Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), 98th session, 7-16 June 2017

Scoping exercise on autonomous vessels put on agenda

The MSC agreed to include the issue of marine autonomous surface ships on its agenda. This will be in the form of a scoping exercise to determine how the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) may be introduced in IMO instruments.

The MSC recognized that IMO should take a proactive and leading role, given the rapid technological developments relating to the introduction of commercially operated ships in autonomous/unmanned mode.  The scoping exercise is seen as a starting point and is expected to touch on an extensive range of issues, including the human element, safety, security, interactions with ports, pilotage, responses to incidents and protection of the marine environment.

The scoping exercise could include identifying: IMO regulations which, as currently drafted, preclude autonomous/unmanned operations; IMO regulations that would have no application to autonomous/unmanned operations (as they relate purely to a human presence on board); and IMO regulations which do not preclude unmanned operations but may need to be amended in order to ensure that the construction and operation of MASS are carried out safely, securely, and in an environmentally sound manner. 

The scoping exercise should address different levels of automation, including semi autonomous and unmanned ships and could include discussion of a definition of what is meant by an "autonomous ship". Delegations suggested the exercise should include scoping of the full range of human element factors within different levels of autonomy for both shipboard and shore-based personnel; scoping of the reliability, robustness, resiliency and redundancy of the underlying technical, communications, software and engineering systems; and consideration of conducting a Formal Safety Assessment or gap analysis as to the safety, technical, human element and operational aspects of autonomous remotely controlled or unmanned ships.

The MSC also agreed that proper consideration should be given to legal aspects, including where the responsibility would lie in case of an accident involving a MASS, its consequences to the cargo, and also the implications to the shoreside.

It is anticipated that the work would take place over four MSC sessions, through to mid-2020. Submissions were invited to the next session (MSC 99, May 2018).

Adoption of passenger ship stability amendments

The MSC 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.  

Other amendments adopted by MSC

SOLAS amendments (Expected entry into force 1 January 2020)

  • Amendments to SOLAS regulation II-2/3.56, relating to the definition of vehicle carrier and draft new SOLAS regulation II-2/20.2 on fire safety requirements for cargo spaces containing vehicles with fuel in their tanks for their own propulsion, specifically vehicles which do not use their own propulsion within the cargo space.
  • Amendments to SOLAS regulation II-2/ to clarify the requirements for fire integrity of windows on passenger ships carrying not more than 36 passengers and on special purpose ships with more than 60 (but no more than 240) persons on board.
  • Amendments to SOLAS regulations III/1.4, III/30 and III/37 on damage control drills for passenger ships, to require damage control drills to take place on all passenger ships from 2020.


  • The 2017 set of draft amendments (04-17) to the International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC Code), to update requirements for a number of cargoes, was adopted. The amendments also included those relating to paragraphs 4.5.1 and 4.5.2, highlighting the responsibility of the shipper for ensuring that a test to determine the transportable moisture limit (TML) of a solid bulk cargo is conducted. Also included were amendments related to substances which are harmful to marine environment, to require the shipper to declare whether or not a solid bulk cargo, other than grain, is harmful to the marine environment.

HSC Code

  • Amendments to the 1994 and 2000 High-Speed Craft (HSC) Codes, clarifying the exemption applicable to certain smaller vessels from the requirement to carry a rescue boat, provided that minimum requirements for carrying survival craft are met and provided that a person can be rescued from the water in a horizontal or near horizontal body position. 

LSA Code

  • Amendments to the International Life-saving Appliances (LSA) Code, chapter VI, section 6.1 relating to the proof load tests and safety factors that launching appliances and their elements have to withstand. Also related amendments to the Revised Recommendation on testing of life-saving appliances (resolution MSC.81(70)).


  • Amendments to the Code for the Construction and Equipment of Mobile Offshore Drilling Units, 2009 (2009 MODU Code) to update and amend the 2009 MODU Code, taking into account recommendations arising from the investigation into the explosion, fire and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, in April 2010. Key revisions concern machinery and electrical installations in hazardous areas, fire safety safety and life-saving appliances and equipment.

Cyber risk management resolution adopted

The MSC adopted a resolution on Maritime cyber risk management in safety management systems. The resolution reminds stakeholders that the mandatory International Safety Management (ISM) Code includes a requirement for all identified risks to ships, personnel and the environment to be assessed and for appropriate safeguards to be established. 

The resolution encourages Administrations to ensure that cyber risks are appropriately addressed in safety management systems no later than the first annual verification of the company's Document of Compliance after 1 January 2021.

The MSC also approved the joint MSC-FAL circular on Guidelines on maritime cyber risk management, based on the interim guidelines on guidelines on maritime cyber risk management (MSC.1/Circ.1526), following the recent approval of the circular by the Facilitation Committee. The Circular provides high-level recommendations for maritime cyber risk management, which refers to a measure of the extent to which a technology asset is threatened by a potential circumstance or event, which may result in shipping-related operational, safety or security failures as a consequence of information or systems being corrupted, lost or compromised. The guidelines include background information, functional elements and best practices for effective cyber risk management.

Piracy and armed robbery against ships

The MSC was updated on the latest statistics concerning piracy and armed robbery against ships, based on incidents reported to IMO. A total of 221 piracy and armed robbery incidents occurred worldwide in 2016, a fall of about 27% compared to 303 incidents reported in 2015. 

However, the Committee noted with concern that in West Africa, incidents had increased by 77% (62 incidents in 2016 against 35 in 2015). Although piracy and armed robbery activity in the South China Sea had decreased slightly with 68 cases reported in 2016 compared to 81 in 2015, developments in the South East Asian region, particularly in the Sulu-Celebes Sea, were also concerning (16 in 2016, two incidents in 2015).

In addition, piracy activity off the coast of Somalia was still active, with eight incidents reported between January and April 2017 involving six merchant ships and two dhows and around 39 crew members taken hostage/kidnapped.

To address possible under-reporting of piracy and armed robbery incidents within the Gulf of Guinea region, the MSC approved a circular on reporting of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Gulf of Guinea. The circular urges flag States, shipmasters, shipowners/operators and shipping companies to report incidents of piracy and armed robbery in a timely manner to reporting organizations, such as Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea (MDAT – GoG) and the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC). This would allow better response by coastal States, promptly alert other ships in the vicinity and develop a more meaningful understanding of the risk level to ships operating in areas where incidents of piracy and armed robbery occur.

Unsafe Mixed Migration by sea

Member States and international organizations affirmed their concern for the humanitarian situation and the loss of migrants at sea and agreed that the way forward was to promote appropriate and effective action at the United Nations.

The Committee encouraged Member States and organizations in consultative status to participate in the Global Compact on Migration process underway following the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted on 19 September 2016.

Adoption of ships routeing systems

The MSC adopted a number of new and amended ships' routeing measures.

They include the establishment of a new area to be avoided (ATBA) as an associated protective measure for the "Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) in the Sulu Sea" (the Philippines). The ATBA is linked to the proposed PSSA, which was approved in principle in 2016 and is expected to be formally designated by IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 71) in July. 

The MSC also adopted the recommended route "Off the western coast of Izu O Shima Island", which is the first routeing measure around Japan adopted by IMO.

Implementation of E-navigation strategy and operational safety

The MSC adopted and approved a number of new and revised performance standards and guidelines related to operational safety, including those to implement the e-navigation strategy.

The MSC approved an MSC circular on Guidelines for shipborne position, navigation and timing (PNT) data processing, which provides guidance on enhancing the safety and efficiency of navigation by improved provision of position, navigation and timing (PNT) data to bridge teams (including pilots) and shipboard applications (e.g. AIS, ECDIS, etc.). Consequential amendments were adopted to resolution MSC.401(95) on Performance standards for multi-system shipborne radionavigation receivers.

The MSC also adopted amendments to the revised guidelines and criteria for ship reporting systems (resolution MSC.43(64)), addressing mandatory ship reporting systems established in accordance with SOLAS regulation V/11. The revisions update the resolution and encourage the use and recognition of automated electronic means of ship reporting.

Goal-based standards verification audit completed

The MSC confirmed that the initial verification audit of ship construction rules for oil tankers and bulk carriers submitted by 12 classification societies had been successfully completed, following   rectification of the non-conformities reported, as instructed by MSC 96.

In 2016, MSC 96 confirmed that ship construction rules for oil tankers and bulk carriers submitted by 12 classification societies conform to the goals and functional requirements set by the Organization in the International goal-based ship construction standards for bulk carriers and oil tankers (resolution MSC.287(87)) which were adopted in 2010; and agreed that the non-conformities identified were to be rectified.

The MSC also made progress in developing amendments to the GBS Verification Guidelines and agreed an updated timetable and schedule of activities for the implementation of the GBS verification scheme, including the maintenance of verification.

Development of functional requirements of SOLAS chapter III

The MSC reviewed the progress made by the Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) in developing draft functional requirements and their expected performance for SOLAS chapter III on life-saving appliances and arrangements. The aim is to describe the expected performance of the functional requirements in quantitative terms.

The Committee invited Member States and international organizations to submit relevant information and data to the Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE). 

GMDSS modernization plan

The MSC approved the Modernization Plan of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), prepared by the Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR). The plan envisages the development of amendments to SOLAS and related instruments for approval in 2021 and their adoption in 2022, with entry into force in 2024.  

Approval of guidance and guidelines

The MSC approved guidance and guidelines, including the following:

  • Guidelines on safety during abandon ship drills using lifeboats and draft amendments to update the Guidelines for developing operation and maintenance manuals for lifeboat systems (MSC.1/Circ.1205). Both sets of guidelines have been reviewed following the adoption at MSC 96 of the Requirements for maintenance, thorough examination, operational testing, overhaul and repair of lifeboats and rescue boats, launching appliances and release gear (resolution MSC.402(96)) and the related SOLAS amendments which make them mandatory. The package of requirements, expected to enter into force on 1 January 2020, has made mandatory measures to prevent accidents with survival craft and to address longstanding issues such as the need for a uniform, safe and documented standard related to the servicing of these appliances, as well as the authorization, qualification and certification requirements to ensure that a reliable service is provided.
  • MSC Circular on amendments to MSC.1/Circ.1503 on ECDIS - Guidance for good practice.
  • Guidelines for port State control officers on certification of seafarers, hours of rest and manning. The guidelines were referred it to the Sub-committee on Implementation of IMO Instruments (III 4) for inclusion in ongoing work on the revision of resolution A.1052(27) on Procedures for port State control, 2011.
  • Guidelines for vessels and units with dynamic positioning (DP) systems. The guidelines, generally applicable to new vessels and units with dynamic positioning systems, have been developed to current industry practice and DP technologies, since the previous set of guidelines was issued in 1994 and will still be applicable to existing vessels (Guidelines for vessels with dynamic positioning (DP) systems (MSC/Circ.645)). Compliance with the new Guidelines would be documented by means of a Dynamic Positioning Verification Acceptance Document (DPVAD) for the dynamic positioning system. The MSC also approved amendments to the Guidelines for Dynamic Positioning system operator training (to be issued as MSC.1/Circ.738/Rev.2).
  • Amendments to the Guidelines for evaluation and replacement of lifeboat release and retrieval systems (MSC.1/Circ.1392) intended to include a method of assessment for hook fixed structural connections of the release mechanism and supporting structure, which are not made of material resistant to corrosion in the marine environment, in order to confirm that they are in "good condition".
  • Guidance for Parties, Administrations, port State control authorities, recognized organizations and other relevant parties on the requirements under the STCW Convention, 1978, as amended (STCW.7/Circ.24 as STCW.7/Circ.24/Rev.1), based on the recommendation by the Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping.