Titanic sinking is quite famous in public opinion for the magnitude of death toll in a single shipping accident, for going down on its maiden voyage, for going down despite being a giant and particularly luxury ship for its time -or for all of the above reasons-, but in the maritime community, this tragedy is linked with something beyond: The adoption of SOLAS, the regulatory backbone of maritime safety worldwide.
SOLAS is considered one of the three pillars of international instruments regulating the maritime industry, along with MARPOL (regulating pollution prevention from ships) and STCW (regulating standards, training, and certification for seafarers). Let us take a closer look:
- What? The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) sets minimum safety standards in the construction, equipment and operation of merchant ships. As such, signatory states are required to ensure that ships flagged by them comply with at least the standards set by the treaty.
- When? First adopted as early as 1914, the Convention was later issued with modified versions, in 1929, in 1948, in 1960 and in 1974. The 1974 Convention has been updated and amended several times, this is why the Convention in force today is sometimes referred to as “SOLAS, 1974, as amended”.
- Where? SOLAS Convention 1974 had 164 contracting states as of November 2018, which flag about 99% of merchant ships in terms of gross tonnage.
- There are few non-parties to SOLAS 1974, including Bolivia, Lebanon and Sri Lanka, all considered flags of convenience.
- Who? The IMO, the UN body for maritime industry, has been regulating the Convention since its official start of work in 1958. The SOLAS version of 1960 was the first major task for IMO since the Organization´s founding and represented a significant step in modernization of the regulations in shipping industry.
- Why? Although there had been serious maritime incidents also before 1912, Titanic was the first maritime incident to attract such a significant media attention and touch the public opinion, highlighting the need for a redefining that time’s approach on maritime safety.
The majority of SOLAS 1974 as amended Chapters apply to passenger and cargo ships, but specific Chapters also include more particular types of vessels, such as fishing, nuclear and high-speed craft.
Chapter I – General Provisions
This is an introductory Chapter, including regulations on survey and PSC depending on various types of ships, as well as certification requirements.
Chapter II-1 – Construction – Subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations
This Chapter provides the requirements for watertight integrity, bilge pumping arrangements and machinery and electrical installations for passenger ships, as well as stability requirements for both passenger and cargo ships. In 2010, “goal-based standards” for oil tankers and bulk carriers were adopted, requiring new ships to be designed and constructed for a specified design life and to be safe and environmentally friendly.
Chapter II-2 – Fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction
This Chapter includes detailed fire safety provisions for all ships and specific measures for passenger ships, cargo ships and tankers, like flammable cargo, use of combustible materials, fire escape, etc.
Chapter III – Life-saving appliances and arrangements
The Chapter applies to cargo and passenger ships and includes requirements for life-saving appliances and arrangements, including requirements for lifeboats, rescue boats and life jackets according to type of ship.
Chapter IV – Radiocommunications
Incorporating the multi-discussed Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), this Chapter requires passenger ships and all cargo ships of 300 gt and upwards on international voyages to carry equipment that improves the chances of rescue following an accident. Such equipment includes satellite EPIRBs and search and rescue transponders (SARTs) for the location of the ship or survival craft.
Chapter V – Safety of navigation
Chapter V identifies the obligations of contracting states with respect to navigation safety services. Although the Convention does not apply to all classes of ship or types of voyages, Chapter V sets forth provisions of an operational nature applicable in general to all ships on all voyages.
The subjects covered address, among others:
- sufficient manning
- maintenance of meteorological services
- ice patrol service
- routeing of ships
- maintenance of search and rescue services
- obligation for masters to proceed to the assistance of those in distress
- mandatory carriage of VDRs and AIS onboard
Chapter VI – Carriage of Cargoes
The Chapter covers all types of cargo ships except liquids and gases in bulk, which require “special precautions”. The regulations include requirements for stowage and securing of cargo or cargo units, such as containers. Under this Chapter, cargo ships carrying grain are required to comply with the International Grain Code.
Chapter VII – Carriage of dangerous goods
The regulations are contained in the following parts:
Part A – Carriage of dangerous goods in packaged form. Setting provisions for the classification, packing, marking, labelling and placarding, documentation and stowage of dangerous goods. The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code falls under the Scope of this Chapter.
Part A-1 – Carriage of dangerous goods in solid form in bulk – covers the documentation, stowage and segregation requirements for these goods and requires reporting of incidents involving such goods.
Part B – Construction and equipment of ships carrying dangerous liquid chemicals in bulk. Under this Chapter, chemical tankers are required to comply with the International Bulk Chemical Code (IBC Code).
Part C – Construction and equipment of ships carrying liquefied gases in bulk and gas carriers. The Chapter makes mandatory the International Gas Carrier Code (IGC Code).
Part D – Requirements for the carriage of packaged irradiated nuclear fuel, plutonium and high-level radioactive wastes onboard ships. Under this Part, ships carrying such products are obliged to comply with the International Code for the Safe Carriage of Packaged Irradiated Nuclear Fuel, Plutonium and High-Level Radioactive Wastes on Board Ships (INF Code).
Chapter VIII – Nuclear ships
This Chapter provides the regulatory basis for nuclear-powered ships and is particularly concerned with radiation hazards. It refers to detailed and comprehensive Code of Safety for Nuclear Merchant Ships which was adopted by the IMO Assembly in 1981.
Moving to more specific ship types, Chapter X establishes safety measures for high-speed craft, making mandatory the International Code of Safety for High-Speed Craft (HSC Code) and Chapter XII implements additional structural safety measures for bulk carriers over 150 metres in length.
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