New IMO bulk carrier regulations enter into force on 1 July 1999

A new chapter of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, on bulk carrier safety enters into force on 1 July 1999. A number of other amendments to SOLAS also enter into force on the same day. SOLAS is a convention of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations specialized agency concerned with the safety of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

New Chapter XII to SOLAS, Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers

The regulations on bulk carrier safety were adopted at a conference held in November 1997, which was the culmination of several years work at IMO intended to address the rising numbers of bulk carriers being lost at sea - often with complete loss of crew on board - during the early 1990s.

The requirements for bulk carriers are included in a new chapter XII of SOLAS. They cover survivability and structural requirements for dry bulk carriers - which carry products such as iron ore, grains and coal - to prevent them from sinking if water enters the ship for any reason. Existing ships which do not comply with the appropriate requirements will have to be reinforced - or they may have to limit either the loading pattern of the cargoes they carry or move to carrying lighter cargoes, such as grain or timber.

The requirements arose from research by IMO Member States and industry organizations. A study into bulk carrier survivability carried out by the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), at the request of IMO, found that if a ship is flooded in the forward hold, the bulkhead between the two foremost holds may not be able to withstand the pressure that results from the sloshing mixture of cargo and water, especially if the ship is loaded in alternate holds with high density cargoes (such as iron ore). If the bulkhead between one hold and the next collapses, progressive flooding could rapidly occur throughout the length of the ship and the vessel would sink in a matter of minutes.

IACS concluded that the most vulnerable areas are the bulkhead between numbers one and two holds at the forward end of the vessel and the double bottom of the ship at this location. It proposed that during special surveys of ships, particular attention should be paid to these areas and, where necessary, reinforcements should be carried out.

SOLAS Chapter XII regulations

The regulations state that all new bulk carriers 150 metres or more in length (built after 1 July 1999) carrying cargoes with a density of 1,000 kg/m3 and above should have sufficient strength to withstand flooding of any one cargo hold, taking into account dynamic effects resulting from presence of water in the hold and taking into account recommendations adopted by IMO.

For existing ships (built before 1 July 1999) carrying bulk cargoes with a density of 1,780 kg/m3 and above, the transverse watertight bulkhead between the two foremost cargo holds and the double bottom of the foremost cargo hold should have sufficient strength to withstand flooding and the related dynamic effects in the foremost cargo hold.

Cargoes with a density of 1,780 kg/m3 and above include iron ore, pig iron, steel, bauxite and cement. Less dense cargoes, but with a density of more than 1,000 kg/m3, include grains such as wheat and rice, and timber.

Chapter XII allows surveyors to take into account restrictions on the cargo carried when considering the need for, and the extent of, strengthening of the transverse watertight bulkhead or double bottom. When restrictions on cargoes are imposed, the bulk carrier should be permanently marked with a solid triangle on its side shell.

The date of application of Chapter XII to existing bulk carriers depends on their age. Bulk carriers which are 20 years old and over on 1 July 1999 will have to comply by the date of the first intermediate or periodical survey after that date, whichever is sooner. Bulk carriers aged 15-20 years must comply by the first periodical survey after 1 July 1999, but not later than 1 July 2002. Bulk carriers less than 15 years old must comply by the date of the first periodical survey after the ship reaches 15 years of age, but not later than the date on which the ship reaches 17 years of age.

Bulk carrier safety background

Modern bulk carriers, often described as the workhorses of maritime trade, can be traced back to the 1950s when shipyards began building ships designed specifically for carrying non-packed commodities such as grains or ores.

IMO has been concerned with the safety of these ships since it first met in 1959. The 1960 SOLAS Convention - later replaced by SOLAS 1974 - included a chapter devoted to the carriage of grain, while a Code of Safe Practice for Solid Bulk Cargoes (BC) was adopted in 1965. Over the years, IMO has amended sections of the SOLAS Convention applicable to bulk carriers to keep it up to date, revised the BC Code and adopted the International Code for the Safe Carriage of Grain in Bulk (International Grain Code), which was subsequently made mandatory under SOLAS.

But a dramatic increase in bulk carrier losses in the early 1990s raised alarm bells at IMO. Many ships involved suffered severe structural damage and sometimes literally broke in two, often with heavy loss of life. In 1990, 20 bulk carriers were lost with 94 fatalities, and in 1991 24 bulk carriers were lost with 154 lives.

As a result, the Assembly of IMO in 1991 adopted an interim resolution, proposed by the Secretary-General, Mr. William A. O'Neil, to improve bulk carrier safety, concentrating on paying attention to the structural integrity and seaworthiness of ships and ensuring loading and carrying of cargo would not cause undue stresses. The casualty rate improved after this, but in 1994 was again causing concern. On the recommendation of Mr. O'Neil, IMO therefore established a correspondence group to consider the whole issue of bulk carrier safety and make proposals for changes in existing conventions concerning the structure and operation of bulk carriers.

Current work on bulk carrier safety

IMO is currently reviewing whether further measures will be needed to enhance bulk carrier safety, following the publication of the United Kingdom report into the sinking of the bulk carrier Derbyshire in 1980, with the loss of all on board.

The report was presented to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in May 1998 by the United Kingdom and contains further recommendations relating to the design and construction of bulk carriers. Issues under consideration by the MSC and its Sub-Committees include:

  1. strength of hatch covers and coamings;
  2. freeboard and bow height;
  3. reserve buoyancy at fore end, including forecastles;
  4. structural means to reduce loads on hatch covers and forward structure; and
  5. fore deck and fore end access.

Vessel Traffic Services (VTS)

SOLAS Regulation 8-2 of SOLAS Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) on Vessel Traffic Services (VTS), adopted in June 1997, enters into force on 1 July 1999.

VTS are traffic management systems, for example those used in busy straits.

The regulation sets out when VTS can be implemented. It says Vessel Traffic Services should be designed to contribute to the safety of life at sea, safety and efficiency of navigation and the protection of the marine environment, adjacent shore areas, worksites and offshore installations from possible adverse effects of maritime traffic.

Governments may establish VTS when, in their opinion, the volume of traffic or the degree of risk justifies such services but no VTS should prejudice the "rights and duties of governments under international law" and a VTS may only be made mandatory in sea areas within a State's territorial waters.

Stability requirements for passenger ships

In SOLAS Chapter II-1, concerning subdivision and damage stability requirements, regulation 8.3 on "Special requirements for passenger ships, other than ro-ro passenger ships, carrying 400 persons or more" enters into force on 1 July 1999. The special requirements of the regulation, which was adopted in 1997, are aimed at ensuring that a ship carrying 400 persons or more can survive without capsizing with two main compartments flooded following damage

Escape routes on ro-ro passenger ships

SOLAS Regulation II-2/28.3 covers escape routes on ro-ro passenger ships constructed after 1 July 1999. It requires escape routes to be evaluated by an evacuation analysis early in the design process, aimed at identifying and eliminating congestion which may develop if a ship has to be evacuated. The analysis should also demonstrate that escape arrangements are sufficiently flexible to allow for the possibility that certain escape routes may not be available due to a casualty.

The regulation was adopted in November 1995 as part of a package of amendments adopted following the Estonia ferry disaster of September 1994.

Decision support system for passenger ships

SOLAS Regulation III/29 requires all passenger ships built before 1 July 1997 to provide a "decision support system" for emergency management on the navigation bridge not later than the first periodical survey after 1 July 1999. (This regulation came into effect for new ships on 1 July 1997.) The decision support system requires, as a minimum, a printed emergency plan or plans covering foreseeable emergency situations, including fire, damage to ship, pollution, unlawful acts.

This regulation was also adopted in November 1995 as part of a package of amendments adopted following the Estonia ferry disaster of September 1994.

Helicopter landing areas

Under the November 1995 SOLAS amendments which entered into force on 1 July 1997, Regulation 28 of Chapter III requires Passenger ships of 130 metres in length and over built after 1 July 1999 to be fitted with a helicopter landing area.

However, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) is currently reviewing this requirement.

(Ro-ro passenger ships had to provide a helicopter pick-up area from 1 July 1997 or have one fitted not later than the first periodic survey after 1 July 1997.)