Feature: New SOLAS requirements increase safety at sea





The SOLAS convention mandates safety standards
The SOLAS convention mandates safety standards

The SOLAS Convention in its successive forms is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships

The first version was adopted in 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster, the second in 1929, the third in 1948, and the fourth in 1960. The 1974 version includes the tacit acceptance procedure - which provides that an amendment shall enter into force on a specified date unless, before that date, objections to the amendment are received from an agreed number of parties.

As a result, the 1974 Convention has been updated and amended on numerous occasions. The Convention in force today is sometimes referred to as SOLAS, 1974, as amended.

The main objective of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention is to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, with regards to their safe operation. Flag states are responsible for ensuring that ships under their flag comply with its requirements, and a number of certificates are prescribed in the Convention as proof that this has been done. Control provisions also allow contracting governments to inspect ships of other contracting states if there are clear grounds for believing that the ship and its equipment do not substantially comply with the requirements of the Convention - this procedure is known as port state control. The current SOLAS Convention includes articles setting out general obligations, amendment procedure and so on, followed by an annex divided into 12 Chapters.

New requirements under SOLAS to require all ships to have plans and procedures to recover persons from the water are among a set of SOLAS amendments that entered force earlier this year.

The SOLAS amendments, adopted in 2012, were developed as part of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)’s work on large passenger ship safety and are aimed at ensuring all ships have the capability to effectively serve as a rescue asset, and have the right equipment to be able to rescue persons from the water and from survival craft, in the event of an incident.

This new requirement is intended to enhance safety at sea and also to provide support to search and rescue co-ordinators in all types of rescue operations and, particularly, in those situations where there is insufficient dedicated search and rescue capacity or access to helicopters and specialised rescue craft is limited.

The ship’s plans and procedures should take into account related guidelines for the development of plans and procedures for recovery of persons from the water.

Ships constructed before 1 July 2014 are required to comply with the requirement by the first periodical or renewal safety equipment survey of the ship to be carried out after 1 July 2014, whichever comes first.

The implementation of the requirements on ships to which SOLAS does not apply is encouraged under a related MSC resolution, also adopted in 2012, which invites SOLAS contracting governments to determine to what extent the requirements should apply to: cargo ships of a gross tonnage below 500 engaged on any voyage; cargo ships of a gross tonnage of 500 and above not engaged on international voyages; passenger ships not engaged on international voyages; fishing vessels; high-speed craft; dynamically supported craft; special purpose ships; and mobile offshore drilling units.

Amongst other elements entering into force this year include: reducing on-board noise; fire-fighter communication on-board, instructions; on-board training and drills; protection of vehicle; special category and ro-ro spaces; and forms of certificates and records of equipment.

The new SOLAS regulation II-1/3-12 also entered in to force earlier this year. This requires new ships to be constructed to reduce on-board noise and to protect personnel from noise, in accordance with the revised code on noise levels on board ships, which sets out mandatory maximum noise level limits for machinery spaces, control rooms, workshops, accommodation and other spaces on board ships.

Amendments to SOLAS regulation II-2/10 on firefighting entered into force on 1 July 2014, to require a minimum of two two-way portable radiotelephone apparatus for each fire party for fire fighters’ communication to be carried. The apparatus shall be of an explosion-proof type or intrinsically safe. Ships constructed before 1 July 2014 shall comply with the above requirements not later than the first survey after 1 July 2018.

Further amendments to regulation II-2/15 on instructions, on-board training and drills require an on-board means of recharging breathing apparatus cylinders used during drills, or a suitable number of spare cylinders.

Another amendment to regulation II-2/20 on protection of vehicles, special category and ro-ro spaces related to fixed fire-extinguishing systems, updates the requirements. The amendments apply to ships constructed on or after 1 July 2014. Ships constructed before 1 July 2014 shall comply with the previously applicable requirements.

Other amendments to the appendix to the annex to the SOLAS Convention replace all forms of certificates and records of equipment, including its 1988 Protocol, and further amendments relate to the forms of the Cargo Ship Safety Construction Certificate and Cargo Ship Safety Equipment Certificate of its 1978 Protocol.