SOLAS, SAR amendments enter into force: bulk carriers, persons rescued at sea

Amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR) enter into force on 1 July 2006, including amendments relating to bulk carrier safety and persons in distress at sea.

Bulk carrier safety
The amendments to SOLAS (adopted in December 2004) replace chapter XII - Additional safety measures for bulk carriers with a revised text, incorporating revisions to some regulations and new requirements relating to bulk carriers of double-side skin construction.

The amendments include new requirements for bulk carriers of double-side skin construction as an optional alternative to single-side skin construction; additional maintenance requirements; and a new regulation 14 on restrictions from sailing with any hold empty. The option of double-side skin construction will apply to new bulk carriers of 150 m in length and over, designed to carry solid bulk cargoes having a density of 1,000 kg/m3 and above.

Also, amendments (adopted in December 2004) to SOLAS regulation III/31 - Survival craft and rescue boats, make mandatory the carriage of free-fall lifeboats on bulk carriers.

Amendments (adopted in May 2004) to SOLAS regulation III/32 - Personal life-saving appliances, make changes to the number of immersion suits to be carried on cargo ships and introduce carriage requirements for one immersion suit per person on board all cargo ships, including bulk carriers. Consequential amendments to the 1988 SOLAS Protocol, relating to the records of equipment, also enter into force.

Persons in distress at sea
The amendments to the SOLAS and SAR Conventions, adopted in May 2004, concern the treatment of persons rescued at sea. The amendments were developed in response to resolution A.920 on Review of safety measures and procedures for the treatment of persons rescued at sea, adopted by IMO's 22nd Assembly in 2001, following a number of incidents that highlighted concerns surrounding the treatment of persons rescued at sea, including undocumented migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and stowaways. The resolution requested IMO to review all IMO instruments so that any existing gaps, inconsistencies, ambiguities, vagueness or other inadequacies could be identified and any action needed could be taken.

The prime concern with respect to such incidents was that, unless the matter was considered in all its aspects and appropriate action was taken, there might be a negative impact on the integrity of the global search and rescue system which IMO has put in place.

The amendments include:

  - Amendments to SOLAS chapter V - Safety of Navigation, adding a definition of search and rescue services. They add to and clarify the existing longstanding obligation to provide assistance, adding the words: "This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found." The amendments mandate co-ordination and co-operation between States to assist the ship's master in delivering persons rescued at sea to a place of safety and add a new regulation on the master's discretion, which states that "the owner, the charterer, the company operating the ship…, or any other person shall not prevent or restrict the master of the ship from taking or executing any decision which, in the master's professional judgement, is necessary for safety of life at sea and protection of the marine environment."
  - Amendments to the Annex to the SAR Convention, adding a new paragraph in chapter 2 Organization and co-ordination, relating to the definition of persons in distress; new paragraphs in chapter 3 - Co-operation between States, relating to assistance to the master in delivering persons rescued at sea to a place of safety; and a new paragraph in chapter 4 - Operating procedures, relating to rescue co-ordination centres initiating the process of identifying the most appropriate places for disembarking persons found in distress at sea.

Related Guidelines on the treatment of persons rescued at sea, adopted in May 2004, aim to provide guidance with regard to humanitarian obligations and obligations under the relevant international law.

Other SOLAS amendments

Accidents with lifeboats
The amendments (adopted in May 2004) to SOLAS chapter III - Life-saving appliances and arrangements are intended to help prevent accidents with lifeboats during drills. They stemmed from work by the Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Equipment (DE) intended to address the unacceptably high number of accidents with lifeboats in which crew have been injured, sometimes fatally, while participating in lifeboat drills and/or inspections. The amendments to SOLAS regulations III/19 - Emergency training and drills and III/20 Operational readiness, maintenance and inspections concern the conditions in which lifeboat emergency training and drills should be conducted and introduce changes to the operational requirements for maintenance, weekly and monthly inspections so as not to require any persons to be on board, and servicing of launching appliances and on-load release gear.

Voyage data recorders and simplified voyage data recorders on cargo ships
The amendments (adopted in December 2004) to SOLAS regulation V/20 - Voyage data recorders, give a phased-in carriage requirement for a voyage data recorder (VDR) on cargo ships built before 1 July 2002, allowing for these ships to be fitted with a simplified voyage data recorder (S-VDR).

The current regulation already required passenger ships, and ships other than passenger ships of 3,000 gross tonnage and upwards, constructed on or after 1 July 2002, to carry VDRs to assist in accident investigations. The amendment adds a new paragraph to require a VDR, which may be an S-VDR, to be fitted on cargo ships as follows:

  - in the case of cargo ships of 20,000 gross tonnage and upwards constructed before 1 July 2002, at the first scheduled dry-docking after 1 July 2006 but not later than 1 July 2009;
  - in the case of cargo ships of 3,000 gross tonnage and upwards but less than 20,000 gross tonnage constructed before 1 July 2002, at the first scheduled dry-docking after 1 July 2007 but not later than 1 July 2010.

Administrations may exempt cargo ships from the application of such requirements when such ships will be taken permanently out of service within two years after the implementation date specified.

The S-VDR is not required to store the same level of detailed data as a standard VDR, but, nonetheless, should retain, in a secure and retrievable form, information concerning the position, movement, physical status, command and control of a vessel. In accordance with the performance standards for S-VDRs, the time for which all stored data items are retained should be at least 12 hours while data items which are older than this may be overwritten with new data.

Other amendments

  - Other SOLAS amendments adopted in December 2004 which enter into force on 1 July 2006 include those:
to Chapter II-1, regulation 18 - Construction and initial tests of watertight doors, sidescuttles, etc., in passenger ships and cargo ships to allow testing of watertight doors by a prototype pressure test in certain circumstances. Also to regulation 45 - Precautions against shock, fire and other hazards of electrical origin to amend the existing paragraph 10 and to add a new paragraph 11 which controls the installation of electrical equipment cables and wiring in hazardous locations on tankers.
  - to Chapter V, regulation 19 - Carriage requirements for shipborne navigational systems and equipment to add the words "being clearly readable by the helmsman at the main steering position" in paragraph 2.5 relating to the carriage of a gyro compass, or other means to determine and display heading by shipborne non-magnetic means.
  - to Chapter VII, regulation 10 - Requirements for chemical tankers to delete the words "For the purpose of this regulation, the requirements of the Code shall be treated as mandatory" as the revised IBC Code has been developed in a mandatory format.
  - to Chapter V - Safety of navigation, addition of simplified voyage data recorder (S-VDR) to the Record of Equipment for the Cargo Ship Safety Equipment Certificate (Form E).

Briefing 24, 30 June 2006

For further information please contact:
Lee Adamson, Head, Public Information Services on 020 7587 3153 (media@imo.org) or
Natasha Brown, External Relations Officer on 020 7587 3274 (media@imo.org).