Recent Developments: Safety concerns and responses

Safety concerns and responses

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) changed leadership in 2015 and placed a renewed emphasis on strengthened partnerships between developing and developed countries, governments and industry, and IMO member states and regions[i]. Several safety-focused initiatives from before the new leadership came to fruition in 2015, including improving passenger ship safety and reducing the number of incidents worldwide.

This drive culminated with the enhancement of safety of ships carrying passengers on non-international voyages and adopted guidelines addressing the mounting toll of passenger ship accidents. Additionally, the IMO urged the industry to enhance the safety of ships carrying passengers on non-international voyages in certain parts of the world and encouraged states to review and update national regulations in relation to their passenger ferries and to apply the guidelines[ii]. The IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) approved draft amendments to the International Convention of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) on evacuation analysis for all passenger ships and approved draft amendments clarifying when watertight doors may be opened during a voyage, which will be applicable to all ships[iii].

The IMO’s work on mitigating safety challenges presented by gas-fueled ships culminated in 2015 with a new mandatory International Code of Safety of Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels (IGF Code) and amended SOLAS codes regarding design changes, the enforcement of the IGF Code and other amends[iv], including changes to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW Code) for new mandatory minimum requirements for training and qualification of masters, officers, ratings and other personnel on ships subject to the IGF Code.

The use of gas as a viable marine fuel has recently increased as high oil prices and environmental concerns prompted owners to source alternative fuels. While crude oil and consequently marine fuel prices have dropped considerably, the IMO has pushed ahead with the IGF Code to ensure the market is ready on a regulatory level when interest in low-flashpoint fuels picks up again.

An initiative that hopefully will improve the safety record of shipping came into force on January 1, 2016. IMO member states now face obligatory audits under the IMO Member State Audit Scheme to determine to what extent they are implementing and enforcing IMO instruments and identifying areas in good practices and in need of improvement. A total of 25 member state audits are expected in 2016[v].