Report of the 105th session of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee

By Lars Lange, IUMI Secretary-General

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee held its 105th Session (MSC 105) from 20 to 29 April 2022.  The majority of the delegates participated remotely with some attending in person at the IMO building in London. The meeting was chaired by Ms Mayte Medinah (United States). IUMI’s representatives Lars Lange and Hendrike Kühl attended virtually. This summary highlights selected key issues discussed at the session. The meeting’s agenda was dominated by the ongoing war between the Russian Federation and Ukraine and its effect on international shipping and seafarers. Due to time pressure in light of the limited meeting hours available during the virtual meetings, several agenda items were postponed to MSC 106. 


Safety and security in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov

In March, an Extraordinary Session of the IMO Council requested that all IMO committees consider ways to support seafarers and commercial ships affected by the conflict. The committees should also consider the implications of the ongoing conflict for the implementation of the IMO's instruments. The establishment of safe maritime corridors and the safe evacuation of seafarers from the affected area are a matter of priority.

A draft resolution on “Actions to facilitate the urgent evacuation of seafarers from the war zone area in and around the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov as a result of the Russian Federation aggression against Ukraine” was debated at length by the Committee. Given that the overwhelming majority of members supported the draft resolution, the Committee approved and adopted resolution MSC.495(105).


Maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS)

The MSC commenced work to develop a goal-based instrument regulating the operation of MASS. The MSC further approved a road map containing a work plan for the development of IMO instruments for MASS. The road map envisages the development of a goal-based instrument in the form of a non-mandatory Code, with a view to adoption in the second half of 2024 as the first stage. Based on the experience gained in the application of the non-mandatory MASS Code, a mandatory MASS Code will be developed which is expected to enter into force on 1 January 2028.

The MASS Correspondence Group was re-established and instructed to:

  • consider key principles and a common understanding of the purpose and objectives for the new instrument;
  • commence the development of a non-mandatory goal-based MASS Code;
  • consider the common potential gaps and/or themes identified during the Regulatory Scoping Exercise (RSE), focusing on the high priority items;
  • if time permits, develop MSC MASS positions on a number of points, for submission to future meetings of the Joint MSC/LEG/FAL Working Group, including whether to amend the definition for MASS and degrees of autonomy (including the respective definition); meaning of the terms master, crew or responsible person; remote control station/centre; and determination of the remote operator as a seafarer, and advise on a way forward in addressing them;
  • limit the development of the non-mandatory MASS Code to cargo ships with a view to considering the feasibility for application to passenger ships at a future stage; and
  • submit a written report to MSC 107 (spring 2023), with a verbal status report at MSC 106.

The MSC concurred with the Legal Committee on the establishment of a Joint MSC/LEG/FAL Working Group as a cross-cutting mechanism to address common issues for the use of MASS, as identified by the regulatory scoping exercises conducted by each of the three Committees. If approved the first meeting will be held from 6-8 September 2022.


Safety of ships relating to the use of oil fuel

The Committee considered further measures to enhance the safety of ships relating to the use of oil fuel, following work by a correspondence group and a working group in which IUMI participated. The MSC approved draft amendments to SOLAS chapter II-2 in relation to flashpoint. The Committee further agreed a revised action plan and re-established the Correspondence Group to (among other things) consider possible measures related to oil fuel parameters other than flashpoint. In the WG discussions the recent contamination cases from Singapore and the 2018 Houston case were referred to. The necessity to ensure that only safe fuel oil gets delivered to ships and that the fuel safety must be ensured before delivery was reiterated by IUMI and several other delegations.


New outputs:

Safety of ships using alternative fuels

The MSC reiterated the Committee's commitment to ensuring the safety of shipping in the wake of new technical solutions and new fuels investigated in pursuance of GHG reduction targets set by IMO. IUMI fully supports the focus on the safety of low/zero carbon emission fuels which is equally important as the “green credentials” of any new propulsion methods.

The Committee discussed submissions by IACS related to the development of safety requirements to support the achievement of a decarbonization goal with regard to new fuels. The CCC Sub-Committee was instructed to consider matters related to the development of safety requirements to support the achievement of a decarbonization goal when updating its work plan for the development of the IGF Code and safety provisions for alternative fuels. The CCC Sub-Committee was also instructed to commence the development of guidelines for safety of ships using ammonia as fuel and to revise the interim recommendations for the carriage of liquefied hydrogen in bulk.

The use of alternative fuels plays an important role in ensuring the IMO successfully implements the initial GHG strategy. The revision of the GHG Strategy is currently under consideration in the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).


Lithium battery fires

In response to the increasing number of incidents involving fires due to the carriage of alternative fuel vehicles (AFV), including cars with lithium-ion batteries, the MSC considered a proposal to evaluate the adequacy of fire protection, detection and extinction arrangements in vehicle, special category and ro-ro spaces in order to reduce the fire risk of ships carrying new energy vehicles.

The Committee agreed to include an output on "Evaluation of adequacy of fire protection, detection and extinction arrangements in vehicle, special category and ro-ro spaces in order to reduce the fire risk of ships carrying new energy vehicles". It instructed the Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) to evaluate the applicability of the new measures to be developed to existing ships and to address the charging of electric vehicles on board ships.