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Passenger ships


Passenger ships - usually defined as a ship carrying more than 12 passengers - on international voyages must comply with all relevant IMO regulations, including those in the SOLAS and Load Lines Conventions.

Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the SeasPassenger ships in operation today are subject to a vast array of regulations and standards covering every aspect of ship construction and operation. A number of incidents over the years have led to improvements in safety requirements, including those relating to fire safety measures - such as escape routes and fire protections systems for the large atrium typical of cruise ships - and life-saving appliances and arrangements.

Besides improvements in the technical regulations, the entry into force of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code for passenger ships in 1998 was an important step in focusing on the "human element" side of shipping, by providing an international standard for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention. Meanwhile, the entry into force on 1 February 1997 (with a phase-in period to 2002) of the 1995 amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978 has paved the way for greatly enhanced seafarer standards as well as giving IMO itself powers to check Parties' compliance with the Convention. The STCW Convention, as amended since 1995, includes specific training requirements for crew on passenger ships, such as training in crowd management, for use in emergency evacuation.

Large passenger ships can produce a tremendous amount of waste - regulations on garbage and sewage management are contained in MARPOL 73/78.

Roll-on, roll-off ferries; high-speed craft and new craft such as Wig-in-Ground effect craft all have their own particular safety concerns.

 

Passenger ship safety - major work completed

The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) at its 82nd session in November-December 2006 adopted a package of amendments to SOLAS, the result of a comprehensive review of passenger ship safety initiated in 2000 with the aim of assessing whether the current regulations were adequate, in particular for the large passenger ships now being built.

The work in developing the new and amended regulations has based its guiding philosophy on the dual premise that the regulatory framework should place more emphasis on the prevention of a casualty from occurring in the first place and that future passenger ships should be designed for improved survivability so that, in the event of a casualty, persons can stay safely on board as the ship proceeds to port.

The amendments include new concepts such as the incorporation of criteria for the casualty threshold (the amount of damage a ship is able to withstand, according to the design basis, and still safely return to port) into SOLAS chapters II-1 and II-2. The amendments also provide regulatory flexibility so that ship designers can meet any safety challenges the future may bring. The amendments include:

  • alternative designs and arrangements;
  • safe areas and the essential systems to be maintained while a ship proceeds to port after a casualty, which will require redundancy of propulsion and other essential systems;
  • on-board safety centres, from where safety systems can be controlled, operated and monitored;
  • fixed fire detection and alarm systems, including requirements for fire detectors and manually operated call points to be capable of being remotely and individually identified;
  • fire prevention, including amendments aimed at enhancing the fire safety of atriums, the means of escape in case of fire and ventilation systems; and
  • time for orderly evacuation and abandonment, including requirements for the essential systems that must remain operational in case any one main vertical zone is unserviceable due to fire.

The amendments are expected to enter into force on 1 July 2010.

The work on passenger ship safety has based its guiding philosophy on the premise that the regulatory framework should place more emphasis on the prevention of a casualty from occurring in the first place and that future passenger ships should be designed for improved survivability so that, in the event of a casualty, persons can stay safely on board as the ship proceeds to port.

With regard to the five pillars of the guiding philosophy for the Committee's passenger ship safety initiative, the following have been achieved since the work was initiated in 2000:

Prevention: Amendments to SOLAS and the STCW Conventions and supporting guidelines that focus on fire prevention, navigation safety, training and contingency planning.

Improved survivability: Amendments to SOLAS chapters II-1 and II-2 and supporting guidelines that focus on essential system redundancy, management of emergencies and casualty mitigation.

Regulatory flexibility: Amendments to SOLAS chapters II-1 and III and supporting guidelines that focus on promoting, through rigorous evaluation and approval procedures, the regulatory approval of new safety technologies and arrangements.

Operations in areas remote from SAR facilities: Action taken to develop amendments to SOLAS chapter III and supporting guidelines that will focus on reducing the time it takes to recover persons from survival craft and the water; supporting guidelines approved on external support from SAR Authorities, as well as guidance to assist seafarers taking part in SAR operations.

Health safety and medical care: Supporting guidelines that focus on establishing medical safety programmes and a revised Guide on Cold Water Survival.

The approved draft amendments to SOLAS chapters II-1, II-2 and III and the FSS Code relate to:

  • alternative designs and arrangements;
  • safe areas and the essential systems to be maintained while a ship proceeds to port after a casualty, which will require redundancy of propulsion and other essential systems;
  • on-board safety centres, from where safety systems can be controlled, operated and monitored;
  • fixed fire detection and alarm systems, including requirements for fire detectors and manually operated call points to be capable of being remotely and individually identified;
  • fire prevention, including amendments aimed at enhancing the fire safety of atriums, the means of escape in case of fire and ventilation systems; and
  • time for orderly evacuation and abandonment, including requirements for the essential systems that must remain operational in case any one main vertical zone is unserviceable due to fire.

The MSC agreed that the Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Equipment (DE) should develop performance standards for recovery systems for all types of ships, by 2008, with a view to preparing further draft amendments to SOLAS chapter III on recovery arrangements for the rescue of persons at sea. The Committee agreed that the new amendments and guidelines should be enforced by 2012. The MSC also agreed that the Sub-Committee on Standards of Training and Watchkeeping (STW) should develop relevant training standards after the performance standards have been finalized. The idea is that ships should be equipped to recover persons from the water and/or survival craft and rescue craft, and give functional requirements for achieving this.

The following circulars were approved:

  • Guide to recovery techniques;
  • Guidelines on the provision of external support as an aid to incident containment for SAR Authorities and others concerned;
  • Enhanced contingency planning guidance for passenger ships operating in areas remote from SAR facilities, which includes Criteria for what constitutes an area remote from SAR facilities;
  • Guidelines on training of SAR service personnel working in major incidents; and
  • Guide for cold water survival.

A draft Assembly resolution on Guidelines on voyage planning for passenger ships operating in remote areas was agreed for submission to the next Assembly, scheduled for late 2007.

Further consequential work to be carried out includes the development of guidelines for the approval of novel life-saving appliances (DE); and guidelines on the lay-out and ergonomic design of safety centres on passenger ships (Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation (NAV)).

The MSC also instructed the Sub-Committee on Stability, Load Lines and Fishing Vessel Safety (SLF) to consider draft amendments for water ingress detection and flooding level monitoring systems; and for a safe return to port capability for passenger ships in damaged condition. The STW Sub-Committee is instructed to review the guides for recovery techniques and cold water survival from the point of view of training.

 

Background to the passenger ship safety initiative

The initiaitve was launched at the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in 2000 to evaluate current regulations and to ascertain whether they are adequate for some of the colossal cruise ships being built today. While there could be no doubt that such ships were being built, designed and operated in compliance with applicable IMO standards, the time had come for IMO to undertake a holistic consideration of safety issues pertaining to passenger ships, with particular emphasis on large cruise ships.

The concern was not whether such ships complied with the SOLAS requirements applicable to ships of their category, but whether SOLAS and, to the extent applicable, the Load Line Convention requirements, several of which had been drafted before some of the large ships in question had been built, duly addressed all the safety aspects of their operation - in particular, in emergency situations. Also, whether the training requirements of the STCW Convention relating to personnel operating large cruise ships were in need of any review or clarification.

The working group on large passenger-ship safety began work at the MSC in November-December 2000, with input from the cruise industry and Member States who have carried out studies into large passenger ships and areas of potential concern. The work reflects IMO's proactive stance on future legislation and includes the use of tools such as formal safety assessment, used in other areas of IMO's work such as bulk carrier safety.

What became clear from the initial work was that concern over large passenger-ship safety would be centred on the difficulty in safely evacuating some passengers, such as the elderly and injured, from lifeboats to rescue vessels. It is clear that the difficulties would not end, even with successful evacuation. Thousands of people, unfamiliar with ships and the sea, crowded into lifeboats and liferafts, would present a unique search-and-rescue challenge.

Fire also represents a particular vulnerability for large cruise ships. Every passenger is a potential ignition source and the hotel services have an inherent risk.

The MSC has agreed that future large passenger ships should be designed for improved survivability based on the time-honoured principle that "a ship is its own best lifeboat".

This approach envisages that passengers and crew should normally be able to evacuate to a safe haven on board and stay there. In addition, this envisages that a ship should always be able to proceed to port at a minimum safe speed.

Since 2001, the Sub-Committees on Radiocommunications, Search and Rescue (COMSAR), Ship Design and Equipment (DE), Fire Protection (FP), Safety of Navigation (NAV), Stability, Load lines and Fishing Vessel Safety (SLF) and Standards of training and Watchkeeping (STW) have been working on tasks assigned to them and have reported back to the MSC.

At its 79th session in December 2004, the MSC agreed that as many of the issues discussed under the agenda item "Large Passenger Ship Safety" applied equally to all passenger ships, the agenda item should be renamed "Passenger Ship Safety". The Committee approved a revised work plan for passenger ship safety and the revised guiding philosophy, strategic goals and objectives, developed by the Working Group on Large Passenger Ship Safety which met during the session.

The revised guiding philosophy for future work on passenger ship safety is based on the premise that the regulatory framework should place more emphasis on the prevention of a casualty from occurring in the first place and that future passenger ships should be designed for improved survivability so that, in the event of a casualty, persons can stay safely on board as the ship proceeds to port.

At its 80th session in May 2005, the MSC agreed a revised work plan for the on-going work by the relevant Sub-Committees on passenger ship safety, the guiding philosophy for which is based on the premise that the regulatory framework should place more emphasis on the prevention of a casualty from occurring in the first place and that future passenger ships should be designed for improved survivability so that, in the event of a casualty, persons can stay safely on board as the ship proceeds to port.

The MSC approved the definition for the time for orderly evacuation and abandonment as "the time, beginning when the casualty threshold is exceeded until all persons have safely abandoned the ship, in which the ship remains viable for this purpose". The MSC agreed that, in the event that the casualty exceeds the threshold for return to port, an additional casualty scenario, for design purposes, should be developed. The MSC instructed the Fire Protection (FP) and Stability, Load Lines and Fishing Vessel Safety (SLF) Sub-Committees to develop these scenarios to support the concept that a passenger ship should remain viable for at least three hours, to allow for safe, orderly evacuation and abandonment.

It was agreed that the casualty threshold is the amount of damage a ship is able to withstand, according to the design basis, and still safely return to port.

MSC 80 also agreed that the World Maritime University (WMU) should begin a project to co-ordinate a search and rescue (SAR) research programme related to passenger ship safety. The first phase, to be implemented from May 2005 to April 2006, will include initial data collection and reporting on the state of the art and current research efforts and results in the subject area. The MSC requested the IMO Secretary-General to include in his budget proposal for the 2006-2007 biennium an amount equivalent to US$90,000 in order to implement phase 2 of the project, which would include further work in data collection from sources not identified by the Member States; development of an on-line database of current research; and the organization of a workshop/seminar on the subject area, to include the research community as well as other stakeholders.

 

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