IMO’s safety committee approves measures to improve safety on board ships

Published: 21 May 2021

The Maritime Safety Committee 103 meeting (MSC 103) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was held 5 to 14 May 2021. Several important decisions were made that will affect shipowners directly. These include upcoming changes to fire safety systems on board to help prevent fires, as well as changes to the search and rescue manuals on board ships.

Fire safety systems

BIMCO co-sponsored a paper, along with some member states and other associations, on the topic of containership fires. The paper proposes a review of the regulations of the fire safety systems on container ships with the aim to make any improvements necessary. The MSC 103 approved the paper, and the work will now start at the Ship Safety Systems (SSE) subcommittee in 2022 with a target completion year of 2025. If any amendments are done to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), it is expected that these will come into force on 1 Jan 2028 at the earliest. This is an important step in addressing the reoccurring fires on board container ships.

The MSC 103 also approved a revision to the guidelines for the maintenance and inspections of fixed carbon dioxide fire-extinguishing systems (MSC.1/Circ.1318).

Recent accident investigations have revealed that there have been incidents resulting in unintended release of Carbon di-oxide (CO2) from fire-extinguishing systems, causing injuries to crew members. The revision addresses the problem and periodical tests should be conducted in such a way that in a 20-year period, all the cylinders should be hydrostatically tested. Similarly, flexible hoses should be replaced within a period not exceeding 10 years but also more frequently, if required, at manufacturer’s recommendation.

There was also some inconsistency between the above-mentioned circular and the revised guidelines for the maintenance and inspection of fire protection systems and appliances (MSC.1/Circ.1432). These have now been updated to remove the inconsistent information.

Life saving

SOLAS chapter 3 regulation 33.2 has been amended to clarify that this regulation, relating to the need for lifeboats to be able to be launched with the ship making headway at speeds up to 5 knots in calm water, applies only to davit launched lifeboats and not to free-fall lifeboats.

This amendment will come into force from 1 Jan 2024, unless flag states consider for voluntary application prior to this date.

Search and Rescue

The International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue Manual (IAMSAR manual) has been updated, taking into the account the recent developments in the modernisation of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and the inclusion of a new remote maritime mobile satellite system (RMSS) – Iridium.  The IAMSAR Volume 3, which is meant for maritime mobile stations, now also includes new action cards added to section 12. All these amendments will be included in the new edition of the IAMSAR manual that will be published in June 2022. Ships are requested to carry an updated copy of the IAMSAR manual.

Human Element

Regulation I/1.1 of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) 1978, as amended, now has a new definition for the term “high voltage”.

High voltage now means - an alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC) voltage in excess of 1,000 volts.

Another amendment to section A-I/1 of STCW code is to include the capacity “electro-technical officer” in the definition of “operational level” as a consequential amendment to the introduction of Manila amendments.  These amendments will come into force from 1 Jan 2023.

Ashok Srinivasan


Ashok Srinivasan

Manager, Maritime Safety & Security

Singapore, Singapore