial Departments, in the various ports
involved in such navigation. A navigation
license was issued to the shipowner by the
Préfets, after examining survey reports. Despite
their complexity, surveys remained incomplete,
and indeed certain ships were never inspected.
Surveys were now periodic, and no longer
coincided with a ship's voyages, so that they
were less effective. They were confined to the
strength and equipment of the vessel, and were
concerned neither with the loading of the ship
nor the abilities of the crew. There was also
criticism of the impartiality of the surveyor
captains, who were often indulgent towards
substandard ships, particularly whenever they
belonged to shipowners who were members of the
commercial court to which the surveyors owed
The whole system underwent far-reaching changes
under the Act of 17 April 1907, completed by two
Decrees on 20 and 21 September 1908. These
measures introduced public health and safety
rules on navigation. They covered every aspect
of ship safety, building and preservation
conditions, equipment and installations,
conditions of loading and operation. The Act
also set up a body of navigation inspectors
responsible for carrying out ordinary and
special departing surveys. Regarded as the basis
of modern French regulations, these
standard-setting and administrative provisions
mark the final preeminence of state control of
rules of on maritime safety.
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Under the pressure of
public opinion, disturbed by the recurrence of
accidents, at sea, British legislators, like
those in France, sought to strengthen the safety
of maritime transport. This interventionist
attitude, however, came up against the
resistance of traditional maritime circles, with
little inclination to accept state interference
in private business. Finally, interventionism
was to win in gradual stages, culminating in the
adoption of very detailed preventive regulations
affecting the whole sector.
This trend began in 1836
with the appointment of a Parliamentary Select
Committee to examine the causes of the steady
increase in shipwrecks. The investigation drew
attention to ten determining factors, including
defective construction, inadequate equipment,
imperfect state of repair, improper and
excessive loading, incompetence of masters.
drunkenness among officers and crew, and marine
insurance which inclined shipowners to disregard
safety. A first aerie of measures was introduced
after the publication of the parliamentary
report. In 1839, restrictions were placed on the
transport of timber deck cargoes in the North
Atlantic. In 1840 appeared the first rules on
lights and traffic at sea. From 1846, passenger
ships had to be inspected by officially approved
The most important advance
came with the Merchant Shipping Act of 1850.
This legislation marked the real start of State
action under the auspices of the Board of Trade,
which had the task of monitoring, regulating and
controlling all issues relating to merchant
shipping, and more specifically the safety of
ships and the working conditions of seamen, in
order to correct the serious abuses that had
been found. A bill passed in 1854 strengthened
the powers of this government body. Also adopted
was a whole series of technical provisions
concerning safety equipment on wooden ships. The
law also required iron ships to be fitted with a
collision bulkhead and engine bulkheads.
However, these measures had little effect, and
an average of two thousand ships were lost
annually. In 1867 alone, there were 1,313
shipwrecks causing the death of 2,340 British
sailors and 137 passengers.
In 1873, a Royal Commission
was set up to investigate the claimed
unseaworthiness of British vessels, particularly
the conditions of loading. A member of
Samuel Plimsoll, made a number of
observations, denouncing the scandal of "coffin
ships". A year after the publication of his
manifesto, Parliament adopted the Merchant
Shipping Act of 1876, known as the "Plimsoll
Act". This laid down new requirements, with
criminal penalties for shipowners found guilty
of operating ships that presented a risk for
human life. The Board of trade was for the first
time authorised to detain substandard ships
coming to take on cargoes in British ports.
The Plimsoll Act, which
instituted draught of water marks, put an end to
the dangerous practice of leaving the captain
complete discretion as to loading. The new
regulations banned bulk loading of grain, in
order to prevent the cargo shifting, and grain
in sacks as deck cargo. Any infringement
warranted the arrest of the ship. The Act also
required all merchant vessels of more than 80
tons to display a maximum loadline. Despite its
very stringent provisions, the Plimsoll Act did
not put an end to the scandal of shipwrecks. In
1882, more than three thousand seamen and three
hundred and sixty passengers perished in more
than 1,120 shipping accidents to British
Another Royal Commission
was appointed in 1884, to try and end this
dismal record. In its final report, published in
1887, the Commission recommended several
improvements to the safety of steamships, which
had gradually replaced sailing ships. In 1890,
the Merchant Shipping Load Line Act laid down
official rules for freeboard tables and
calculations. These had been introduced five
years earlier, on an experimental and purely
voluntary basis, by the Board of Trade, which
relied on the work of Lloyd's Register and
Bureau Veritas to give them formal expression.
Up to the end of the century, the British
legislative armoury was strengthened by many
provisions, though without altering its
fundamental mechanisms. The basic regulations,
laid down in the 1894 Merchant Shipping Act, as
amended by the Act of 21 December 1906,
increased the seaworthiness and safety of ships,
and health arrangements on board. Loadline
requirements were applied to all vessels,
including foreign ships visiting British ports.
Interventionism finally triumphed in all the
major maritime nations, which followed the
British model: Denmark with the Acts of 13
February 1890, 14 May 1909 and 3 January 1911,
Sweden with the ordinance of 1st July 1898,
Norway with the Acts of 13 February 1890, 14 May
1909 and 3 January 1911, 1st July 1898, Norway
with the Acts of 9 June 1903, 3 October 1908, 24
April 1906, 8 August 1908 and 14 July 1909. On 7
June 1902, Germany promulgated an Act concerning
seafarers. The Netherlands adopted a shipping
bill on 1st July 1909, United States regulations
on safety .at sea were set out in the Seamen's
Act of March 1915. Spain drew up measures
similar to British legislation with its two
Decrees of 18 January 1924 concerning safety on
board ship and lifesaving appliances.
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The 19th century also saw
the first regulations on navigation at sea.
Around 1840, with the earliest steamships, a
number of nations became concerned about what
steps could be taken to avoid collisions and
shipwrecks. At the time, each of them acted
separately. No ships carried navigation lights,
except warships travelling in squadron by night.
Whenever two vessels approached each other, it
was customary to show one's presence by hoisting
a flag or lighting a flare. British ships
applied the signalling rules proposed by W.D,
Evans, regarded as the father of present-day
The simplicity and
effectiveness of British rules were appreciated
by seamen in all countries, to such an extent
that France, where maritime circles had long
been calling for uniform legislation, signed an
agreement in 1848 with Great Britain about the
lighting of steamships. This was not exactly an
international convention, but simply the
acceptance of identical general rules in both
This first agreement met with resounding
success, however, for its provisions were
immediately copied and adopted by other leading
France and Britain
subsequently signed other agreements, gradually
setting up a proper maritime traffic policing
force. An 1852 agreement covered signalling for
sailing ships. In 1856, a series of rules on
maritime signals established a communications
guide containing 78,000 combinations of only
Another agreement in 1856 set standards for
navigation in fog, and in 1862 the first joint
rules for routes at sea were laid down. In 1884,
the two countries signed a treaty on lighting of
fishing boats and special signals to be assigned
to telegraph cable-laying ships.
All these rules were
gradually introduced into French regulations on
collision avoidance, with the Decrees of 28 May
1856, 19 September 1879, 1st September 1884 and
21 February 1897.
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The quest for some
uniformity of national rules and customs
regarding safety at sea has intensified
throughout the 20th century. But
before going back over the main steps in this
internationalisation of maritime law, it is
worth summarising the causes of the trend.
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Several factors incited the
major maritime nations to set up joint safety
· Problem of the high
The intention was to set
the conditions for exercising the freedom of the
high seas in the interests of the whole
international community, and also to avoid
anarchy leading to dangerous conditions for
maritime navigation. The introduction of
maritime traffic policing raised no problem in
those parts of the sea that were the territorial
waters of coastal countries, whose governments
had full latitude to introduce whatever
standards they pleased. The problem mainly
involved the high seas, where the principle of
freedom traditionally prevailed. It was very
soon realised that it was in everyone's interest
to agree on a minimum of rules to be respected,
for both signals and traffic. These came to form
the "common law of the sea'", covering rules for
navigation, rescue and collisions.
· Foreign ships in port
In the early years of the
century, every State laid down its own
conditions for the control of ships in its
ports. Three examples illustrate this regulatory
and administrative diversity. In Britain, the
1906 Merchant Shipping Act officially applied
loading and minimum loadline requirements to
foreign ships. In France, the provisions of the
1907 Act on crews referred only to French ships,
while those concerning surveys applied to both
French and foreign vessels. The United States
Seamen's Act of March 1915 applied to foreign
ships sailing from American ports. But in
practice, steamships not carrying passengers
This range of provisions resulted in
considerable uncertainty, for the navigational
permits and seaworthiness certificates had no
international validity. Confusion reigned, to
the extent that ships visiting ports in several
states were sometimes required to meet
contradictory safety conditions.
· Regulation of
Maritime trade has always
been subject to fierce international
competition. Repeated maritime disasters
gradually convinced national legislators that
economic rivalries, particularly as regard fleet
operation, could endanger safety and bring this
form of transport irretrievably into disrepute.
It was realised that only an agreement among
States, laying down minimum standards to be met
by a particular ship performing a particular
service, could offer a satisfactory long-term
One example is freeboard
legislation. Two identical vessels, but of
different nationalities, frequently come into
competition on the same route. If one of them is
more heavily loaded than the other, the
shipowner will earn a higher profit, but will
expose his ships to greater dangers, and a
correspondingly lower level of safety. If the
same freeboard is displayed on the hulls of both
ships, by means of a loadline, overloading will
no longer be an acceptable commercial tactic.
Internationally, the existence of a standard was
more important than its content, for ultimately
the intention was not to penalise states
adopting strict regulation. It was also
important to prevent less scrupulous countries
from obtaining a competitive edge by introducing
deliberately indulgent legislation.
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Accidents and major disasters encouraged States
to cooperate in the search for safe, efficient
maritime transport. This move towards
internationalisation of the law took place in
several stages. First came the uniformisation of
local regulations, through bilateral treaties,
agreements or understandings among the leading
maritime nations. Next, these same nations were
to hold international conferences, in order to
set up genuinely universal rules. Finally,
intergovernmental organisations were to take
over and encourage the adoption of international
instruments to regulate safety at sea and
protection of the marine environment.
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At the beginning of this
century, the dogma of absolute freedom of
competition reigned supreme. It was possible to
build a ship more or less whatever way one
liked, equip it with whatever instruments one
liked, operate it according to whatever
standards one liked, and sail it whatever way
one liked on any seas. Only a few common
navigational rules had emerged, following the
holding of the first international conferences
on the safety of maritime transport. On 28 July
1879, nineteen States adopted joint rules in
London for an international signal code. On 1st
September 1880, an international convention set
the first rules for preventing collisions. On 28
July 1881 the first convention on health and
safety for steam packet navigation was signed.
In 1889, a congress met in
November in Washington DC, to draw up a proper
code of the sea, covering rules on steering and
sailing, lights and signals, and distress
signals. This first major international maritime
conference defined thirteen groups of regulatory
principles, which were subsequently adopted and
implemented by all the States, without giving
rise to an official convention. The start of the
20th century saw the emergence of the first
rules on wireless telegraphy, laid down by the
Berlin Convention and rules of 3 November 1906.
Two other basic conventions were signed in
September 1910, one concerning collisions, the
other lifesaving and assistance.
When the transatlantic
Titanic sank on 14 April 1912 off
Newfoundland, after colliding with an iceberg,
the event was followed by a spectacular
acceleration in the standard-setting process.
This appalling disaster had an enormous impact
on public opinion, and encouraged realisation of
the need for collective safety procedures. By
July 1912, a wireless telegraphy conference,
held in London, made intercommunication systems
and radio equipment on board ships compulsory.
It also allocated certain wavelengths to ships
and coastal stations, long-distance
radiotelegrams and radiolighthouses. Its
application was to be suspended during the First
World War, but it came into force again in 1919.
The most important result
of the loss of the Titanic was the first
international conference on the safety of life
at sea, held in London in January 1914 at the
invitation of the British government. With great
difficulty, this conference drafted an
international agreement: the issue required a
consensus which could be obtained only after
interminable discussions on the various
technical solutions proposed to reduce
accidents. The first Convention on
Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) was signed by
only five states, but led to extensive
application regulations in Britain, France, the
United States and Scandinavia.
process spread internationally between the Wars.
The 1920 conference on the International Union
of Electrical Communications revised the rules
of the 1912 convention on wireless telegraphy,
and the principles of the SOLAS Convention. Two
other conferences, one in Washington in 1927 and
the other in Madrid in 1931, finalized
international regulations on
A second conference on the
safety of human life at sea took place in London
in 1929, where a new SOLAS Convention was
adopted, containing some sixty articles on ship
construction, lifesaving equipment, fire
prevention and fire fighting, wireless
telegraphy equipment, navigation aids and rules
to prevent collisions.
On 23 October 1930, three
important texts, drafted in Lisbon under the
auspices of the League of Nations, completed
regulations on signalling at sea. The first text
concerned maritime signals, the second was about
manned lightships, and the third dealt with the
characteristics of lighthouses and radiobeacons.
Another agreement, reached in Geneva on 13 May
1936, harmonised the existing buoy age systems.
In the aftermath of the Second World War,
international conferences on safety at sea
proceeded to amend existing texts. On 10 June
1947, the Oslo Convention introduced a new
registered tonnage system.
In 1948, the British government invited all the
States that had signed the SOLAS Convention to
attend an international conference, in order to
revise the provisions on safety of life at sea.
A new version was adopted in June by
twenty-seven States, and came into effect on 19
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One might be tempted to
believe that international law on safety at sea
was established in the first part of the 20th
century through the efforts of international
organisations. Several of them did try to
harmonise national rules.
The Comité Maritime
International (CMI), set up in Antwerp in 1897,
contributed to the work of several diplomatic
conferences. This purely private body, which
brought together maritime law associations in
Western countries, took part directly in the
establishment of several texts relating to
safety: collision in the 1910 Brussels
Convention, and assistance and salvage at sea in
Set up just after the First
World War, the International Labour Organisation
(ILO) fostered the introduction of specific
regulations for working conditions at sea. In
1920, a convention was adopted on a minimum age
for admission of employment as seamen on ships.
In 1930, ILO also launched the first campaigns
against flags of convenience.
Another organisation set up
by the League of Nations and that played an
important role in harmonising standards was the
Temporary Transport and Communication
Commission. It was responsible for the 1923
Geneva Convention on maritime port regimes. In
London, a year later, two technical committees
were set up within this agency, one to
investigate the problems raised by unification
of registered tonnage provisions, and the other
to examine issues of maritime navigation,
buoyage and lighting of coasts. These efforts
culminated in the adoption of several
international agreements at the Lisbon
conference of 1930. The agency continued its
work until 1939.
But on the whole,
initiatives taken by international organisations
were rather limited in the early part of the
century. The whole period was dominated by the
worldwide maritime supremacy of the United
Kingdom. For a long time, the British fleet was
the largest in the world, exerting considerable
influence over principles and legal concepts.
London was the favoured venue for major
diplomatic conferences. The British government,
sole depository of the SOLAS Conventions,
thereby had control over the revisions of 1929
and 1948. British practice in fact inspired much
of the work of international legislators, as
regards both the equipment of ships and the
rules of navigation. Certain observers went so
far as to assert that the United Kingdom
actually made up for institutional shortcomings
on the international scene.
The post-Second World War
period witnessed a gradual decline in British
power and influence. 1948 marked a decisive
turning point in the maritime history of nations
when, on 6 March, a convention was signed in
Geneva, setting up the International Maritime
Consultative Organisation (IMCO), which was to
assume responsibility for safety issues. From
the Fifties, there was an increase in the
numbers of international bodies and various
commissions which had the task of reducing
accidents at sea. Thereupon began the age of
organizations, whose importance and influence
were to grow steadily until the present day.
BOISSON, Philippe. Safety
At Sea. Policies, Regulations and International
Law. Preface by William A. O'Neil. Paris,
Edition Bureau Veritas, 1999 ISBN 2-86413-020-3
Philippe.Politiques et Droit de la Securite
Maritime. Preface de William A. O'Neil. Paris,
Edition Bureau Veritas, 1998 ISBN 2-86413-020-3
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