Safety of Life at Sea

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From the tragic sinking, in 1912, of the RMS Titanic, one of the benefits was the 1914 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which formalized maritime safety regulations and emergency procedures. The treaty was revised in 1929, 1948, and in 1960. The 1960 Convention was the first major product of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and was the first stage of recognition that technology was a critical part of safety.

The IMO membership recognized that the existing treaty process was far too slow for the rate of technological advances affecting safety at sea. In search of a solution, the next version, adopted in 1974, established "the tacit acceptance procedure - designed to ensure that changes could be made within a specified (and acceptably short) period of time."[1] The new procedure assumed that a technical amendment would be adopted by default, unless a given number of members objected by a specified date. As a result, the current rules are often called "SOLAS, 1974, as amended." After a general introduction, SOLAS contains a number of chapters of specifications, many of which reflected the lessons learned from disasters. If, for example, the provisions of Construction - Subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations had been enforced in the design of the Titanic, she might well have survived the collision and made port.

Chapter II-1 - Construction - Subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations

Key provisions of this Part require that ships, with the strongest rules being passenger ships, be divided into watertight subdivisions. The RMS Titanic had partitions, but only up to a certain height, and water flowed over them. Even had some of the watertight bulkheads been breached, the new requirements for pumps might have controlled the flooding.

Military vessels are not covered by SOLAS, but, given the expectation they will take battle damage, have tended to have even more stringent requirements for watertight integrity. Especially before air conditioning, maximizing watertight hatches, closed by default, represented a tradeoff against habitability. One of the reasons the German battleship KMS Bismarck took an incredible pounding before sinking is that German designers of the time expected their major ships to be at sea for short periods, so less comfortable conditions were a fair tradeoff for survivability.

Also covered in this part are fault tolerance requirements for critical mechanical and electrical systems, especially the steering systems. Duplicate steering systems became required, for certain vessels, as a result of the the 1978 Amoco Cadiz disaster.

Chapter II-2 - Fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction

After watertight integrity, integrity against the spread of fire at sea was the next most critical priority. Ships had to be split, by firestopping and structure, into main and vertical zones. Passenger and crew accommodations needed particular separation. Major lessons learned from the 1934 SS Morro Castle disaster were included in the regulations.

Limits were placed on the amount of combustible materials that could be used in construction. Fire detection was required, an area where technology frequently introduced new capabilities. Provisions needed to be made for containing and extinguishing fires, with both escape routes and routes of access for firefighting. Fire extinguishing equipment needed to be adequate and available, and, for flammable cargoes, there needed to be protection against igniting vapor.

Chapter III - Life-saving appliances and arrangements

Again reflecting the Titanic, adequate life boats, rescue boats and life jackets needed to be available. Life-saving equipment must be in compliance with the [[International Life-Saving Appliance (LSA) Code; this might have reflected the fire, in 1904, on the river excursion vessel General Slocum, which was the greatest loss of life in New York until the 9-11 attacks. Life jackets aboard the vessel were decomposed, and some may even have contained metal weights because jacket weight was used as a means of acceptance.

Chapter IV - Radiocommunications

From this Chapter comes some of the most recent high technology, the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System(GMDSS).[2][3] Frequency assignments and signal characteristics are aligned with the International Telecommunications Union. All passenger ships and all cargo ships of 300 gross tonnage and upwards on international voyages must have equipment to improve the chances of rescue, even if the vessel sinks. GMDSS went into effect on 1 February 1999, and did away with the requirement for Morse code monitoring and operations; one distantly hears the "SOS", and the earlier "CQD" Morse signals from the Titanic

Satellite Emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs), for example, must deploy if the ship sinks. They transmit a 406 MHz UHF signal monitored by satellites; a modern EPIRB will also contain a GPS receiver and will encode its own position in the distress signal. [4]

In addition, search and rescue transponders (SART) must be on the ship and survival boats. [5] Current radar-SARTs are active beacons triggered by X-band radar signals; after 2010, they may respond to the Automatic identification system.

Chapter V - Safety of navigation

Services covered here include weather[6] and, where applicable, ice patrol reports for all mariners. As opposed to most of the SOLAS convention, which applies to vessels on international voyages, this chapter applies to all vessels. It ties into the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention).[2]

It establishes a requirement for responding to distress calls, by proceeding to assist where practical, and relaying messages if in a position to do so. Again reflecting on the Titanic, both ice patrol and distress frequency monitoring were issues in that disaster. Radio companies of the time competed, and the Titanic may have refused an ice warning from the Californian. Later, however, the Californian, which was the closest ship, had shut down its radio room; there were no requirements for continuous monitoring of emergency channel. The first ship to hear the signal and respond was the Carpathia, much further away.

The chapter makes mandatory the carriage ofvoyage data recorders (VDRs) and automatic identification systems (AIS) for certain ships. Ships above 10,000 tons must carry two radars with automatic radar plotting aids (ARPA).

Chapter VI - Carriage of Cargoes

Chapter VII - Carriage of dangerous goods

Chapter VIII - Nuclear ships

Chapter IX - Management for the Safe Operation of Ships

Chapter X - Safety measures for high-speed craft

Chapter XI-1 - Special measures to enhance maritime safety

Chapter XI-2 - Special measures to enhance maritime security

Each government shall establish security information . When a ship is in a port, it will comply with the port's level if that level is higher than its own government. The regulation requires Administrations to set security levels and ensure the provision of

Regulation XI-2/8 confirms the role of the Master in exercising his professional judgement over decisions necessary to maintain the security of the ship. It says he shall not be constrained by the Company, the charterer or any other person in this respect.

All covered ships will have a ship security alert system, to alert a competent authority that the ship is under threat or has been compromised. The alert will not sound aboard the ship, but will include the identity and location of the ship. It must be possible to activate it from the bridge, and at least one other location aboard. .

Chapter XII - Additional safety measures for bulk carriers