The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is the most important of all the international treaties concerning safety of merchant ships. The first version of the convention was adopted in 1914. The 1960 convention that entered into force on 26 May 1965 was the first major achievement of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). It is regarded as a stepping stone in introducing a regulation, considering the lessons learnt and in keeping pace with the modern machinery and equipments onboard.
Amendments to the Convention require acceptance of two thirds of the contracting governments, for its entry into force. After introduction of the amendments, the member nations took years to debate the matter and make the final endorsement regarding acceptance. Therefore, considerable delay occurred in the introduction of amendments to the convention, irrespective of the priority attached to that. To mitigate the delay, a totally new convention was adopted in 1974 which included the amendments agreed up until that year, generally referred to as SOLAS 1974.
The SOLAS 1974 also introduced the tacit acceptance procedure in which the 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 SOLAS 1974 has been amended on numerous occasions. The length of time from communication of amendments to deemed acceptance is set at two years, unless another period of time not less than one year is set at the time of adoption. The amendments that are scheduled for entry into force during the year 2006 are discussed here.
Daily Report to Shipping Companies
SOLAS Regulations (Regs) 28 to Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) have been amended in June 2003, to introduce a daily reporting system that shall enter into force on 01 July 2006. As per this amendment, ships of 500 GT and above engaged in international voyages exceeding 48 hours are required to submit a daily report to their Company. The report shall include information regarding (a) ship’s course (b) speed and (c) details of any external or internal conditions that are affecting the ship’s voyage or the normal operation of the ship. The aim of the amendment is to address the responsibilities of ship operators to provide information to those responsible for mounting rescue operations.
Personnel in Distress At Sea
In May 2004, Chapter V was again amended to add a definition of search and rescue services. By this amendment, that will enter into force on 01 Jul 2006, an obligation has been set to provide assistance, regardless of nationality or status of persons in distress, and mandate co-ordination & co-operation between states to assist the Ship’s Master in delivering the person rescued at sea to a place of safety.
Accidents With Lifeboats
Amendments to Chapter III (Life Saving Appliances and Arrangements), addresses the unacceptably high number of accidents with lifeboats while participating in lifeboat drills and /or inspections. Amendments to Regulation 19 (Emergency training and drills) and Reg 20 (Operational readiness, maintenance and inspections) relates to the conditions in which lifeboat emergency training and drills are to be conducted and introduce changes to the operational tests during inspections, so as not to require the assigned crew to be onboard in all cases. These amendments, introduced in May 2004 are also slated for entry into force from 01 July 2006. An amendment to Reg 31 to Ch III introduced in December 2004, also scheduled for entry into force on 01 July 2006 provides for the carriage of free-fall lifeboats on bulk carriers mandatory.
Carriage of Immersion Suits
Amendment to Reg 32 to Chapter III (Personal lifesaving appliances) introduces the requirement of carriage of one immersion suit per person onboard all cargo ships, including bulk carriers. With the adoption of this amendment (in May 2004), just like life jackets, an immersion suit has become a personal life-saving appliance for each person onboard. This is aimed at providing better thermal protection and improved chance of survival / rescue at sea. (Adopted in May 2004 and slated for entry into force from 01 July 2006).
Simplified Voyage Data Recorders (S –VDR)
Amendment to Reg 20 to Chap V (Safety of Navigation) stipulates the requirement of a VDR or an S-VDR onboard cargo ships of 3,000 GT and upwards, for recording information concerning the position, movement, physical status, command & control of a vessel over the period leading upto and following an incident. This provision requires the introduction of the recorder in a phased manner ie. for cargo ships of 20,000 GT and upwards first, followed by cargo ships of 3,000 GT and upwards. (Adopted in December 2004 and scheduled for entry into force on 01 July 2006).
Double Skin Bulkers
A new regulation 14 has been added to Chapter XII (Additional Safety Measures for Bulk Carriers) incorporating restrictions on sailing with any hold empty and requirements for double-side hull construction as an option to single hull construction. The option of double hull construction will apply to new bulk carriers of 150 m and over in length, carrying bulk cargoes having a density of 1,000 kg/m3 and above. (Adopted in December 2004 and scheduled for entry into force on 01 July 2006).
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