IMO MSC 101 makes great safety strides

IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim and chair Brad Groves at the 101st session of the Maritime Safety Committee Credit: IMO

During the 101st session of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) held between 5 June and 14 June, many significant advances in the areas of polar safety, fuel safety, autonomous shipping, and e-navigation were made reflective of ongoing developments in the industry.

Safety of ships operating in polar waters

The IMO Polar Code entered into force in January 2017 as a mandatory regulation for SOLAS vessels to ensure safe ship operation and environmental protection in the polar regions where an increasing amount of cargo shipping is taking place.

Navigation and communication equipment is expected to be a vital tool that will support ship operators implementing the Polar Code. Extremes of temperature encountered by ships operating in the polar regions are of concern due to the potential impact on such critical equipment that must remain operational under those conditions.

During its 101st session, the MSC tackled this issue by approving guidance for navigation and communication equipment intended for use on ships operating in polar waters. The guidance includes recommendations on temperature and mechanical shock testing, and on how to address ice accretion and battery performance in cold temperatures. The Committee also approved interim guidelines on lifesaving appliances and arrangements for ships operating in polar waters.

While the Polar Code is mandatory for certain ships under the SOLAS and MARPOL Conventions, and although SOLAS Chapter V (safety of navigation) applies to all ships on all voyages, the other chapters of the Polar Code do not apply to non-SOLAS ships. This includes a great number of cargo ships of less than 500 gt; pleasure yachts not engaged in trade; and fishing vessels.

Therefore, in an effort to ensure the protection of safety and environment for non-SOLAS ships operating in the polar region, the MSC approved a draft Assembly resolution urging Member States to implement – on a voluntary basis – safety measures of the Polar Code on ships not certified under the SOLAS Convention. The draft resolution will be submitted to the IMO Assembly in late 2019 for adoption.

The Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications, and Search and Rescue (NCSR) was also instructed to consider the consequences and feasibility of the mandatory application of Chapters 9 (safety of navigation) and 11 (voyage planning) of the Polar Code to non-SOLAS ships; and to consider how best to enhance the safety of non-SOLAS ships operating in polar waters, including possible development of amendments to SOLAS and/or the Polar Code.

Fuel safety and the global sulphur cap

The impending arrival of the global sulphur cap will see the permissible sulphur content of bunker fuel drop from 3.5% to 0.5% worldwide and concerns around safety issues relating to the shift to low-sulphur fuel have been discussed at the MSC.

During the latest session the MSC adopted a resolution that highlights existing SOLAS regulations and recognises the need to further consider oil fuel safety issues, providing recommended interim measures to enhance the safety of ships using new blends of oil fuel.

The new resolution recommends that SOLAS contracting governments take action against and report fuel suppliers who deliver fuel oil that jeopardises the safety of ships or personnel; or adversely affect the performance of the machinery by failing to meet the requirements specified in SOLAS regulation II-2/4.2.1, taking into account regulation 18.9.6 of MARPOL Annex VI, to the IMO.

The MSC also established a Correspondence Group on oil fuel safety to further consider the development of mandatory requirements for the reporting and action taking against wrongdoing fuel oil suppliers. The MSC also endorsed an action plan to further consider mandatory requirements relating to the flashpoint of oil fuel, with a view to finalising such measures at MSC 104 (2021).

Amendments to parts A and A-1 of the International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels Code were also adopted, including those relating to regulations on loading limit for liquefied gas fuel tanks, regulations for fuel distribution outside of machinery space, regulations for internal combustion engines of piston type, and fire protection for fuel storage hold space; and amendments relating to the protection of the fuel supply for liquefied gas fuel tanks, aimed at preventing explosions with an expected entry into force on 1 January 2024.


At MSC 101, a number of circulars related to e-navigation were approved, including the standardisation of user-interface design for navigation equipment with the intended impact of enhancing situational awareness and improve safety of navigation. An update of the guidelines for the presentation of navigational-related symbols, terms, and abbreviations, which provide input on the appropriate use of navigation-related symbols to achieve a harmonised and consistent presentation was also approved.

Amendments to the performance standards for the presentation of navigation-related information on shipborne navigational displays (resolution MSC 191 [79]) were approved. The implementation dates of the revised standard for shipborne navigational displays on the bridge of a ship for radar equipment, ECDIS, and INS will be on 1 January 2024; and for all other navigational displays on the bridge of a ship is on 1 July 2025.

The MSC resolution on guidance on the definition and harmonisation of the format and structure of maritime services in the context of e-navigation was approved with the purpose of ensuring that maritime-related information and data exchanged as part of different maritime services are implemented internationally in a harmonised, standardised, and unified format.

Finally, the MSC circular on developing initial descriptions of maritime services in the context of e-navigation, including vessel traffic service information, navigational assistance, traffic organisation, maritime safety information, pilotage, tugs, vessel shore reporting, telemedical assistance, local port information, nautical charts and publications, ice navigation, meteorological, hydrographic and environmental information, and search and rescue was approved.

Autonomous ships

With autonomous shipping trials taking place at a greater frequency year on year, its place on the MSC agenda was not unexpected. The Committee approved interim guidelines for Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) trials that state trials should be conducted in a manner that gives at least the same degree of safety, security, and protection of the environment as provided by the relevant instruments.

The approved interim guidelines also state that risks associated with the trials should be appropriately identified and analysed to reduce the risks, to as low as reasonably practicable and acceptable. Any personnel involved in MASS trials, whether remote or on board, should be qualified and experienced.

Cyber risk was covered in the guidelines, which recommend that appropriate steps should be taken to ensure sufficient cyber-risk management of the systems and infrastructure is used when conducting MASS trials.

Importantly, the MSC made progress with the scoping exercise to look at the safe, secure, and environmentally sound operation of MASS that may be introduced in IMO instruments.