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The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is an international maritime safety treaty. It ensures that ships flagged by signatory States comply with minimum safety standards in construction, equipment and operation. The SOLAS Convention in its successive forms is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships.
Origin and early versions
The first version of the treaty was passed in 1914 in response to the sinking of the RMS Titanic. It 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 – which entered into force on 27 May 1965 – was the first major achievement for International Maritime Organization (IMO) after its creation. The 1960 version represented a major advance in updating commercial shipping regulations and in staying up-to-date with new technology and procedures in the industry.
The intention had been to keep the Convention up to date by periodic amendments, but the procedure to incorporate the amendments proved to be very slow: it could take several years for the amendments to be put into action since countries had to give notice of acceptance to IMO and there was a minimum threshold of countries and tonnage.
As a result, a complete new convention was adopted in 1974 which includes all the agreements and acceptable procedures. Even though the Convention was updated and amended numerous times, the Convention in force today is sometimes referred to as SOLAS, 1974.
The 1974 version simplified the process for amending the treaty. A number of amendments have been adopted since. The latest Convention in 1974 included the "tacit acceptance" procedure whereby amendments enter into force by default unless nations file objections that meet a certain number or tonnage.
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. An idea of the range of issues covered by the treaty can be gained from the list of sections (below).
Sections of the treaty
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, requires flag States to ensure that their ships comply with minimum safety standards in construction, equipment and operation. It includes articles setting out general obligations, etcetera, followed by an annexe divided into twelve chapters. 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.
- Chapter I – General Provisions
- Surveying the various types of ships and certifying that they meet the requirements of the convention.
- Chapter II-1 – Construction – Subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations
- The subdivision of passenger ships into watertight compartments so that after damage to its hull, a vessel will remain afloat and stable.
- Chapter II-2 – Fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction
- Fire safety provisions for all ships with detailed measures for passenger ships, cargo ships and tankers.
- Chapter III – Life-saving appliances and arrangements
- Life-saving appliances and arrangements, including requirements for life boats, rescue boats and life jackets according to type of ship.
- Chapter IV – Radiocommunications
- The Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) requires passenger and cargo ships on international voyages to carry radio equipment, including satellite Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Search and Rescue Transponders (SARTs).
- Chapter V – Safety of navigation
- This chapter requires governments to ensure that all vessels are sufficiently and efficiently manned from a safety point of view. It places requirements on all vessels regarding voyage and passage planning, expecting a careful assessment of any proposed voyages by all who put to sea. Every mariner must take account of all potential dangers to navigation, weather forecasts, tidal predictions, the competence of the crew, and all other relevant factors. It also adds an obligation for all vessels' masters to offer assistance to those in distress and controls the use of lifesaving signals with specific requirements regarding danger and distress messages. It is different from the other chapters, which apply to certain classes of commercial shipping, in that these requirements apply to all vessels and their crews, including yachts and private craft, on all voyages and trips including local ones.
- Chapter VI – Carriage of Cargoes
- Requirements for the stowage and securing of all types of cargo and cargo containers except liquids and gases in bulk.
- Chapter VII – Carriage of dangerous goods
- Requires the carriage of all kinds of dangerous goods to be in compliance with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code).
- Chapter VIII – Nuclear ships
- Nuclear powered ships are required, particularly concerning radiation hazards, to conform to the Code of Safety for Nuclear Merchant Ships.
- Chapter IX – Management for the Safe Operation of Ships
- Requires every shipowner and any person or company that has assumed responsibility for a ship to comply with the International Safety Management Code (ISM).
- Chapter X – Safety measures for high-speed craft
- Makes mandatory the International Code of Safety for High-speed craft (HSC Code).
- Chapter XI-1 – Special measures to enhance maritime safety
- Requirements relating to organisations responsible for carrying out surveys and inspections, enhanced surveys, the ship identification number scheme, and operational requirements.
- Chapter XI-2 – Special measures to enhance maritime security
- Includes the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code). Confirms that the role of the Master in maintaining the security of the ship is not, and cannot be, constrained by the Company, the charterer or any other person. Port facilities must carry out security assessments and develop, implement and review port facility security plans. Controls the delay, detention, restriction, or expulsion of a ship from a port. Requires that ships must have a ship security alert system, as well as detailing other measures and requirements.
- Chapter XII – Additional safety measures for bulk carriers
- Specific structural requirements for bulk carriers over 150 metres in length.
- International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS)
- Survival suit
- Oswego-Guardian/Texanita collision
- Automatic Identification System
- "International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)]". International Maritime Organization (IMO). Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- Text of the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, Signed at London, January 20, 1914 [with Translation.], London: His Majesty's Stationery Office by Harrison and Sons, 1914
- International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1948, London, 10th June, 1948 (PDF), London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, January 1953
- "Resolution A.351(IX) Use of metric units in the SI system in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, and other future instruments" (PDF). Assembly Resolutions (International Maritime Organisation). 12 November 1975. Retrieved 4 September 2012.
- "SOLAS 1974: Brief History – List of amendments to date and where to find them". International Maritime Organization. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- "SOLAS V Regulations". Royal Yachting Association (RYA). 15 November 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- Implications of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea for the International Maritime Organization, Study by the Secretariat of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) (PDF) (LEG/MISC.7), International Maritime Organization, 19 January 2012, p. 11, retrieved 6 April 2013,
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).
- International Life-Saving Appliance (LSA) Code – under the auspices of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) of 1 November 1974, (London, 4 June 1996)
- International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, Treaty in ECOLEX-the gateway to environmental law (English)
- USCG: Lifesaving & Fire Safety Division
- USCG Summary of IMO conventions
- IMO: Status of Conventions