The oceans have long been the domain of the brave. Explorers, international traders, cargo transporters- those who journey over the seas know there is always a risk to their lives. Their family and friends are always concerned for their safety. However, as we have progressed into the 21st century, modern technology, international cooperation, and standardization have ensured that maritime voyages are far, far safer than they used to be. How was this achieved?
In 1948, after the formation of the United Nations, its members expressed the need for an organization that would develop and update a comprehensive regulatory framework for shipping, including safety, environmental concerns, technical co-operation, security, legal issues and efficiency. This was achieved ten years later with the formation of the International Maritime Organization! For over 60 years, the IMO has addressed life safety at sea through the research, codes, and amendments developed by its various committees such as the Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE).
IMO SSE 7 Background and Objectives
The IMO has instituted a Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) to oversee all safety-related decisions. Under its ambit, the Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) addresses a broad spectrum of technical and operational matters related to systems and equipment on all ships, vessels, marine craft and mobile units covered by IMO instruments. This consists of life-saving equipment, appliances and arrangements, fire detection and fire extinguishing systems. The recommendations and resolutions of the SSE are passed on to the MSC for consideration and approval.
The 7th session of IMO’s SSE was convened in London from 2-6 March 2020. One of the last sessions conducted in person before the pandemic, SSE 7 worked on a number of amendments related to life safety. Let us take a look at the salient points!
Apart from opting for cleaner, greener fuels, using onshore power supply service is one solution to reduce air pollution and emissions from ships. It also helps limit local noise. With that in mind, the IMO is addressing the need for global standards for the process of providing shoreside electrical power to a ship at berth, while its main and auxiliary engines are turned off. Thus, SSE 7 agreed to an interim guideline on the ‘safe operation of onshore power supply (OPS) service in port’.
– Ventilation of survival craft
The Sub-Committee developed draft amendments to the International Life-Saving Appliance (LSA) Code for ventilation of survival craft, particularly enclosed lifeboats. It also drafted related amendments to the ‘Revised recommendation on testing of life-saving appliances’.
For survival craft, the goal is to maintain a habitable environment under all conditions; and the amendments addressed such different conditions. The committee determined to carry out similar amendments for partially enclosed lifeboats/life rafts in its next session.
– Fall and hook systems with on-load release capability
Although the Life-Saving Appliances (LSA) Code includes measures to prevent accidental release of the fall and hook system during recovery of lifeboats and rescue boats, the ones with single fall and hook systems are currently exempted from these measures!
Hence, SSE 7 agreed to amend LSA Code paragraph 188.8.131.52.17, ensuring adequate safety standards for lifeboats and rescue boats having single fall and hook systems with on-load release capability.
– Launching of free-fall lifeboats
The Sub-Committee agreed to remove the constraint of launching free-fall lifeboats if the ship makes headway at 5 knots in calm water, since no additional dynamic load on the launching arrangements needs to be accounted for. Accordingly, it agreed to amendments to SOLAS chapter III, LSA Code and resolution MSC.81(70), along with an MSC circular on its voluntary early implementation.
– Life-saving appliance evaluation and test report forms
The Sub-Committee also revised the ‘Standardized life-saving appliance evaluation and test report’ forms. It segregated the forms into six separate circulars, each analogous to the relevant chapter of the LSA Code, simplifying their use and future amendments. This will prove advantageous to administrations as well as manufacturers, test facilities, owners and surveyors. It will also facilitate mutual acceptance of approvals carried out by other administrations.
– Revision of SOLAS chapter III and the LSA Code
The IMO has agreed to revise SOLAS chapter III on life-saving appliances and arrangements, as well as the relevant LSA Code to address the gaps and ambiguities in their provisions. It will also restructure the requirements to a goal-based format. SSE 7 accordingly agreed upon a blueprint and action plan for this revision, and will conduct the work in a correspondence group until SSE 8 (2021).
– Fire safety of ro-ro passenger ships
It has been observed that serious fire incidents happened on vehicle decks of roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) passenger ships over the past decade. To address this, the IMO intends to implement SOLAS amendments, aiming to enforce them from 1 January 2024.
Hence, the sub-committee considered security measures like advanced fire detection, CCTV, and monitors on the weather deck for new ro-ro passenger ships, as well as appropriate measures for existing ships. It also agreed on draft amendments to the ‘Revised guidelines for the design and approval of fixed water-based fire-fighting systems for ro-ro spaces’, to extend maximum height for these systems from 9 to 10 m for alignment as a special category space.
– Dry chemical powder fire extinguishing systems for LNG tankers
SSE 7 agreed to carry out fire tests of the dry chemical powder, including a small-scale fire test, using available ISO standards. Accordingly it suggested amendments to “Guidelines for the approval of fixed dry chemical powder fire-extinguishing systems for the protection of ships carrying liquefied gases in bulk” (MSC.1/Circ.1315).
– Fault isolation of fire detection systems
SSE 7 agreed on draft amendments to chapter 9 of the Fire Safety Systems (FSS) Code, that short circuit isolators are not required at each individual fire detector for cargo ships and passenger ship balconies. Cargo ships can typically have one isolator per deck.
– Fixed carbon dioxide fire-extinguishing systems
According to the MSC ‘Guidelines for the maintenance and inspections of fixed CO2 fire-extinguishing systems’, 10% of the total number of CO2 cylinders are tested at the 10-year hydrostatic inspection, with another 10% being tested after 20 years. Now, however, the SSE has agreed to expand the 20-year test regime to testing all the remaining (90%) cylinders, representing a significant increase! This is an important step towards ensuring greater efficiency and safety.
Safety for diving systems and hyperbaric evacuation systems
To improve the safety of commercial diving operations, SSE 7 agreed to update the non-mandatory ‘Code of safety for diving systems’ and the ‘Guidelines and specifications for hyperbaric evacuation systems’ as per IMO guidelines.
On-board lifting appliances and anchor handling winches
Since on-board cranes and anchor-handling winches are not currently covered by IMO instruments, the SSE agreed to develop appropriate safety measures for both. Agreeing on a draft SOLAS proposal, the corresponding guidelines for lifting appliances and associated loose gear were finalized.
Revision of SOLAS chapter II-1
The sub-committee concurred on an action plan to develop goals and functional requirements for SOLAS chapter II-1, parts C, D and E: machinery installations, electrical installations and periodically unattended machinery spaces.
Isolated pantries on passenger ships carrying over 36 passengers
SSE 7 also concurred upon a unified interpretation to make clear the acceptable structural fire protection arrangements for isolated pantries, on board ships carrying more than 36 passengers.
Progress and Future
The drafts and agreed proposals of the SSE 7 were submitted to the Maritime Safety Committee during its 103rd meeting in November 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting happened virtually. The amendments and various suggestions were discussed, and majority of them were approved by the MSC, leading to an amendment of the SOLAS chapter II-1 accordingly. After the ratification, the implementation process has begun and the resolutions are expected to come into force from 1 January 2024.
As we can see, ensuring life safety at sea is a continuous process. The amendments suggested by the SSE 7 will ensure that more and more seafaring vessels and their crews are subjected to international safety norms. Through studying these amendments, we at SHM Shipcare are also, once again, reminded of the importance of our role as life safety specialists, and vow to continue ensuring safe seas and safe shores!