Safer transport for seaborne dangerous goods as IMDG Code becomes mandatory

Uniform, global rules for the safe transport by sea of dangerous goods and marine pollutants in packaged form are now compulsory, following the entry into force on 1 January 2004 of the 2002 amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, making the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code mandatory.

In welcoming the development, IMO Secretary-General Mr. Efthimios Mitropoulos observed that the decision by IMO Member States in 2002 to make the IMDG Code mandatory was aimed at greatly enhancing the safe transport of dangerous goods, by ensuring uniformity of regulations worldwide.

"The IMDG Code is a key IMO instrument which is crucial for the secure multimodal transport of dangerous goods. The Code's detailed technical requirements are now globally enforceable by maritime Administrations worldwide and this should ensure that ships carrying substances covered by the Code do so safely and reliably, and without polluting the oceans" Mr. Mitropoulos said.

Since the amendments to SOLAS Chapter VII (Carriage of Dangerous Goods) to make the IMDG Code mandatory were adopted in 2002, IMO's Technical Co-operation Programme has delivered a number of regional and national courses on the implementation of the IMDG Code, to which participants from around 100 countries were invited.

The IMDG Code
The IMDG Code was developed as a uniform international code for the transport of dangerous goods by sea covering such matters as packing, marking, labelling and stowage of dangerous goods with particular reference to the segregation of incompatible substances.

The decision to make the Code mandatory followed years of its application as a recommendatory instrument since its adoption by the fourth IMO Assembly in 1965. Since then, the Code has undergone many changes, both in appearance and content to keep pace with the ever changing needs of the industry. Amendments to the IMDG Code originate from two sources: proposals submitted directly to IMO by Member States; and amendments required to take account of changes to the United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods which set the basic requirements for all the transport modes.
Amendments to the provisions of the United Nations Recommendations are made on a two yearly cycle, and, approximately two years after their adoption, they are adopted by authorities responsible for regulating the various transport modes in various countries. In that way, a basic set of requirements applicable to all modes of transport is established and implemented, thus ensuring that difficulties are not encountered at inter modal interfaces.

The IMDG Code lays down basic principles and contains detailed recommendations for individual substances, materials and articles, as well as a number of recommendations for good operational practice including advice on terminology, packing, labelling, stowage, segregation and handling, and emergency response action.

The two-volume Code is divided into seven parts -

Volume 1 (parts 1, 2 and 4 to 7 of the Code) contains sections on:

  • general provisions, definitions and training
  • classification
  • consignment procedures
  • construction and testing of packagings, International Bulk Containers (IBCs), large packagings, portable tanks and road tank vehicles
  • transport operations
Volume 2 (part 3, appendix A and appendix B) contains sections on:
  • Dangerous Goods List (equivalent to the schedules in previous editions of the Code), presented in tabular format
  • limited quantities exceptions
  • Proper shipping Names including generic and N.O.S. (not otherwise specified) entries
  • Glossary of Terms
  • Index
Application of the IMDG Code is compulsory under the 2002 amendments to SOLAS but the Code also contains provisions of a recommendatory nature which are explicitly stated in chapter 1.1 of the Code and, in addition, are clearly expressed in the Code by the use of the word "should" instead of "shall" to clarify their status.

The provisions of the following parts of the Code are recommendatory:

  • Chapter 1.3 (Training)
  • Chapter 2.1 (Explosives, Introductory Notes 1 to 4 only)
  • Chapter 2.3, section 2.3.3 (Determination of flashpoint only)
  • Chapter 3.2 (columns 15 and 17 of the Dangerous Goods List only)
  • Chapter 3.5 (Transport schedules for Class 7 radioactive material only)
  • Chapter 5.4, section 5.4.5 (Multimodal dangerous goods form), insofar as layout of the form is concerned
  • Chapter 7.3 (Special requirements in the event of an incident and fire precautions involving dangerous goods only)
  • Appendix B
Other SOLAS amendments which entered into force on 1 January 2004
Other amendments to SOLAS which entered into force on 1 January 2004 included the following:

Updates to Chapter IV - Radiocommunications - The amendments to this chapter relate to changes following the full implementation of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) on 1 February 1999, which renders some of the provisions relating to implementation dates in the current Chapter IV superfluous.

The amendments also state that a listening watch on VHF Channel 16 for distress and safety purposes should continue until 2005.

Carriage requirement for IAMSAR Manual - An amendment to Chapter V - Safety of Navigation, requires ships to carry an up-to-date copy of Volume III of the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual.

Other amendments
Amendments to the 1988 Protocol to SOLAS, 1974, relate to updates to the Record of Equipment for the Passenger Ship Safety Certificate (Form P); Record of Equipment for the Cargo Ship Safety Radio Certificate (Form R); and Record of Equipment for the Cargo Ship Safety Certificate (Form C).


IMO - the International Maritime Organization - is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

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Lee Adamson, Senior External Relations Officer on 020 7587 3153 ( or
Natasha Brown, External Relations Officer on 020 7587 3274 ( ).