Maritime Safety Committee - 69th session: May 11-20, 1998

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted a revised annex to the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention) during the 69th session of its senior technical body, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), which met from 11 to 20 May.

Other items on the agenda for the MSC included minor amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the impending 1 July 1998 implementation date for the International Safety Management (ISM) Code, the 1 August deadline for Parties to submit information on seafarer training to comply with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), as revised in 1995, and the increased incidence of piracy attacks on ships.

Revised Annex to the 1979 SAR Convention

The original SAR Convention, which was adopted in 1979 and entered into force in 1985, was designed to facilitate the development of an international, integrated and co-ordinated SAR plan, so that, no matter where an accident occurs, the rescue operation will be carried out in the same approved way; and, more importantly, that there will be no sea area left for which no Government will have accepted responsibility for the co-ordination of a SAR operation.

The revised SAR Convention, which will enter into force on 1 January 2000, clarifies the responsibilities of Governments and puts greater emphasis on the regional approach and co-ordination between maritime and aeronautical SAR operations. It is hoped the revised Convention will be more acceptable to those States which have not yet ratified the 1979 SAR Convention - as of 1 May 1998, the SAR Convention had been ratified by only 57 countries, whose combined merchant fleets represent less than 50% of world tonnage.

The revision applies to the main body of the Convention, contained in an Annex, which is divided into Chapters. The terms and definitions contained in Chapter 1 have been updated and Chapter 2, which deals with Organization and Co-ordination, has been re-drafted to make the responsibilities of Governments clearer. The new text requires Parties, either individually or in co-operation with other States, to establish basic elements of a search and rescue service, and describes how SAR services should be arranged and national capabilities be developed. Parties are required to establish rescue co-ordination centres and to operate them on a 24-hour basis with trained staff having a working knowledge of English.

Under the revised Chapter 2, Parties are required to "ensure the closest practicable co-ordination between maritime and aeronautical services". IMO and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have established a Joint Working Group on the harmonization of aeronautical and maritime SAR operations, which has prepared the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual, to be published later in 1998. The MSC approved the IAMSAR Manual, which will replace the earlier Merchant Ship Search and Rescue Manual (MERSAR), first published in 1971, and the IMO Search and Rescue Manual (IMOSAR), first published in 1978.

Other Chapters in the revised SAR Convention deal with Co-operation between States (Chapter 3) and Operating Procedures (Chapter 4), which incorporates the previous Chapters 4 (Preparatory Measures) and 5 (Operating Procedures). Chapter 4 gives procedures to be followed, such as during initial action, emergency phases, initiation of search and rescue operations when the position of the search object is unknown and co-ordination of SAR activities. The revised Chapter 4 says that "Search and rescue operations shall continue, when practicable, until all reasonable hope of rescuing survivors has passed".

The original Chapter 6 (Ship Reporting Systems) has been updated and renumbered as Chapter 5. It says that ship reporting systems should provide up-to-date information on the movements of vessels in the event of a distress incident to help the SAR activities.

Under the Convention, the world's oceans have been divided up into regional search and rescue regions, and in each region, countries have been working to agree each individual country's search and rescue region, for which it is responsible. This global network is expected to be completed following a Conference to be held in Fremantle, Australia, in September 1998.

Amendments to SOLAS

The MSC also adopted a number of amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The amendments are due to enter into force on 1 July 2002, under the tacit acceptance procedure.

Chapter II-1 - Construction - Subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations.

The amendments concern regulation 14 on Construction and initial testing of watertight bulkheads, etc., in passenger ships and cargo ships. Paragraph 3 is replaced to allow visual examination of welded connections, where filling with water or a hose test are not practicable.

Chapter IV - Radiocommunications

The amendments include:

  • a new regulation 5-1 requiring Contracting Governments to ensure suitable arrangements are in place for registering Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) identities (including ship's call sign, Inmarsat identities) and making the information available 24 hours a day to Rescue Co-ordination Centres;
  • a new paragraph 9 to regulation 15 Maintenance Requirements covering testing intervals for satellite emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBS)
  • a new regulation 18 on Position updating requiring automatic provision of information regarding the ship's position where two-way communication equipment is capable of providing automatically the ship's position in the distress alert. Where manual updating of the ship's position is required, this should be done not less than every four hours when the ship is underway.

Chapter VI Carriage of Cargoes

The amendment to paragraph 6 of regulation 5 Stowage and securing makes it clear that "all cargoes, other than solid and liquid bulk cargoes" should be loaded, stowed and secured in accordance with the Cargo Securing Manual. A similar amendments was adopted for Regulation 6 of Chapter VII Carriage of Dangerous Goods, also covering Stowage and securing.

States urged to ensure compliance with ISM Code

The MSC urged Contracting Governments to SOLAS as well as shipping companies and classification societies to ensure that ships that were required to do so would comply with the International Safety Management Code (ISM Code) when it enters into force for certain types of ships on 1 July 1998.

The MSC supported a statement by IMO Secretary-General Mr. William A. O'Neil that no Government should contemplate extending the implementation date beyond 1 July 1998, as that Government may then find itself in contravention of the SOLAS Convention. Furthermore, ships flying the flag of that Government would, if not in compliance with the Code, suffer all the repercussions of this when in ports of foreign States exercising their right to carry out port State control.

Several delegations reiterated that there would be no relaxation of the deadline and emphasised that shipowners who did not comply with the Code would face the prospect of port detention if they sailed without ISM documentation.

The ISM Code will become mandatory under Chapter IX of SOLAS, which was adopted in 1994 and enters into force on 1 July 1998 for all oil tankers, chemical tankers, bulk carriers, gas carriers, passenger ships and cargo high-speed craft of 500 gt and above on international voyages. It will be extended to other ships on international voyages in 2002.

According to a survey of major flag States carried out by IMO, around 78% of ships required to comply with the Code by 1 July will do so by the deadline.

The Code requires a safety management system (SMS) to be established by "the Company", which is described as the shipowner or any person, such as the manager or bareboat charterer, who has assumed responsibility for operating the ship. Administrations must issue a Document of Compliance (DOC) to every company that meets the standards laid down in the Code, a copy of which is required to be carried on board every ship of the company, while ships must also be issued with a Safety Management Certificate (SMC). Verification of compliance with the Code - such as checking the DOCs and SMCs - may be carried out during port State control inspections.

STCW deadline emphasised

The MSC emphasised the importance of the 1 August 1998 deadline for the next stage in implementation of the 1995 amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978.

By 1 August 1998, Parties to the Convention are required to submit to IMO details of the steps taken to ensure the Convention has been given full and complete effect, including administrative arrangements and details of courses, training programmes, examinations and assessments provided for each certificate issued.

The MSC approve an updated list of competent persons nominated by Parties to the STCW Convention to assist the Secretary-General in assessing compliance with the 1995 amendments. The MSC highlighted the fact that there are so far 150 competent persons on the list, against 130 contracting Parties to the STCW. Each panel of competent persons set up to consider the reports from Parties on compliance with the STCW amendments is to consist of five persons, so it is clear that those involved will have a great deal of work to do.

The MSC also discussed the timetable for publication of the "white list" of Parties that are in full compliance with the 1995 amendments, following consideration of the Secretary-General's reports on compliance. It was agreed that publication of this list should follow consideration of all reports submitted by the 1 August deadline.

Officer of the navigational watch acting as the sole look-out in periods of darkness

The MSC noted the results of trials that some countries have carried out with the officer of the navigational watch acting as sole look-out in periods of darkness. Countries who had carried out such trials said that, in their view, the practice had resulted in an improvement of safety compared with traditional watchkeeping arrangements, involving a separate look-out forming part of the watch, particularly on ships specially adapted for solo watchkeeping.

But a majority of the Committee expressed concern at the impact on navigational safety of solo watchkeeping and the MSC decided that such trials should be discontinued. The MSC called upon Administrations which had authorised ships to participate in trials, or which had authorised ships to continue the practice of solo watchkeeping in periods of darkness indefinitely, to cancel or discontinue such authorizations.

A number of delegations reserved their position, noting that the STCW Convention (under regulation I/13) provides for States to allow ships flying their flag to participate in trials. But they recognised that the STCW Convention also requires States to respect objections received from other Parties to the Convention and therefore they should not allow such trials when these ships were navigating in coastal waters of those States.

Piracy and armed robbery against ships

The MSC reiterated its concern about the continued rise in incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide and supported plans for IMO to send expert missions to selected countries to discuss the problem.

These missions will be followed by regional seminars planned to be held for selected countries in South East Asia, South and Central America, West Africa and the Indian Ocean. The first such seminar is scheduled to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in October 1998 and the second is planned for Singapore in February 1999.

The overall aim is to find measures to eradicate the attacks reported each year, through promoting regional cooperation.

The number of reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery in 1997 rose to 252 worldwide, an increase of 24 over the figure for 1996. Since statistics started being compiled by IMO in 1984, 1,207 such incidents have been reported.

A number of delegations, including Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, India and Thailand, said they had taken measures to suppress and prevent piracy and armed robbery against ships. These measures included bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries and the intensification of coastal patrols.

Working Group on bulk carrier safety to be set up at next session

The MSC agreed to set up a Working Group at its next session (MSC 70) to consider matters relating to bulk carrier safety.

The Working Group will consider issues arising from a survey report into the sinking of the Derbyshire bulk carrier in September 1980 with the loss 44 lives. The report, presented by the United Kingdom delegation to the MSC, contains a series of recommendations relating to the design and construction of bulk carriers.

The Working Group will be asked to deal with priority issues raised in the Derbyshire report, including the protection of the ship's fore end from green water, reserve buoyancy and the strength of hatch covers. It will also discuss which other issues should be referred to relevant sub-committees for consideration and possible development of technical recommendations.

The Working Group at MSC 70 will also consider issues referred to the MSC by the SOLAS Conference of November 1997, which adopted a new Chapter XII to SOLAS on bulk carrier safety.

These issues include the safety of bulk carriers under 150 metres in length, to which the new chapter does not apply and whether the chapter should apply to double skin bulk carriers, as well as those of single skin construction.

Human element

The MSC reviewed progress in discussions on the role of the human element in ship safety and preventing marine pollution.

One important issue under review by the Joint MSC/Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) Working Groups on the Human Element and on Formal Safety Assessment, which met during the session, is fatigue, and how it can contribute to maritime casualties.

Surveys by the British seafarers' union, NUMAST, and the international transport workers union, ICFTU, indicate that many seafarers work excessive hours and that fatigue can impact on seafarers ability to carry out their work.

The MSC instructed the Sub-Committee on Standards of Training and Watchkeeping (STW) to consider the fatigue issue in relation to its ongoing review of IMO Resolution A.481(XII) on Principles of Safe Manning; to consider the need for further research to uncover more evidence on the scale of fatigue; and to consider the training of masters and officers in recognizing and dealing with the effects of fatigue.

The Sub-Committee on Flag State Implementation (FSI) was instructed to consider whether port State control authorities should develop and implement procedures for assessing whether seafarers on board ships they inspect are subject to excessive working hours, and whether accident investigators should check the working hours of seafarers on ships involved in maritime casualties.

HEAP guidelines approved

The MSC approved a draft MSC/MEPC circular, prepared by the Joint Working Groups containing Interim Guidelines for the application of Human Element Analysing Process (HEAP) to the IMO rule-making process. The Guidelines contain a flowchart which sets out how HEAP can be used as a practical tool to ensure the human factor is taken into account in drafting or amending regulations and recommendations.

Formal Safety Assessment - trial applications

The MSC agreed to set up an intersessional Correspondence Group on the Trial Application of Formal Safety Assessment (FSA).

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.

A number of countries have been evaluating the application of FSA to specific ship safety issues and the Correspondence Group will initially review FSA studies on helicopter landing areas on board passenger ships required under SOLAS Chapter III, Regulation 28.2.

Further work by the Correspondence Group will include reviewing a study by the United Kingdom on the application of FSA to high-speed catamaran ferries.

Archipelagic sea lanes

The MSC adopted General provisions for the adoption, designation and substitution of archipelagic sea lanes, which set out how and when archipelagic sea lanes can be adopted and used as routeing systems. In essence, archipelagic sea lanes are intended to be used for continuous and expeditious passage of foreign ships and aircraft through or over archipelagic waters and the adjacent territorial sea. The general provisions also include details of how archipelagic sea lanes will be represented on charts.

The MSC adopted a partial system of archipelagic sea lanes in Indonesian archipelagic waters based on a proposal submitted by Indonesia. The sea lanes will be implemented six months after Indonesia has designated the sea lanes.

Navigation in the Strait of Istanbul, Strait of Çanakkale and the Marmara Sea

The delegation of Turkey presented details of a vessel traffic services (VTS) system it is developing for the Strait of Istanbul, Strait of Çanakkale and the Marmara Sea, as well as information on proposed amendments to national ship traffic regulations in the Straits, which are currently before the Turkish Government.

The MSC agreed that the safety of navigation in the Straits should be discussed at the next session of the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation (NAV), which meets from 20-24 July this year.

Unsafe practices associated with the transport and trafficking of illegal immigrants

The MSC considered matters related to the combatting of unsafe practices related to the trafficking and transport of illegal immigrants by sea and established an intersessional correspondence group to report to MSC 70 later this year.

Other matters

The MSC approved a number of recommendations, prepared by the relevant sub-committees, relating to fire protection, intact and damage stability, carriage of dangerous goods, navigation and radiocommunications.

The MSC also adopted Amendment 29-98 to the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code for entry into force on 1 January 1999, with a six-months implementation period ending 1 July 1999.

The MSC approved amendments to SOLAS Chapter VII and the INF Code, aimed at making the Code mandatory under SOLAS for formal adoption at MSC 71 in May 1999.