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Safety and environmental standards on passenger ships


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​Passenger ships must comply with all relevant IMO standards, including safety regulations and requirements for the prevention of pollution from ships.

The Titanic disaster of 1912 led to the first SOLAS treaty being adopted and there have been many revisions to regulations since then, both in response to major incidents and as a result of a pro-active approach to keeping the regulations up-to-date.

The SOLAS treaty applies to passenger ships carrying more than 12 passengers on international voyages. But IMO has also been working with countries to address the safety of so-called non-SOLAS ships, including developing model legislation and guidance.  

 Enhancing passenger ships' environnmental performance

Cruise ships today can carry more than 5,000 passengers and crew. All passenger ships must comply with IMO MARPOL regulations for the prevention of pollution from ships.

For cruise ships, the correct disposal of garbage (MARPOL Annex V) and treatment of sewage (MARPOL Annex IV) is vitally important.

Passenger ships must also comply with all relevant energy efficiency and air pollution requirements (MARPOL Annex VI). The forthcoming reduction in sulphur in fuel oil to 0.50% from 1 January 2020 (from 3.50% currently) is an important measure which will help protect the health of people in ports and coastal areas - and passengers and crew on ships.

 Training for seafarers and other personnel onboard passenger ships

​Seafarers and other personnel on board passenger ships have a role to play in ensuring passenger safety.  IMO regulations in the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and its related STCW Code require seafarers and other personnel working on passenger ships to have specific safety and emergency training.

Persons with designated responsibility for the safety of passengers in emergency situations must complete approved training in crisis management and human behaviour.

Crew responsible for embarking and disembarking passengers, for loading, discharging or securing cargo, or for closing hull openings on board ro-ro passenger ships, must complete approved training in passenger safety, cargo safety and hull integrity.

 Safe return to port - the 2006 SOLAS amendments

In 2010, a package of SOLAS amendments adopted in 2006 entered into force, affecting passenger ships built after 1 July 2010.  The amendments were the result of a comprehensive review of passenger ship safety initiated in 2000 with the aim of assessing whether the current regulations were adequate, in particular for the large passenger ships  being built. Increased emphasis is placed on reducing the chances of accidents occurring and on improved survivability, embracing the concept of the ship "as its own best lifeboat" and a philosophy of "safe return to port".

Click here for article on the passenger ship safety initiative. 

 Response to Costa Concordia incident

​IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) responded quickly to the Costa Concordia incident of January 2012, agreeing interim recommended operational measures for passenger ships at its meeting in May 2012. In June 2013, the MSC adopted amendments SOLAS regulation III/19 to require musters of newly embarked passengers prior to or immediately upon departure, instead of “within 24 hours”. The amendments entered into force on 1 January 2015. 

Download Recommended interim measures for passenger ship companies to enhance the safety of passenger ships.

In 2017, the MSC (MSC 98) adopted a set of amendments to SOLAS chapter II-1, with an expected entry into force 1 January 2020, relating to subdivision and damage stability. The amendments were developed following a substantive review of SOLAS chapter II-1, focusing in particular on new passenger ships. The review has taken into account recommendations arising from the investigation into the 2012 Costa Concordia incident. In conjunction with the adoption of the aforementioned amendments, MSC adopted the Revised Explanatory Notes to SOLAS chapter II-1 subdivision and damage stability regulations. The MSC also approved the Revised guidance for watertight doors on passenger ships which may be opened during navigation.  

 Domestic ferry safety

Domestic ferry operations play a crucial role in the movement of people and goods in the region and sometimes represent the only possible or reasonably affordable means of transport. while the regulations for passenger ship safety in IMO's International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) do not generally apply to passenger ships on domestic voyages, but many countries base their regulations on the IMO standards. IMO has issued a set of GlobalReg standards, a comprehensive modular set of standards comprising harmonized regulations and model national legislation applicable to non-convention ships.

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Safety of passenger ferries in the Asia and Pacific region

IMO, in collaboration with partners including the international ferry industry association, Interferry, has been working with countries and partners in the Asia-Pacific region for a number of years to address the safety of domestic ferries, through regional fora and workshops. A set of guidelines (Manila Statement) on the safe operation of coastal and inter-island passenger ships not engaged on international voyages was adopted in 2015, by an international Conference, held in the Philippines and organized by IMO in collaboration with the Government of the Philippines, International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), Interferry, and the World Maritime University.

IMO has commissioned a one-minute animated IMO safety video, to be shown in ferry terminals and on national TV channels. The video was commissioned following a series of IMO-sponsored regional discussion forums on ferry safety held in the Asia and Pacific region. Overloading and overcrowding were highlighted as common and potentially deadly problems for passenger ships plying inland waterways or on domestic and inter-island services.   Watch the video below.