Seafaring was in vogue during the 19th and early 20th century when air carriers were yet to set a firm footing in international transport. Passenger transport through ships was much more frequent than it is today, and so were the accidents and disasters that took place along with it. The annual loss of life from British ships alone averaged between 700 and 800 during this period. When the invincible, White Star Liner Titanic, the safest ship of her times, drowned in the Atlantic in 1912 killing more than 1500 passengers and crew, the international fraternity felt the need to have a set of guidelines that would make seafaring safer. And that’s when SOLAS was born.
How Did It Come Into Action?
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea was adopted first at a conference held in London in 1914. This convention touched upon various chapters of safety at sea like navigation, construction, radiotelegraphy, life-saving appliances, and fire protection. But the central aspect of 1914 SOLAS convention was laws and rules to prevent loss of human life at Sea.
Under the ruling body of IMO, four more conventions were adopted. The 2nd one was in 1929 and entered into force in 1933. The 3rd in 1948 and came into effect in 1952; the 4th (under the support of IMO) in 1960 and came into force in 1965; 5th in 1974 and entered into force in 1980 and the latest one adopted at enforced in July 2016. As of today, the IMO has 172 Member States and three Associate Members. India became a member state in 1959, much before most other sea-faring nations.
These countries have pledged to apply the SOLAS laws under their country’s flag. The SOLAS agreement covers a broad range of areas coming under seafaring and water transport like passenger ships, cargo, tankers, defense, patrol, hazardous material transport, nuclear transport, to name a few.
Focal Points Related to Shipping Safety in SOLAS
Every chapter and regulation listed in the SOLAS convention, lays focus on some or the other shipping safety, communication and cargo carriage parameter. Our focus here is to make understanding SOLAS easier for everyone. Listing all the chapters and sections would be a tedious read for our readers and so we have selected a few important bytes from SOLAS which we feel are crucial and elaborated them here.
- 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. Some principles include:division of the ship into thermal and structural boundaries in vertical zones, restricted use of combustible materials, detection of fire in the zone of origin or the provision of safety of the crew and cargo on board needs to be taken into account while loading the ship, etc.
- Chapter III: Life-saving appliances and arrangements
Shipping is a risky mode of transport and mishaps are very common. In order to keep the crew and cargo safe and prepare for unforeseen situations life saving equipments like life rafts, life boats and speed boats need to comply with the International Life-Saving Appliance (LSA) Code under Regulation 34.
The Throw-Over Liferafts by SHM are manufactured in compliance with the SOLAS standards and conform to the Life Saving Appliances (LSA) code. These Life Rafts are available in 6, 10, 15, 20 and 25 people carrying capacities.
- Chapter IV: Radiocommunications
This chapter incorporates the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), which makes it mandatory for ships on international voyages to carry satellite emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) and search and rescue transponders (SARTs) for the location of the ship or survival craft.
SHM recommends their specialized radio communications (GMDSS) devices like SMARTFIND EPIRB and SART as a mandatory component in the ship’s safety package.
- Chapter V: Safety of Navigation
This chapter includes a general obligations for ship Captains to proceed to the assistance of those in distress and for Contracting Member States to ensure that all ships are adequately manned from a safety point of view. This chapter also makes it mandatory for carriage of voyage data recorders (VDRs) and automatic ship identification systems (AIS).
- Chapter VI: Carriage of Cargoes
According to this chapter, all the weight of the containers going onboard needs to be first weighed, verified and certified by SOLAS authorities. The reason for making this mandatory is that, during accidents, many a times the weight of the freight was found to be far more than what was mentioned in the documents.
- Chapter IX: Management for the Safe Operation of Ships
This chapter makes it mandatory for the shipowner or any person who has assumed responsibility for the ship to institute the International Safety Management (ISM) Code
- Chapter XI-2: Special measures to enhance maritime security
This chapter enforces the International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code (ISPS Code), which covers requirements for Contracting Governments to ensure that port facility security plans are developed, implemented and assessed from time to time. It also includes port control measures such as delay, detention, restriction of operations, and expulsion of a ship from port.
The vessels in the Indian Naval fleet are provided by SHM, which directly comply with the ISPS code.
Inclusion of Life Saving Appliances / Safety Equipment according to SOLAS
The 1960 SOLAS Conference was fundamental from the point of view of technical safety measures prescribed by IMO. Safety equipment, clothing and lifeboats received additional importance in the years to come. Here are some of the amendments in the early years of SOLAS that created path-breaking shipping safety rules and regulations.
The amendments of 1966 and 1967 lay focus on individual fire safety measures and arrangements for life-saving appliances on certain tankers and cargo ships. The subsequent regulations were drafted, voicing importance of navigational equipment (1968, ‘69), nautical publications, lifebuoys & life jackets (‘69 and ‘73), radio installations, ladders and hoists (’71 and ’73).
Fire fighting appliances like fire extinguishers, lifeboat air bottles, fireman’s suit, etc., life-saving appliances like Lifeboats, lifejackets, liferafts, transfer and descent equipment like ladders and gangway equipment have been included in the shipping safety portfolio as a must-have for all the shipping lines. Along with this, GMDSS carries high importance in signaling and communication at the ships.
The recent amendment of SOLAS, 2014 touched upon the inclusion of equipment and construction parameters to reduce on-board noise, rescue, and recovery of people who are in water and a necessity to include a minimum of duplicate two-way portable radiotelephone apparatus for each fire party for firefighters on board.
The basic technical provision of the SOLAS convention is, “ To specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, compatible with their safety…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.”
Since the introduction of SOLAS, sea disasters have reduced dramatically. Between the years of 1966-1985, more than 300 ships were lost annually. In 1990, this dropped to below 200, and in the year 2000 fell again to 167 ships lost at sea. In 2014, it was reported that only 75 ships were considered total losses. Source: IMO
Seafaring continues to be one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. The SOLAS convention has been the most important breakthroughs toward internationalization of seafaring law and safety measures. And, even today, SOLAS continues to be updated and amended for the ever-growing and ever-changing needs of the global shipping industry.
How Non-Compliance of SOLAS led to disasters which led IMO to make weight verification of containers mandatory.
In January 2007, the MSC Napoli came into trouble during a storm, which resulted in a forced beaching of the vessel. UK investigators weighed 660 containers stowed on deck and found 20% of these containers weighed over 3 tons more than their declared weights, with the total weight of all containers being 312 tons over what had been declared.
February 2011 saw an overloaded container weighing 28 metric tons break free from a crane at the Port of Darwin, Australia. The container fell 40 feet, narrowly missing two workers, with the weight reported on the cargo manifest as four metric tons.
Later that year in June 2011, a ship with 168 containers overturned while at berth in Algeciras. When investigated, 1 in 10 containers was overloaded, each weighing up to 7 times its declared weight, and altogether weighing four times the combined weight shown on the load.
Check out some of the upcoming SOLAS amendments that are bound to improve shipping safety and cargo management.