Places of refuge: IUMI supports EU paper to IMO MSC 100 in December 2018

By Lars Lange, IUMI Secretary General

Once a casualty has occurred and a vessel is in distress – whether due to fire or any issue threatening its safety – this vessel needs a place of shelter, and it is of utmost importance that a system is in place that ensures immediate access to a safe, close and prepared port – a place of refuge.


A number of incidents, such as the MSC Flaminia fire in 2012, have shown that this is still not the case. Regulation was already in place: the IMO had agreed in 2004 on the  places of refuge guidelines for ships in need of assistance (Resolution A.949(23). Also, the EU had directives 2002/59/EG and 2009/17/EG in place mandating EU Member States to provide places of refuge for stricken vessels in order to prevent greater damage to the environment. Simply, it lacked on practical procedures within the Member States to comply with these regulations once an incident happened. The “not in my back-yard” mentality led to an approach where coastal states would prefer vessels in distress approach another state, whether due to insufficient equipment or staff, or due to justified environmental concerns.


To avoid this, the European Commission had, together with an industry group, developed the EU Operational Guidelines on Places of Refuge, published in January 2017. IUMI was part of this “Places of Refuge Cooperation Group” and an active contributor. The idea was to establish very concrete organisation and reporting procedures within the EU Member States in order to ensure that a vessel in distress knows whom to approach, the coastal state knows what to do and when to do it, and the EU monitors that decisions taken on granting or not granting a place of refuge are reasonable and based on regulation and the guidelines. Several meetings and practical table top exercises have followed and the 2017 guidelines have been amended.


The EU, as well as industry, is interested in sharing the work on the European guidelines with other states to forward the lessons learned. Accordingly, the European Commission took the initiative to provide the next meeting of the IMO Maritime Safety Committee MSC (MSC 100 from 3 - 7 Dec 2018) with a “Proposal for a new output for a revision of resolution A.949(23) on Guidelines on places of refuge for ships in need of assistance”. The paper by the EU member states is co-sponsored by several international maritime associations: International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI), BIMCO, International Salvage Union (ISU), INTERTANKO and the P&I Clubs. The document recommends the topic as a new item in the upcoming biennial agenda for the MSC Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR) for a revision of resolution A.949(23). This is in order to ensure that the resolution remains up to date and continues to serve as an effective instrument providing a clear framework to deal with a ship in need of assistance seeking a place of refuge in a consistent and harmonised manner globally.