Maritime Safety Committee - 73rd session: 27 November-6 December 2000

The 73rd meeting of the IMO’s senior technical body, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), concluded (on 6 December 2000) what Secretary-General William O’Neil referred to as a session "without parallel" in IMO’s history. The eight-day meeting successfully completed a demanding work programme that saw significant progress made on a wide diversity of key maritime safety issues. Among the highlights were the publication of the eagerly anticipated STCW "White List", carriage requirements for "black boxes" and the start of work on a series of measures related to tanker safety that arose from the Marine Environment Protection Committee’s consideration of the Erika incident.

Important work was also carried out in the continuing fight against piracy and armed robbery against ships, and a broad-based assessment of the safety of large passenger ships, both today and in the future.

In his opening remarks, the Secretary-General said that never before had the Committee, or the Organization as a whole, been asked to adopt so many new mandatory codes or amendments to so many important IMO instruments as at this session.


"Black box" carriage requirements adopted

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has adopted mandatory regulations to require ships to carry voyage data recorders (VDRs). The regulations will come into force on 1 July 2002 and all new ships built on or after that date will have to be fitted with VDRs. Existing passenger ships and ro-ro ships will also be required to fit VDRs, while a study will be carried out to examine the need for mandatory carriage of VDRs on existing cargo ships.

The VDR regulations were amongst a raft of amendments to IMO’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 (SOLAS) adopted during the 73rd session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), IMO’s senior technical body, which met from 27 November to 6 December 2000.

Like the black boxes carried on aircraft, VDRs enable accident investigators to review procedures and instructions in the moments before an incident and help to identify the cause of any accident. The regulations for VDRs are contained in a revised Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) of SOLAS.

Currently ships are recommended but not required to carry VDRs. Performance standards for VDRs were adopted by IMO in 1997.

The revised Chapter V also makes it mandatory for certain ships to carry an automatic identification system (AIS). (See also briefing No 28 2000) .


Revised STCW - "White List" agreed

The MSC agreed a list of parties deemed to be fully in compliance with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), as amended. A total of 71 member States and one associate member have been included in the initial "White List." (See also briefing No 26)


Elimination of sub-standard oil tankers

An MSC Working Group developed a proposed list of measures to eliminate sub-standard ships, and the MSC agreed to refer the list of measures to the Organization’s Sub-committees and to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), for general consideration. This work follows agreement at the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in October 2000 to accelerate the current phase-out schedule for single-hull oil tankers. The actual finalized revised phase-out schedule is expected to be adopted in April 2001. (See also briefing No 27)


Safety of large passenger ships

The MSC agreed to establish a correspondence group to work on issues related to large passenger ship safety, following intensive work by a working group during the session. The aim is to identify the extent to which current regulations should be reviewed, in the light of the sheer size of these vessels and the numbers of persons carried on board, and in particular with regards to emergency situations and seafarer training.

The Working Group on Enhancing the Safety of Large Passenger Ships began a global consideration of safety issues pertaining to passenger ships, with particular emphasis on large cruise ships, in response to a proposal to MSC 72 by IMO Secretary-General, Mr. William A. O'Neil.

During the current session, the Working Group reviewed the current safety regime as it relates to large passenger ships and identified areas of concern relating to:

the ship
- including construction and equipment, evacuation, operation and management;

the people
- including crew, passengers, rescue personnel, training, crisis and crowd management;

the environment
- including search and rescue services, operation in remote areas and weather conditions.


Ship is its own best lifeboat

The MSC endorsed the working group’s decision that future large passenger ships should be designed for improved survivability based on the time-honoured philosophy 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 philosophy also envisages that a ship should always be able to proceed to port at a minimum safe speed.

To achieve the above philosophies, the group agreed that special design requirements for future large passenger ships would have to be developed to achieve this "safe haven as ship proceeds back to port" philosophy and that the consideration of new concepts would be essential. The group also was of the view that this philosophical approach would address the risks associated with evacuating and rescuing a large number of survivors by reducing the need to abandon the ship in the first place.

However, notwithstanding the above philosophy, the group recognized that ship abandonment will continue to occur and agreed that future ships should be equipped with effective life-saving equipment and appliances that are designed for survival in the area of operation and take into account the availability of SAR systems.


Preliminary work plan

The MSC endorsed a preliminary work plan as developed by the working group, which includes elements relating to the following areas of concern:


ˇ Collision and grounding
ˇ Equipment failure
ˇ Escape, evacuation and rescue
ˇ Fire safety
ˇ Medical emergency
ˇ Operations and management
ˇ Vessel surveys
ˇ Search and rescue
ˇ Ship survivability
ˇ Evacuation, life-saving systems and arrangements

The correspondence group will work on finalizing the preliminary list of concerns and further developing the philosophical approach, goals and objectives for dealing with matters relating to future large passenger ships. It will also assess how areas of concern should be analysed taking into consideration tools such as formal safety assessment, the human element analyzing process, cost/benefit analysis and risk assessment, with a view to linking these tools to each area of concern. A report will be submitted to the next MSC scheduled for June 2001.


Piracy and armed robbery against ships – code approved

The MSC approved the text of a code of practice for the investigation of the crime of piracy and armed robbery against ships.

The Code will be issued as an MSC Circular immediately, with the intention that it should be adopted by the 22nd Assembly in November 2001 via an Assembly resolution.

The Code is intended to provide IMO member states with an aide memoire to facilitate the investigation of the crimes of piracy and armed robbery against ships. The Code gives detailed guidance on investigation of the crimes of piracy and armed robbery against ships under the following headings:

ˇ Prior considerations
in which States are encouraged to ratify the 1982 United nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 1988 convention for the Suppression of Unlawful acts against the safety of Navigation and the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf. It also encourages bilateral or multilateral agreements to facilitate the investigation of piracy and armed robbery against ships.

ˇ Training of investigators
gives primary purposes of an intervention or investigation, emphasising the safe release of any persons held should take precedence over other investigation.

ˇ Investigative strategy
including overall management: the Code encourages liaison and co-operation with relevant organizations such as Interpol, and the ICC International Maritime Bureau at an early stage.

ˇ Dealing with an initial report
covering the responsibilities of those who first attend crime scenes, which are identified as preservation of life, prevention of the escape of offenders, warnings to other ships, protection of crime scenes and securing evidence.

ˇ The investigation
covering proportionality (the investigating agency’s assessment of the "seriousness" of an incident), establishing and recording all relevant facts, recording individual witness accounts, detailed forensic examination of crime scenes, searching intelligence databases and the distribution of information and intelligence to appropriate agencies;


The text for the Code was developed by a Correspondence Group after series of expert missions, seminars and workshops around the world was organized by IMO during 1998 and 1999. Participants at the seminars recommended that Governments needed to intensify their efforts to combat piracy and armed robbery against ships and that IMO should consider developing a code of practice or instrument for the investigation of piracy and armed robbery against ships


United Nations General Assembly resolution

The MSC was informed that IMO’s Secretary-General had written to the United Nations Secretary-General to bring his attention to the growing seriousness of the problem of piracy and armed robbery against ships. As a result, the United Nations General Assembly, at its 55th session, adopted resolution A/RES/55/7 on "Oceans and the law of the sea", which urged "all States, in particular coastal States, in affected regions to take all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent and combat incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea, including through regional co-operation, and to investigate or co-operate in the investigation of such incidents wherever they occur and bring the alleged perpetrators to justice in accordance with international law"; called upon States, in this context, to "co-operate fully with the International Maritime Organization, including by submitting reports on incidents to the organization and by implementing the International Maritime Organization guidelines on preventing attacks of piracy and armed robbery"; and urged States to "become parties to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and its Protocol, and to ensure its effective implementation."


Phantom ships resolution developed

In other crime related measures, the MSC developed a draft Assembly resolution addressing the issue of "phantom ships", in other words, fraudulent registration, certification and identification of ships.

The draft Assembly resolution encourages flag States to ensure that proper checks are made when registering a ship, in order to reduce the number of "phantom ships" and hijackings. The MSC referred the draft to the Sub-Committee on Flag State Implementation for further development before approval at MSC 74 in June 2001 with the aim of submitting it for adoption at the 22nd Assembly in November 2001.


Standardized test report forms for life-saving appliances approved

The MSC approved standardized evaluation and test report forms for all life-saving appliances, from rescue boats to life-jackets, contained in a 850-page document. The forms give detailed test procedures for lifesaving appliances required under SOLAS chapter III (Life-Saving Appliances and Arrangements) of SOLAS and its associated International Life-Saving Appliance (LSA) Code. The procedures update resolution A. 689(17) Recommendation on testing of life-saving appliances and incorporate the subsequent amendments to that resolution in a new, user-friendly format. The standardized tests are an important tool in facilitating and harmonising international approval procedures for these appliances.


IMDG Code to be made mandatory

The MSC decided, in principle, to make the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code mandatory, aiming at an entry-into-force date of 1 January 2004, and instructed the Sub-Committee on Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers at its sixth session in July 2001 and the Secretariat to prepare relevant documents such as draft amendments to SOLAS.

The MSC agreed that some chapters of the IMDG Code would remain recommendatory in nature – including chapter 1.3 (Training); chapter 2.1 (Explosives - Notes 1 to 4); 2.3.3 of chapter 2.3 (Determination of flashpoint); chapter 3.2 (Columns 15 and 17 of the Dangerous Goods List); chapter 3.5 (Transport Schedules); 5.4.5 of chapter 5.4 (Multimodal dangerous goods form); and chapter 7.3 (Special provisions in the event of an incident and fire precautions involving dangerous goods).

The IMDG Code was introduced by IMO in 1965 as a uniform international code for the transport of dangerous goods by sea covering such matters as packing, container traffic and stowage, with particular reference to the segregation of incompatible substances. At its 72nd session, the MSC adopted a revised and reformatted International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, which is intended to be more user-friendly and understandable.


Passenger submersibles – guidelines approved

The MSC approved Guidelines for the design, construction and operation of passenger submersible craft aimed at facilitating the international movement, acceptance and safe operation of such craft and providing a minimum acceptable standard of safety for passengers.

Because it is recognized that submersible craft designs and operational parameters may depend on the geographical area of operation, environmental conditions, intended passenger carrying capability of the craft, and on the degree of surface support provided, the Guidelines do not attempt to specify which particular type of passenger submersible craft should be employed . They recommend that operators examine and identify a most suitable option for the area and type of operation in which they are engaged.

Other issues such as surface support and dive sites, which may be critical to safe operations, are not addressed by the Guidelines.


Amendments to COLREGs approved

The Committee approved draft amendments to the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972 (COLREGs), to be put forward to the 22nd IMO Assembly in November 2001 for final adoption. The amendments concern:

  • whistles and sound signals (Rules 33 and 35);

  • action to avoid collision (Rule 8 (a)) - to make it clear that any action to avoid collision should be taken in accordance with the relevant rules in the COLREGs;

  • amendments with respect to high-speed craft (relating to the vertical separation of masthead lights); and

  • amendments with relation to Wing-In-Ground (WIG) craft, to include a rule that WIG craft should keep well clear of all other vessels and another rule that WIG craft should exhibit a high-intensity all-round flashing red light when taking off, landing and in-flight near the surface.


Trafficking or transport of illegal migrants by sea

The MSC agreed to implement a reporting procedure to keep track of incidents of unsafe practices associated with the trafficking or transport of illegal migrants by sea and urged Governments and international organizations to report promptly such practices they become aware of. A circular giving details of incidents reported will be issued biannually.

The reports should include, where available, ship and shipowner’s details, voyage details, date, time and position of the incident, a description of the incident and measures taken, and information concerning the migrants including number, nationality, sex, any whether any are minors.

In 1998, IMO approved an advisory Circular (MSC.896) outlining Interim measures for combating unsafe practices associated with the trafficking or transport of migrants by sea, which notes that migrants often are transported on ships that are not properly manned, equipped or licensed for carrying passengers on international voyages. It says States should take steps relating to maritime safety, in accordance with domestic and international law, to eliminate these unsafe practices associated with the trafficking or transport of migrants by sea.

Relevant provisions of MSC/Circ.896 are reflected in chapter II on "Smuggling of Migrants by Sea" of the draft Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Air and Sea, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The protocol was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 15 November 2000 and was officially signed at a ceremony in Palermo, Italy, from 12 to 15 December 2000.



Study reveals seafarer certificate forgery is rife

The Committee heard that the preliminary results of an IMO research study to establish the nature and extent of unlawful practices associated with certificates of competency had revealed 12,535 cases of forgery in certificates of competency and equivalent endorsements. The study, being carried out by the Seafarers International Research Centre, Cardiff, United Kingdom, is in the final stages having completed the data collection phase and a final report is being produced.

During the study, a total of 97 maritime administrations were contacted for information on various aspects of the issue of unlawful practices associated with certificates of competency and equivalent endorsements, of which 54 had responded to questionnaires giving a response rate of 56%. Of those, 39% had reported a total of 12,635 detected cases of forgery in certificates of competency and equivalent endorsements. The Committee noted, however, that, of the total number of reported cases, 12,000 had been reported by one single administration in South East Asia, and that all these cases were currently being analysed to assess the level and nature of forgery involved.

A total of 1384 seafarers and 22 employers had participated in the survey. 50% of respondents were manning agents, 32% shipowners and 18% ship managers employing an average of 615 ratings and 1091 officers in their companies. 82% percent of the respondents had detected forged certificates of competency in the last five years. Of these, 41% reported having detected forged basic safety training certificates, 27% had reported forged sea service record books and 18% had detected forged OOW (deck) certificates. 14% had also reported false GMDSS (GOC) certificates.

Further information on the study can be obtained from the Seafarers International Research Centre (SIRC), web site:


Amendments adopted

The MSC adopted:


ˇ A revised SOLAS chapter V (Safety of Navigation). Entry into force 1 July 2002 under tacit acceptance.

ˇ A new High-Speed Craft Code 2000 - Entry into force 1 July 2002 under tacit acceptance. An updated version of the mandatory High-Speed Craft Code adopted in 1994. The Code is mandatory under SOLAS chapter X (Safety measures for high-speed craft). The new International Code for High Speed Craft, 2000 will apply to all HSC built on or after the date of entry into force. The original HSC Code was adopted by IMO in May 1994, but the rapid pace of development in this sector of shipping has meant an early revision of the Code. The original Code will continue to apply to existing high-speed craft. The changes incorporated in the new Code are intended to bring it into line with amendments to SOLAS and new recommendations that have been adopted in the past four years - for example, requirements covering public address systems and helicopter pick-up areas. Consequential amendments to SOLAS chapter X (Safety measures for high-speed craft) - to refer to the new Code – were also adopted.

ˇ A revised SOLAS Chapter II-2 (Construction, - Fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction) and a new International Code for Fire Safety Systems (FSS Code). Entry into force 1 July 2002 under tacit acceptance. The revised chapter is intended to be clear, concise and user-friendly, incorporating the substantial changes introduced in recent years following a number of serious fire casualties. The revised chapter includes seven parts, each including requirements applicable to all or specified ship types, while the Fire Safety Systems (FSS) Code, which is made mandatory under the new chapter, includes detailed specifications for fire safety systems in 15 Chapters.

ˇ A new regulation 3-5 in SOLAS Chapter II-1 (Construction – Structure, subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations) to prohibit the new installation of materials which contain asbestos on all ships. Entry into force 1 July 2002 under tacit acceptance. The regulation states that for all ships, new installation of materials which contain asbestos shall be prohibited except for vanes used in rotary vane compressors and rotary vane vacuum pumps, watertight joints and linings used for the circulation of fluids when, at high temperature or pressure there is a risk of fire, corrosion or toxicity, and supple and flexible thermal insulation assemblies used for temperatures above 1000ēC.

ˇ Amendments to the 1988 SOLAS Protocol in particular to the details of navigational systems and equipment referred to in the records of equipment attached to certificates. Entry into force 1 July 2002 under tacit acceptance. The amendments reflect the changes to SOLAS chapter V.

ˇ Amendments to the International Code for the Application of Fire Test Procedures (FTP Code) to add new parts 10 and 11 to annex 1 on tests for fire-restricting material for high-speed craft and tests for fire-resisting divisions of high-speed craft. Entry into force 1 July 2002 under tacit acceptance.

ˇ Amendments to the International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk (IBC Code) and the Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk (BCH Code) relating to cargo hose requirements, protection of personnel and carriage of carbon disulphide. Entry into force 1 July 2002 under tacit acceptance.

ˇ Amendments to the International Safety Management Code (ISM Code) including the replacement of Chapter 13 (on certification, verification and control) with a new Chapter 13 (on certification) and additional Chapters 14 (Interim certification), 15 (Forms of certificate) and 16 Verification; as well as a new appendix giving forms of documents and certificates. Entry into force 1 July 2002 under tacit acceptance.

ˇ Amendments to the Code for the Construction and equipment of ships carrying dangerous chemicals in bulk (BCH Code) relating to ship's cargo hoses, tank vent systems, safety equipment, operational requirements; and amendments to the Code for the construction and equipment of ships carrying liquefied gases in bulk (GC Code) relating to ship's cargo hoses, personnel protection and operating requirements. Entry into force 1 July 2002 under tacit acceptance.

ˇ New and amended ships' routeing and ship reporting systems, including: new mandatory ship-reporting system "Off Les Casquets and the adjacent coastal area" (central English Channel to supplement the existing mandatory ship-reporting systems already established at Ouessant and in the Pas de Calais; three mandatory no-anchoring areas on coral reef banks (Flower Garden Banks) in the north-western Gulf of Mexico; four new traffic separation schemes along the Peruvian coast; new traffic separation schemes and associated routeing measures in the approaches to the River Humber on the east coast of England; amendments to the existing traffic separation scheme in Prince William Sound (United States). The new measures take effect from 0000 hours UTC on 1 June 2001.

ˇ Amendments to the General Provisions on Ships' Routeing (resolution A.572(14) as amended) to incorporate "no-anchoring areas".

ˇ Amendments to the guidelines on the enhanced programme of inspections during surveys of bulk carriers and oil tankers (resolution A.744(18)) with relation to the evaluation of the longitudinal strength of the hull girder of oil tankers. The amendments include a new annex 12 containing criteria for longitudinal strength of hull-girder for oil tankers.

ˇ Amendments to the guidelines and criteria for Ship Reporting Systems (MSC resolution MSC.43(64)) concerning section 3, "Criteria for planning, proposing and implementing adopted ship-reporting systems by contracting Governments".

ˇ Amendments to the COLREGs concerning provisions for whistles and sound signals for small vessels; amendments with respect to Wing-in-Ground (WIG) craft and vertical separation of steaming lights for High-Speed Craft. Entry into force 1 July 2002 under tacit acceptance.

ˇ New and amended performance standards for:

  • shipborne global positioning system (GPS) receiver equipment;
  • shipborne GLONASS receiver equipment;
  • shipborne DGPS and DGLONASS maritime radio beacon receiver equipment;
  • shipborne combined GPS/GLONASS receiver equipment; and
  • marine transmitting heading devices (THDs).

Other measures:

The MSC also:

  • Approved a draft revision of resolution A.860(20) Maritime policy for a future global navigation satellite system (GNSS) to update the user requirements for general navigation and positioning and introduce user requirements for non-general navigation and positioning. For submission to the 22nd Assembly in November 2001.

  • Approved in principle draft guidelines on the operational use of shipborne automatic identification systems (AIS), for finalization by the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation and submission to the 22nd session of the IMO Assembly for adoption.

  • Approved in principle a draft proposed framework of guidelines for recording events related to navigation, for finalization by the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation and submission to the 22nd session of the IMO Assembly for adoption.

  • Approved a draft MSC/MEPC circular on the beneficial impact of the ISM Code and its role as an indicator of safe operation and environmental protection, to be submitted to the MEPC for final approval and publication. The draft circular notes that one of the beneficial impacts of the effective implementation of the ISM Code would also be the reduction of the need for the number and scope of non-statutory inspections The circular urges the various interests engaged in ships’ inspections to give greater recognition to the role of the ISM Code in ensuring a sound approach to the maintenance of safety and environmental protection. The circular was developed at a meeting convened by the Secretary-General in February 2000 to discuss possible solutions to the problems caused by the proliferation of ship inspections by various interests representing flag and port States, insurers, cargo owners, charterers etc.

List of circulars approved by MSC 73

MSC Circulars
MSC/Circ.978 Parties to the International Convention on Standards, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978, as amended, confirmed by the Maritime Safety Committee to have communicated information which demonstrates that full and complete effect is given to the relevant provisions of the Convention
MSC/Circ.979 Preparation of reports pursuant to STCW regulation I/7, paragraph 2
MSC/Circ.980 Standardized life-saving appliance evaluation and test report forms
MSC/Circ.981 Guidelines for the design, construction and operation of passenger submersible craft
MSC/Circ.982 Guidelines on ergonomic criteria for bridge equipment and layout
MSC/Circ.983 Amendments to the International Code of Signals
MSC/Circ.984 Code of practice for the investigation of the crimes of piracy and armed robbery against ships


Other circulars
COLREG.2/Circ.49 New and amended traffic separation schemes and associated routeing measures
SN/Circ.214 Mandatory ship reporting system
SN/Circ.215 Amendments to the General Provisions on Ships' Routeing
SN/Circ.216 Routeing measures other than traffic separation schemes