Maritime Safety Committee - 68th session: May 28 to June 6, 1997

The Committee discussed the ongoing work by the Sub-Committee on Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers (DSC) in relation to the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.

The Committee agreed that Amendment 29, which will harmonize the Code with the tenth revised edition of the United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods, should be finalized at the next Sub-Committee meeting (DSC 3), adopted by MSC 69 in May 1998 and should enter into force on 1 January 1999, with a six-month transitional period permitted until 1 July 1999.

The Committee agreed that the Sub-Committee should consider the possible mandatory application of the IMDG Code under SOLAS Chapter VII, in particular whether the entire Code should be mandatory or whether it would only be appropriate for specific requirements to be mandatory.

The IMDG Code is being reformatted by IMO not only to make it more user-friendly and understandable, but also to ensure that it remains the authoritative text addressing the transport of dangerous goods by sea well into the next century.

Maritime Safety Committee 68th session May 28 to June 6, 1997

Amendments to SOLAS Chapter IV approved

The Committee approved minor amendments to chapter IV of SOLAS relating to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS). The GMDSS, which is essentially a world-wide network of automated emergency communications for ships at sea, entered into force on 1 February 1992 and is being fully implemented by 1 February 1999.

The amendments are due to be adopted at a future session for entry into force on 1 July 2002. The amendments expand on the current regulations by giving a definition of GMDSS identities and calling on Governments to ensure arrangements are available for registering GMDSS identities and making them available on a 24-hour basis to rescue co-ordination centres. The amendments specify testing intervals of 12 months for satellite emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) and state that when a ship does not carry equipment which automatically updates and includes the ship's position in the transmitted distress alert then updating the ship's position must be done manually not less than every four hours.

MSC agrees Channel 16 monitoring to continue after 1 February 1999

The Committee decided in principle that mandatory monitoring of VHF Channel 16 (for distress signals) by SOLAS ships at sea should be continued after 1 February 1999 and instructed the Sub-Committee on Radio-communications and Search and Rescue (COMSAR) to find a suitable date by which watchkeeping on Channel 16 could feasibly be phased out. SOLAS should also be amended to reflect this.

It was originally foreseen that VHF Channel 16 monitoring would no longer be needed after 1 February 1999 but many delegations felt that it was not feasible for the large numbers of non-SOLAS vessels, including pleasure craft and fishing vessels, to fit GMDSS equipment by the deadline. As a result, such non-SOLAS ships would be unable to contact SOLAS ships when in distress if those SOLAS ships were no longer maintaining a watch on Channel 16.

Restructuring of Inmarsat

The International Mobile Satellite Organization (Inmarsat) informed the Committee of the situation regarding proposed changes in its structure. Inmarsat will again consider restructuring at the 12th (extraordinary) session of its Assembly expected to be held in October. The Committee requested the Secretary-General to invite Inmarsat to take on board IMO views on its restructuring, in particular its public service obligations, in considering the restructuring proposals.

Ballast water exchange guidance approved

The Committee approved guidance on safety aspects relating to the exchange of ballast water at sea.

The guidance, which has already been approved by the MEPC, outlines procedures for exchanging ballast water and point out safety issues which need to be considered, such as avoidance of over and under pressurization of ballast tanks and the need to be aware of weather conditions.

The guidance also notes that a ballast water exchange management plan should be drawn, listing circumstances when ballast water exchange should not be carried out, for example when stress of weather threatens human life or safety of the ship.

Certain port states require exchange of ballast water at sea in order to avoid the problem of unwanted aquatic organisms and pathogens from ships' ballast being introduced into marine environments where they may cause problems with the natural ecosystem.

The effects of unwanted aquatic organisms transferred in ballast water have sometimes been disastrous, with in some cases fish stocks or rare corals being wiped out because a non-native species has been transferred from seas across the globe in a ship's ballast. The importance of preventing this happening has been recognised and the issue of unwanted aquatic organisms and pathogens in ballast water will be dealt with in a possible new chapter to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 (MARPOL 73/78).

Competent Persons for STCW approved

The Committee approved a list of competent persons who will assist the Secretary-General in assessing compliance with the 1995 amendments to the 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).

The competent persons have been nominated by the Parties to the STCW Convention and will be involved in the preparation of a report to the Committee on the training and certification of seafarers in countries which are Party to the Convention, based on information supplied by those Parties.

The Committee approved a draft circular setting out how the required information should be reported to the Secretary-General, including a proposed table to fill in which would contain all the relevant information. Parties must report on administrative measures taken to ensure compliance with the STCW 1995 Amendments, education and training courses, certification procedures and other factors.

The circular also sets out the procedure for the Secretary-General to make his report to the Committee and lays down criteria for approving countries that comply with the STCW requirements. The circular notes that Parties may comply with the STCW requirements while still requesting assistance for certain areas of training.

The Committee will review the Secretary-General's report and issue a list of countries which are found to be conducting their maritime training and certification in accordance with the requirements of the revised Convention (the so-called "white list").

Parties to the Convention must submit the required information on their compliance with the STCW Convention by 1 August 1998. The competent persons and the Secretary-General of IMO will then review the information, in order to submit a report to the Committee ahead of the Committee meeting scheduled for Spring 1999. That meeting will review the report in order to approve the first "White List" of countries that comply with the STCW Convention.

The 1995 Amendments to the STCW, which came into force on 1 February 1997, represent the first time that IMO has been given a role in reviewing information supplied by Parties to ensure implementation of standards.

Maritime Safety Committee meeting May 28 to June 6, 1997

Draft bulk carrier safety regulations agreed

The Committee agreed draft regulations to improve the safety of bulk carriers, to be put forward for adoption at a special bulk carrier safety conference to be held at IMO headquarters in November 1997.

Structural requirements

The draft regulations bring in new structural requirements for dry bulk carriers -- which carry products such as iron ore, grains and coal -- to prevent them sinking if water enters the ship for any reason. The draft regulations will apply to new ships and to existing ships, so that any existing ships which do not comply with the requirements will have to be reinforced -- or else comply with restrictions on the cargo to be carried. This could mean limiting the cargoes they carry to "light" cargoes such as grain or timber, or altering the way cargoes are loaded, which could imply carrying less cargo.

The aim of the draft regulations is to reverse the alarming rise in accidents involving bulk carriers seen since the early 1990s. Many ships involved suffered severe structural damage and sometimes literally broke in two, often with heavy loss of life. In the period 1990-May 1997, 99 bulk carriers sank with the loss of 654 lives. Most were ships 15 years old or older and a high proportion were lost or had the potential to be lost through structural damage and/or heavy weather.

In his opening speech to the Committee, IMO Secretary-General Mr William A. O'Neil reiterated his view that the safety of bulk carriers is one of the IMO's major challenges at present. The sinkings in early 1997 of the bulk carrier Albion Two with 25 crew and the bulk carrier Leros Strength with the loss of 20 lives have highlighted the urgency of measures to address the issue.

The draft regulations take into account standards drawn up by the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), which, in a study carried out at the request of the Committee, looked at how ships might remain afloat despite being flooded in one or more holds.

IACS found that, even where a ship has been designed to withstand flooding, the bulkheads between holds may not be able to withstand the water pressure that results, especially if the ship is loaded in alternate holds with high density loads (such as iron ore). In fact, the pressure of water and cargo might cause the bulkhead between one hold and the next to collapse. Once water enters the next hold, progressive flooding occurs rapidly throughout the length of the ship and the vessel is likely to sink in a matter of minutes.

IACS concluded that the most vulnerable areas were the bulkhead between numbers one and two holds at the forward end of the vessel and the double bottom of the ship at this location. It proposed that during special surveys of ships, particular attention should be paid to these areas, and where necessary, reinforcements would have to be carried out.

The draft IMO regulations state that all new bulk carriers 150 metres or more in length (built after a date to be decided by the November Conference) carrying cargoes with a density of 1.0 tonnes per cubic metre and above should have sufficient strength to withstand flooding of any one cargo hold, taking into account dynamic effects resulting from presence of water in the hold. For ships built before the date to be decided by the November Conference, carrying bulk cargoes with a density of 1.78 tonnes per cubic metre and above, the transverse watertight bulkhead between the two foremost cargo holds and the double bottom of the foremost cargo hold should have sufficient strength to withstand flooding of the foremost cargo hold, taking into account the dynamic effects of water in the hold.

Cargoes with a density of 1.78 tonnes per cubic metre and above (heavy cargoes) include iron ore, pig iron, steel, bauxite and cement. Lighter cargoes with a density more than 1.0 tonnes per cubic metre include grains such as wheat and rice, and timber.

The draft regulations set out the formulae used to calculate whether the ship currently meets the required standards, for example in terms of the thickness of the metal used for bulkhead structures, establish how to assess whether reinforcement is necessary and lay down when such reinforcements should be carried out.

The draft regulations allow for surveyors to take into account restrictions on the cargo carried in considering the need for, and the extent of, strengthening of the transverse watertight bulkhead or double bottom. When restrictions are imposed, the bulk carrier should be permanently marked with a solid triangle on its hull.

The Committee also agreed amendments to the Guidelines on the Enhanced Programme of Inspections during Surveys of Bulk Carriers and Oil Tankers (Resolution A.744(18)). These amendments, which will be presented to the November Conference for adoption, are aimed at making the Guidelines more comprehensive, to ensure that surveys pick up on whether the new proposed standards are adhered to. In addition, the amendments add a new section covering Prompt and Thorough Repairs of Bulk Carriers Relative to Damages and Wastage in Cargo Holds. The new section states that any damage or excessive wastage beyond allowable limits "is to be promptly and thoroughly repaired".

The Committee agreed that the draft bulk carrier regulations should be put forward to the special conference in November in the form of a new Chapter XII to the IMO's main maritime safety convention, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

The committee also approved a draft Code of Practice for the Safe Loading and Unloading of Bulk Carriers, to be put to the 20th Assembly for adoption. The Code of Practice notes that a number of accidents involving bulk carriers have occurred as a result of inadequate loading and unloading and that safe practices could prevent such accidents in future.

The Code contains recommendations to provide guidance to shipowners, masters, shippers, operators of bulk carriers, charterers and terminal operators for the safe handling, loading and unloading of solid bulk cargoes. It includes a Ship/Shore Safety Checklist to help ship and terminal personnel recognize potential problems by taking both parties step by step through procedures and requirements, from confirming whether the depth of water at the berth is adequate to checking whether the terminal has been advised of the time required for the ship to prepare for sea on completion of cargo work.

Bulk carrier safety background

Bulk carrier safety has been addressed by the IMO since it was formed in 1959. But concern over bulk carriers heightened when losses increased in the early 1990s. Accidents were dramatic - it became apparent that many ships involved had suffered severe structural damage and sometimes literally broke in two.

In 1990, 20 bulk carriers were lost with 94 fatalities, and in 1991 24 bulk carriers were lost with 154 lives. Analysis of the accidents showed that in general the ships lost shared common features -- they tended to be older, had suffered corrosion or wear, and in some cases loading and unloading operations may have caused structural failure.

As a result, the Assembly of IMO in 1991 adopted an interim resolution, proposed by the Secretary-General Mr William A O'Neil, to improve bulk carrier safety, concentrating on paying attention to the structural integrity and seaworthiness of ships and ensuring loading and carrying of cargo would not cause undue stresses. The casualty rate improved after this, but in 1994 was again causing concern. On the recommendation of Secretary-General Mr O'Neil, IMO therefore established a correspondence group to consider the whole issue of bulk carrier safety and make proposals for changes in existing conventions concerning the structure and operation of bulk carriers.

The group reported its initial findings to the MSC in May 1995 and the group prepared draft amendments to the SOLAS Convention for new bulk carriers concerning their ability to remain afloat following flooding, surveys and structural requirements, which were agreed in principle by IMO Members. Bulk carrier safety was on the agenda at two MSC meetings in 1996, but it was agreed to await the outcome of the IACS study on bulk carriers which contains the standards that form the basis for some of the draft regulations which have now been agreed.

Maritime Safety Committee 68th session May 28 to June 6, 1997

Formal Safety Assessment guidelines adopted

The Committee approved draft Interim Guidelines for the application of Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) to the rule-making process at IMO, so that trial applications of FSA can be carried out to assess its worth.

FSA is described as a rational and systematic process for assessing the risks associated with any sphere of activity, and for evaluating the costs and benefits of different options for reducing those risks. It therefore enables an objective assessment to be made of the need for, and content of, safety regulations.

FSA consists of five steps: identification of hazards (a list of all relevant accident scenarios with potential causes and outcomes); assessment of risks (evaluation of risk factors); risk control options (deriving regulatory measures to control and reduce the identified risks); cost benefit assessment (determining cost effectiveness of each risk control option); and recommendations for decision-making (information about the hazards, their associated risks and the cost effectiveness of alternative risk control options is provided).

Maritime Safety Committee - 68th session: May 28 to June 6

Helicopter landing areas on cruise ships discussed

The Committee discussed whether cruise ships needed to have helicopter landing areas fitted. Under the 1995 amendments to SOLAS, all passenger ships over 130 metres built after 1 July 1999 must be fitted with a helicopter landing area (ro-ro passenger ships must provide helicopter landing area from 1 July 1997 or fit them by not later than the first periodical survey after 1 July 1997.)

The International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) said in a paper submitted to the Committee that rather than a dedicated landing area, winching operations were generally the preferred method for lifting sick or injured passengers from the ship to a helicopter and many cruise ships had retractable platforms, used for ship/shore tenders, which could be used in an emergency to receive survivors from small rescue craft. The Committee agreed to refer the issue back to the Ship Design and Equipment Sub-Committee for consideration.

The Committee approved a draft resolution on standards for on-board helicopter facilities, for submission to the 20th Assembly for adoption.

Fire Protection circulars approved

The Committee approved draft circulars on guidelines for fire extinguishers that use expansion foam concentrates. It also approved a draft circular on safety measures for deep fat cooking equipment, requiring fire extinguishers to be available and an automatic power cut off to the equipment to be installed.

Asbestos on ships

The Committee considered a proposal by France calling for amendments to SOLAS Chapters II-I and II-2 to prohibit the use of asbestos aboard ships. It was agreed to refer the issue to the Sub-Committees on Fire Protection and Ship Design and Equipment for consideration as a matter of high priority.

Maritime Safety Committee 68th session May 28 to June 6, 1997

Human Element draft resolution goes to Assembly

The Committee approved a draft Assembly resolution calling on the MSC and the MEPC to consider the human element when drawing up regulations on safety of shipping and preventing marine pollution ("Resolution on Human element vision, principles and goals for the Organization").

The Resolution was drafted by a meeting of the MSC/MEPC Working Group on the Human Element which met in December 1996 and looked at issues such as the effects of fatigue on seafarers and how accidents might be prevented by considering the human factor. It has been estimated that up to 80 percent of maritime accidents may be caused by human error.

A list of problems which might affect how seafarers work -- and thereby contribute to accidents -- includes alcohol abuse, inadequate technical knowledge or language skills, fatigue, low morale and injury; but also staffing levels, work environment and company management.

A study by the U.S. Coast Guard has found that fatigue is a more significant factor in maritime accidents than previously thought. According to the survey, it was estimated that fatigue was a contributory factor in 33 percent of critical vessel casualties and 16 percent of personnel injury casualties, compared to figures of just 1.2 percent and 1.3 percent found in a previous study.

The U.S. Coast Guard found that factors contributing to fatigue included the number of consecutive days worked prior to the incident, hours on duty prior to the incident and absence of a company or union policy on work hours.

The Committee invited Member Governments to submit to the Committee the outcome of any relevant studies on fatigue of seafarers and encouraged further studies on fatigue in maritime operations.

The Committee agreed to send representatives from the IMO to a joint working group proposed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The IMO/ILO working group will draft the format of records to be kept of seafarers' daily hours of work and rest, in order to ensure compliance with established limits on working hours. The IMO/ILO group will meet in January 1998.

The Committee also approved a draft Assembly Resolution on the Code for the investigation of marine accidents and casualties and agreed that guidelines on reporting whether human factors were the cause of any accident should be attached at a later date to the Code.

Standard Marine Communication Phrases

In another issue related to the human element, the Committee considered the IMO Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP), drawn up by the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation and agreed to use the same procedure for introducing the SMCP as was used for introducing the "Standard Marine Navigational Vocabulary" (SNVP), which was developed in the 1970s. Germany has co-ordinated the development of the SMCP, which is designed to be more comprehensive than the SNVP and "Seaspeak" currently in use.

The SMCP has been distributed to Governments, maritime training institutes and others involved in maritime communications under MSC Circ. 794 dated 10 June 1997, so that trials in its use can be conducted with a view to the SMCP being reviewed and finally put forward for formal adoption at the 22nd Assembly in 2001.

The SMCP includes phrases which have been developed to cover the most important safety-related fields of verbal shore-to-ship (and vice-versa), ship-to-ship and on-board communications. The aim is to get round the problem of language barriers at sea and avoid misunderstandings which can cause accidents.

The SMCP builds on a basic knowledge of English and has been drafted in a simplified version of maritime English. It includes phrases to be used in routine situations such as berthing as well as standard phrases and responses to be used in emergency situations, such as requesting medical assistance, reporting an oil spill or collision, and warning of storms or volcanic activity.

FAO/ILO/IMO fishermen's training working group

The Committee agreed to participate in a joint working group formed by IMO, the ILO and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to develop guidelines and recommendations for the training and certification of personnel on board fishing vessels of 12 metres in length and over but less than 24 metres.

The FAO/ILO/IMO group will revise the current Document for Guidance on Fishermen's Training and will meet in January 1998.

Maritime Safety Committee - 68th session: May 28 to June 6, 1997

INF Code to be made mandatory

The Committee agreed that the IMO Code for the Safe Carriage of Irradiated Nuclear Fuel, Plutonium and High-Level Radioactive Waste in Flasks on board ships (INF Code) should be made mandatory.

The Code, which recommends how such material should be carried, including specifications for ships, is currently under review by the Committee, along with the Marine Environment Protection Committee and their relevant sub-committees. The Committee agreed that the current Code should be made mandatory by drafting the necessary amendments to Chapter VII of SOLAS, while the ongoing review of the code continues.

The review of the INF Code is being carried out by the MSC and MEPC in co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The aim is to improve the Code to deal with all issues related to the transport by sea of materials resulting from the generation of nuclear energy, without addressing the pros and cons of nuclear energy although the transport of these materials has in the past raised controversy.

Implementation of the ISM Code

The International Safety Management Code (ISM Code ) becomes mandatory for passenger ships, high-speed craft, oil tankers, chemical tankers, gas carriers and bulk carriers on 1 July 1998 and for other cargo ships and mobile offshore drilling units of 500 gross tonnage and upwards on 1 July 2002.

However, concern has been expressed on many occasions about the relatively small number of shipping companies and ships which have so far been certified in accordance with it. The MSC and Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) have sent out several circulars in the past commenting on the need for action, especially since it is recognized that it can take up to two years to set up the safety management system required by the Code.

The Committee approved a draft Assembly Resolution on Implementation of the Safety Management Code. It notes that some Governments have apparently not yet enacted the required domestic legislation to give effect to the requirements of the Code and urges them to finalize these procedures as soon as possible. It draws attention to the fact that a certain amount of "pre-authorization" certification may exist, which may be considered as a basis for verification for the ISM Code.

The draft resolution invites Governments to inform IMO about the arrangements they have made for verifying compliance with the Code and whether such verifications would be undertaken by themselves or by recognized organizations acting on their behalf.

Guidelines for flag States

The Committee also approved a draft Assembly Resolution on "Guidelines to assist flag States in the implementation of IMO instruments" for submission to the 20th Assembly for adoption.

The Committee approved, after considerable discussion, an additional paragraph to the Resolution (5.1 bis) which calls on flag states to take all necessary measures to ensure vessels flying their flag observe international standards. These measures could include prohibiting the vessel from sailing and issuing penalties if it does not comply.

Maritime Safety Committee 68th session May 28 to June 6, 1997

Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships

The Committee discussed the continued rise in incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships. The number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported to the IMO was 228 in 1996, a rise of 96 over the figure for 1995. Since 1984, 968 such acts have been reported.

Areas most affected were the Far East, in particular the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait, Indian Ocean, South America, East and West Africa, the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Most of the attacks were reported in territorial waters while the ships were at anchor or berthed. In many of the attacks reported, the crew were threatened by groups of five to ten people carrying guns.

Some delegations proposed setting up a task force of experts who would travel to areas of the world most affected by acts of piracy in order to review the situation and make recommendations on how to prevent these acts -- previous IMO-led missions were carried out in 1993 (to the Malacca Strait) and 1995 (to the South China Sea). However, other delegations noted that dealing with piracy was the responsibility of the coastal states and in many areas coastal states were boosting efforts to prevent and deal with these crimes.

Following considerable discussion, the Committee agreed to request the Secretary-General to consult with Governments of countries most frequently reporting acts of piracy and armed robbery and to organize missions to those countries if requested. The Committee also instructed the Secretariat to seek funds to organise regional seminars on piracy and armed robbery, in order to explain the problem and discuss the IMO recommendations on dealing with the problem.

The delegations of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore reported that their Governments were conducting a co-ordinated anti-piracy patrol off their waters and that this had resulted in a significant reduction of piracy incidents in that region.

In addition, the Committee adopted the MSC circular on "Guidance for the use of radio signals by ships under attack or threat of attack from pirates or armed robbers". The circular recommends that when shipboard personnel detect pirates before they have boarded the ship, a piracy/armed robbery attack message should be sent through Inmarsat or Digital Selective Calling (DSC) equipment on distress and safety frequencies, providing the ship has not been ordered to maintain radio silence. When radio silence has been ordered by pirates/armed robbers, the circular recommends that the order should be complied with to avoid physical violence or death to the crew.