IMO Secretary-General calls for review of safety of large passenger ships

Maritime Safety Committee - 72nd session: 17-26 May 2000

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) should consider undertaking a global consideration of safety issues pertaining to passenger ships, with particular emphasis on large cruise ships, IMO Secretary-General Mr. William A. O`Neil says in a paper submitted to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), which meets 17-26 May 2000.

The MSC is the senior technical body of IMO, the United Nations agency concerned with safety of shipping ad the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

In the paper, entitled Enhancing the safety of large passenger ships, Mr.O`Neil notes the achievements of the shipbuilding and ancillary industries in delivering gigantic cruise ships embodying state-of-the-art technology.

He notes the safety of recently built large cruise ships is not in doubt, nor is there concern as to whether such ships confirm with most recently adopted safety standards applicable to ships of this category - particularly those standards in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

However, what "merits due consideration is whether SOLAS and, to the extent applicable, the Load Line Convention requirements, several of which were drafted before some of these large ships were built, duly address all the safety aspects of their operation – in particular, in emergency situations. Also, whether the training requirements of the [International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers] STCW Convention relating to personnel operating large cruise ships are in need of any review or clarification in the circumstances."

It is suggested that the Committee may wish to consider establishing an ad hoc working group to consider all relevant issues.

The paper notes that according to statistical information, there are, at present, 47 passenger ships of 50,000 gross tonnage* and above, built between 1961 and 1999, totalling 3,324,853 gross tonnage, capable of carrying 106,484 passengers and 38,389 crew members. Of these, 42 passenger ships, totalling 2,987,889 gross tonnage and being capable of carrying 96,075 passengers and 34,439 crew members were built since 1990; their average gross tonnage is 71,140, while their average capacity is 2,287 passengers and 819 crew members or 3,106 persons on board.

Draft revised Chapter V of SOLAS to be considered

The MSC will consider the completed revised draft text of SOLAS chapter V, together with the associated draft MSC resolution, for adoption at MSC 73 in December 2000.

The revised Chapter V will be longer than the existing chapter, with nearly twice as many regulations, and is being reformatted. It is intended that the revised Chapter V will enter into force on 1 July 2002, in accordance with the four-year interval agreed by the Maritime Safety Committee for bringing into force amendments to mandatory instruments.

The Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation finalized the draft revised Chapter V at its last meeting in September 1999. The review began in 1992.

Some points in a number of draft regulations remain open for discussion by the MSC - including carriage requirements for navigational equipment, including Automatic Ship Identification Systems (AIS) and Voyage Data Recorders (VDR).

The Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation agreed on the need for passenger ships on international voyages to carry Voyage Data Recorders (VDRs) and agreed that existing ro-ro passenger ships should comply with the requirement on the date of entry into force of the new regulations.

However, the Sub-Committee did not reach consensus regarding application to other types of ships and agreed that the MSC should decide whether to include in the regulation a phase-in implementation schedule for other ships.

Some delegations favoured a resolution to be adopted which calls on administrations to consider the use of VDR also on other ships and, in the light of the experience gained, to consider whether this regulation should be extended to cover other ships in future.

Performance standards for shipborne VDRs were adopted at the twentieth Assembly in 1997 by resolution A.861(20).

Comprehensive review of SOLAS chapter II-2 and Fire Safety Systems Code

The Committee will also consider a draft revised SOLAS chapter II-2 and the draft Fire Safety Systems Code, which were submitted by the Sub-Committee on Fire Protection. If approved by the Committee it is expected that the texts will be circulated with a view to adoption by MSC 73 in November-December.

Bulk carrier safety

The MSC will establish a Working Group on Bulk Carrier Safety to review relevant submissions.

In July 1999, a new chapter XII on Additional safety measures for bulk carriers to SOLAS, 1974, entered into force. The regulations in the chapter aim to prevent losses of bulk carriers due to structural failure following flooding of any hold in new ships and of the foremost hold of existing ships, identified as the cause of a number of losses of bulk carriers in the early 1990s. The chapter contains a number of requirements for improving the structural integrity of bulk carriers, including strengthening the double bottom and bulkhead of the foremost hold where required.

However, a 1998 report on the sinking of the bulk carrier Derbyshire in 1980 with the loss of 44 lives, presented at the 69th session of the MSC in May 1998 by the United Kingdom, contains further recommendations relating to the design and construction of bulk carriers.

The working group is expected to continue reviewing issues discussed at the previous session.

A number of issues are also being reviewed by the Sub-Committee on Stability and Load Lines and on Fishing Vessel Safety (SLF), including: strength of hatch covers and coamings; freeboard and bow height; reserve buoyancy at fore end, including forecastles; structural means to reduce loads on hatch covers and forward structure; and fore deck and fore end access.

FSA study on bulk carrier safety

The Committee will also review progress in carrying out a formal safety assessment (FSA) study of bulk carriers, to aid future IMO decision-making on bulk carrier safety. At its last session the MSC agreed to a framework setting out project objectives, scope and application, namely:

.1 to inform IMO’s future decision-making regarding measures to improve the safety of bulk carriers;
.2 to apply FSA methodology to the safety of dry bulk shipping; and
.3 to secure international collaboration and agreement.


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, in its potential application to the rule making process, 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 (devising 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).

The United Kingdom is co-ordinating the FSA study, which is expected to take two years.

Draft 2000 High Speed Craft Code

The MSC will consider the draft International Code of Safety for high-speed craft, 2000 (2000 HSC Code). If approved, it is expected that the text will be circulated and the Code will then be adopted at the next meeting in November-December. The existing Code of Safety for High-Speed Craft was adopted in 1992, as part of Chapter X of SOLAS. This entered into force in 1996 but the technology of HSC is evolving so rapidly that the Code has been extensively revised.

Helicopter landing area regulation to apply to ro-ro passenger ships only

The MSC will consider adopting an amendment to SOLAS Chapter III, regulation 28.2 for helicopter landing areas to require a helicopter landing area only for ro-ro passenger ships.

The current regulation requires helicopter landing areas to be fitted to passenger ships of 130 metres in length and upwards constructed on or after 1 July 1999 but the Committee agreed at its last session this should apply to ro-ro passenger ships only.

The decision to review the existing requirement was made at the 70th session following trial applications of Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) to the requirement.

The original requirement was part of a package of amendments to SOLAS adopted in November 1995, based on proposals put forward by a Panel of Experts set up by IMO in December 1994 following the Ro-ro ferry Estonia disaster of September 1994 in which more than 850 people were killed.

Regulation 28.1 of SOLAS Chapter III requires all ro-ro passenger ships to be provided with a helicopter pick-up area and existing ro-ro passenger ships were required to comply with this regulation not later than the first periodical survey after 1 July 1997. But the requirement for a helicopter landing area for all passenger ships of 130 metres in length and upwards was deferred to 1 July 1999.

The Committee approved a Circular recommending that non ro-ro passenger ships of 130 m in length and upwards constructed on or after 1 July 1999 need not be fitted with helicopter landing areas, and this should not constitute a reason for detaining or delaying the ship - since there is a delay between the regulation coming into effect for new ships and the adoption of the amendment making it applicable to ro-ro passenger ships only.

Piracy and armed robbery against ships - review of proposed code

The MSC will review a preliminary draft text of an instrument for the investigation and prosecution of the crime of piracy and armed robbery against ships, prepared by a Correspondence Group.

The idea for such a code was developed during 1998-1999 at a series of expert missions and seminars and workshops around the world organized by IMO.

Participants at the seminars already held have recommended that Governments need to intensify their efforts to combat piracy and armed robbery against ships and IMO should consider developing an international code for the investigation of piracy and armed robbery against ships and recommending an appropriate punishment for the crime.

Amendment 30 to IMDG Code

The Committee will consider for adoption amendment 30 to the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code.

Human element issues

The Joint MSC/Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) Working Group on the Human Element is expected to meet during the session.

They will look at developing guidance on dealing with fatigue, in particular in implementing existing regulations, which address the problem of fatigue and its contribution to accidents.

The decision follows work on fatigue by the Joint MSC/MEPC Working Group on the Human Element and a Correspondence Group on fatigue. The Correspondence Group has been given the task of developing guidance for all concerned, taking into consideration existing related regulations, such as STCW regulations concerning minimum rest periods, and International labour Organization (ILO) Convention  180 which provides requirements for maximum work or minimum rest hours. The Group will also take into consideration the results of investigations into fatigue presented to IMO and any relevant national work/rest rule requirements.

Fatigue has been recognized around the world as a contributor to many accidents involving means of transport. There have been many incidences where fatigue has been suspected of contributing to or causing transportation and industrial accidents; however, that connection was difficult to justify because the vital links between the unsafe acts and the decisions which led to the accidents were not made.

The reasons for not making the links have varied. At one time, fatigue was discounted as a potential cause of human error; indeed, a common myth existed that fatigue could be prevented by characteristics of personality, intelligence, education, training, skill, compensation, motivation, physical size, strength, attractiveness, or professionalism. Also, the lack of scientifically accepted information on how fatigue affects not only mood and feelings, but individual and team performance as well constrained investigators and analysts. Further guidance on how to investigate for fatigue and build the links between a person's recent history and potential impairment has been lacking. Unlike alcohol and drugs which can be measured by, for example, blood tests, there is no unequivocal physical or chemical test which can tell whether a person was impaired to a certain extent by fatigue.

1995 amendments to the STCW Convention - implementation

The Committee will review progress in implementing the 1995 amendments to the STCW Convention, which require Parties to the Convention to communicate to IMO information on compliance with the 1995 amendments. The information is being reviewed by panels of competent persons, who will report on their findings to the IMO Secretary-General, who will, in turn, report to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) on the Parties which fully comply.

By the 1 August 1998 deadline, 82 out of the 133 STCW Parties had communicated information on compliance with the requirements of the revised Convention. The 82 Parties which met the deadline represent well over 90% of the world's ships and seafarers.

The Committee decided at its 69th session in 1998 that the Secretary-General's report to the Committee will not be submitted until after all the information communicated by Parties received by 1 August 1998 has been evaluated by the competent persons concerned.

Technical assistance for non-SOLAS Convention ships

Over the last few years there have been numerous accidents involving ships that are not covered by SOLAS and other IMO conventions, usually because the ships do not operate on international voyages. Although IMO has given some assistance to Governments in developing measures to improve the safety of such ships, more needs to be done and the Secretary-General has requested the Committee to consider this matter.