The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is an international maritime treaty that sets minimum safety standards in the construction, equipment and operation of merchant ships. The convention requires signatory flag states to ensure that ships flagged by them comply with at least these standards.
|International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea|
The current version of SOLAS is the 1974 version, known as SOLAS 1974, which came into force on 25 May 1980. As of April 2022[update], SOLAS 1974 has 167 contracting states, which flag about 99% of merchant ships around the world in terms of gross tonnage.
The non-parties to SOLAS 1974 include numerous landlocked countries (for obvious reasons), as well as El Salvador, Micronesia and East Timor. Some others including Bolivia, Lebanon and Sri Lanka, all considered flag of convenience states, are deemed to have "potentially negative performance" regarding ratification.
SOLAS 1974 requires flag states to ensure that ships flagged by them comply with the minimum safety standards in the construction, equipment and operation of merchant ships. The treaty includes articles setting out general obligations, etc., followed by an annexe divided into twelve chapters, two new chapters were added in 2016 and 2017. Of these, chapter five (often called 'SOLAS V') is the only one that applies to all vessels on the sea, including private yachts and small craft on local trips as well as to commercial vessels on international passages. Many countries have turned these international requirements into national laws so that anybody on the sea who is in breach of SOLAS V requirements may find themselves subject to legal proceedings.
The first version of SOLAS Treaty was passed in 1914 in response to the sinking of the Titanic, which prescribed numbers of lifeboats and other emergency equipment along with safety procedures, including continuous radio watches. The 1914 treaty never entered into force due to the outbreak of the First World War.
The 1960 Convention was adopted on 17 June 1960 and entered into force on 26 May 1965. It was the fourth SOLAS Convention and was the first major achievement for International Maritime Organization (IMO). It represented a considerable step forward in modernizing regulations and keeping up with technical developments in the shipping industry.
In 1974 a completely new Convention was adopted to allow SOLAS to be amended and implemented within a reasonable timescale, instead of the previous procedure to incorporate amendments, which proved to be very slow. Under SOLAS 1960, it could take several years for amendments to come into force since countries had to give notice of acceptance to IMO and there was a minimum threshold of countries and tonnage. Under SOLAS 1974, amendments enter into force via a tacit acceptance procedure – this allows an amendment to enter into force on a specified date, unless objections to an amendment are received from an agreed number of parties.
The 1974 SOLAS came into force on 25 May 1980, 12 months after its ratification by at least 25 countries with at least 50% of gross tonnage. It has been updated and amended on numerous occasions since then and the Convention in force today is sometimes referred to as SOLAS, 1974, as amended.
In particular, amendments in 1988 based on amendments of International Radio Regulations in 1987 replaced Morse code with the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) and came into force beginning 1 February 1992. The issues covered by the treaty are set out in the list of sections (above).
The up-to-date list of amendments to SOLAS is maintained by the IMO. Previous amendments were made in May 2011. In 2015, another later amendment is the SOLAS Container Weight Verification Regulation VI/2. This regulation, implemented by the IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) requires that the full weight of loaded containers must be obtained prior to being onboarded on an ocean vessel. Communicating a weight value has called for the introduction of a new Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) communication protocol called VGM (Verified Gross Mass) or VERMAS (Verification of Mass), and involves cooperation between ocean carriers, Freight Forwarders/NVOCCs, EDI providers as well as exporters. The regulation states that exporters (shippers) are ultimately responsible to obtain a verified container weight. Originally scheduled for implementation on 1 July 2016, the regulation allows for flexibility and practical refinement according to the Maritime Safety Committee Memorandum #1548 to 1 October 2016.
As of December 2011, the three conventions that include the most comprehensive sets of rules and standards on safety, pollution prevention and training and certification of seafarers, namely, SOLAS, MARPOL and STCW, have been ratified by 159, 150 and 154 States, respectively (representing approximately 99% gross tonnage of the world's merchant fleet).