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The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is an international maritime treaty which requires Signatory flag states to ensure that ships flagged by them comply with minimum safety standards in construction, equipment and operation. The current version of the SOLAS Convention is the 1974 version, known as SOLAS 1974, which came into force on 25 May 1980. As at March 2016, SOLAS 1974 has 162 contracting States, which flag about 99% of merchant ships around the world in terms of gross tonnage.
Origin and early versions
The first version of SOLAS 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 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 modernising 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 time scale, 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 be 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 50 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. An idea of the range of issues covered by the treaty can be gained from the list of sections (below).
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 July 1, 2016, the regulation allows for flexibility and practical refinement according to the Maritime Safety Committee Memorandum #1548 to October 1, 2016.
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.
- Chapter XIII - Verification of compliance. Makes mandatory from 1 January 2016 the IMO Member State Audit Scheme.
- Chapter XIV - Safety measures for ships operating in polar waters. The chapter makes mandatory, from 1 January 2017, the Introduction and part I-A of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (the Polar Code).
- International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS)
- Survival suit
- Oswego-Guardian/Texanita collision
- Automatic Identification System
- Status of multilateral Conventions
- "International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)". International Maritime Organization (IMO). 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).
- 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
- New amendments into force from 1st July 2014 for SOLAS Convention
- "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.
- "IMO Requirement For Container Weight Verification". International Maritime Organization. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
- "MSC 94th Session Summary of SOLAS Container Weight Requirements" (PDF).
- "IMO Implementation and Action Dates Including SOLAS". International Maritime Organization.
- "IMO MSC.1/Circular 1548 Updating SOLAS Regulation VI2 Clauses" (PDF). International Maritime Organization.
- "solas weighing method".
- "SOLAS V Regulations". Royal Yachting Association (RYA). 15 November 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2013.
- 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
- SOLAS: container weighing method 1 & 2
- 10 things you need to know about the new SOLAS regulations