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THE IMO PASSENGER SHIP SAFETY INITIATIVE*
All too often, domestic and international shipping regulations are developed in reaction to a casualty to prevent a similar accident from reoccurring. The image of a large number of people in distress at sea is very unsettling and rightly results in a public demand for quick action. It should therefore be no surprise that the world’s first international convention for addressing safety of life at sea – the SOLAS Convention** - was developed in response to the Titanic disaster in 1912.
Although many of the international passenger ship safety regulations in force today were developed in response to passenger vessel tragedies, ensuring that the international regulatory framework retains its relevance in light of technical advancements is a huge and complex undertaking and, contrary to public perception, much of this routine work is proactive.
The technological development over the past twenty-five years have effected all sectors of the shipping industry and have literally altered the fundamental nature of passenger shipping. This sector of the industry has witnessed phenomenal growth on all fronts – numbers of passengers, numbers of ships, new destinations and, perhaps most startlingly of all, in ship sizes and the types of amenities on board.
This phenomenal success is largely attributed to the economic growth in many parts of the world and the resulting capital investment in the building of new cruise ships with a trend toward building bigger, more sophisticated ships such as the Queen Mary 2. The benefits of the economies of scale have rendered cruises more affordable to the travelling public and contributed the boom in the cruise shipping industry.
It was against these unprecedented developments of the last decade that questions began being asked regarding the safety of these new gigantic cruise ships. In particular, how quickly could these mega-ships be evacuated in an emergency and whether search and rescue (SAR) services were capable of effectively rescuing thousands of persons from survival craft.
The direct recipients of these questions were initially the companies owning these large cruise ships and the States whose flag they flew, and generally they were companies and States with a remarkably high safety record. But increasingly, given its global mandate over safety and environmental protection, such questions began to be asked of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Consequently, in May 2000, the entire IMO Membership, including the cruise industry, agreed to undertake a holistic consideration of safety issues pertaining to passenger ships, with particular emphasis on large cruise ships.
The outcome of this proactive initiative has resulted in an entirely new regulatory philosophy for the design, construction and operation of passenger ships that will better address the future needs of the passenger ship industry.
NEW INTERNATIONAL REGULATIONS ADOPTED BY IMO
From the outset, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), the IMO body responsible for the work to be undertaken, decided to establish a ad hoc Working Group on Passenger Ship Safety to facilitate the deliberations on the complex issues to be considered. To assist the group in its
Views expressed in this article are those of the author and should not be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of IMO or its Secretariat.
The term “SOLAS” refers to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974.
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