“Places of refuge” – a priority issue for IMO
Maritime Safety Committee – 74th session: 30 May – 8 June 2001
Safety committee responds to concern over vessels in distress
IMO’s Member Governments have pledged to tackle the issue of providing places of refuge to vessels in distress as a matter of priority.
The decision by IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) to look at the problem comes in the wake of the incident earlier this year in which the salvors of the fully-laden tanker Castor were unable to find a sheltered place to effect cargo transfer and repairs for some 35 days. The incident sparked a great deal of concern about the provision of refuge for ships in distress.
The MSC met for its 74th session at IMO Headquarters in London from May 30th to June 8th 2001, under the chairmanship of Mr Tom Allan from the United Kingdom. Other issues on a packed agenda included the updating of the STCW “White List” and the safety of large passenger vessels and bulk carriers.
Work on “places of refuge” to begin in July
The MSC agreed to instruct the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation (NAV) to begin considering the issue of places of refuge at its 47th session in July 2001.
Over the next two years, the NAV Sub-Committee is expected to work in co-operation with the Sub-Committee on Radiocommunications, Search and Rescue (COMSAR) and the Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Equipment (DE) with a view to developing guidelines to help States and masters deal with a situation in which a ship in distress seeks a place of refuge. The proposed guidelines might cover the following aspects:
The issue of places of refuge was highlighted as one of many issues for further action in the wake of the Erika incident in December 1999, but it was the Castor incident early this year which brought the issue to the fore.
The Castor had sustained considerable structural damage in heavy weather and was deemed to present a serious risk of pollution and explosion. At the time, IMO Secretary-General William O’Neil called for a comprehensive review of the whole question of providing shelter for stricken vessels, suggesting that, in the interests of safety of life and environmental protection, coastal States should review their contingency arrangements so that disabled ships could be provided with assistance and facilities appropriate to the circumstances.
Welcoming the MSC decision to move forward on the issue, Mr. O’Neil said that while there were political and technical connotations surrounding the sovereignty aspects of the issue, these should not hamper the progress that IMO should make in providing suitable answers to a global problem.
“Taking into account the non‑mandatory character of the approach envisaged by IMO, I am confident that any concerns can be alleviated and that the matter will be tackled in IMO’s usual successful manner to the benefit of safety of life at sea and environmental protection,” Mr. O’Neil said.
During the MSC debate on the issue, delegates raised the following main points for action at present and for future consideration:
The MSC noted that the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) had already discussed the issue and agreed to also bring the issue to the attention of the Legal Committee for consideration of any matters relating to international law, jurisdiction, rights of coastal States, liability, insurance, bonds, etc. points of view.
The Committee also noted that, at a later stage and based on information by Member States, the Organization might consider preparing a “World Guide of places of refuge” for use by shipmasters, salvage operators and others in case of ships in distress and in need of such places.
The Maritime Safety Committee is the highest technical body of the Organization. Delegates from all 158 member States may attend. The main function of the MSC is to consider any matter within the scope of the Organization that directly affects maritime safety. It has the power to adopt amendments to conventions, such as the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS), Collision Regulations, Load Lines etc. It is assisted in its work by nine sub-committees which are also open to all Member States. They deal with the following subjects: Bulk Liquids and Gases; Carriage of Dangerous Goods; Solid Cargoes and Containers; Fire Protection; Radiocommunications and Search and Rescue; Safety of Navigation; Ship Design and Equipment; Stability and Load Lines and Fishing Vessel Safety; Standards of Training and Watchkeeping and Flag State Implementation.