IBIA report from IMO: MSC 97

The 97th session of the Maritime Safety Committee met from November 21 to 25 at the International Maritime Organization’s headquarters in London. Elements of interest to the marine fuels industry came up in discussions relating to the reports of other committees, in particular the outcome of MEPC 70.

In his opening speech, the IMO Secretary-General highlighted key issues for the meeting, including the development of a GBS (goal-based standards) verification audit and finding an interim solution to a long-running debate on developing a new chapter of SOLAS and a new code on the safe carriage of more than 12 industrial personnel (who are viewed as different from passengers and seafarers), maritime security issues including attacks on warships cyber threats, piracy and unsafe mixed migration by sea.

The meeting made progress on the GBS verification audit scheme and came up with Interim Recommendations on the safe carriage of more than 12 industrial personnel.  It also adopted several amendments to the SOLAS Convention and its mandatory codes and a long list of MSC resolutions and circulars related to safety issues.  Should you wish to see the list of circulars, please contact me.

Discussion of decisions taken at MEPC 70

Several delegations expressed the view that the amendments to the 2013 Interim guidelines for determining minimum propulsion power to maintain the manoeuvrability of ships in adverse conditions (resolution MEPC.262(68)) (2013 Interim Guidelines), currently being considered by the MEPC, is also a matter for the MSC. The draft text of the revised 2013 Interim Guidelines will be submitted to MEPC 71 for consideration. MSC 97 agreed to invite MEPC 71 to forward the proposed revised Guidelines to MSC for consideration of safety aspects.

MSC 97 also heard several member states raise queries as to why MEPC 70 had not advised MSC about discussions held regarding how the decision to introduce the global maximum 0.50% sulphur limit in 2020 could impact on the safety of ships, in particular with regard to the use of low-flashpoint fuels, and also the risks of unstable fuel blends and potentially an increase in cat fines. In order to promote coherent and effective implementation of the regulation, MSC needs to consider and ensure ship safety, it was argued.

There was also a discussion about how the IGF Code may be of assistance in dealing with low flashpoint fuels. The IGF Code provides a standard for ships using low flashpoint fuels, although at present it only deals specifically with LNG. When it enters into force on January 1, 2017, it will apply to all vessels above 500 gross tonnage that install low flash point fuel systems.

MSC heard that the IGF Code may not be very helpful because the issue is the risk that regular ships, which are not covered by the Code, may receive marine fuels that are off-spec for flashpoint and hence in breach of SOLAS.

The committee was also reminded that the subcommittee on Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC) has not been able to work on a new chapter of the IGF Code to deal with diesel fuels with a flashpoint between 52°C and 60°C; there has only been preliminary discussion but no concrete input.
With no concrete papers to consider on the 2020 fuel safety issue, there was nothing MSC 97 could decide. It was informed that MEPC 70 has tasked PPR 4 (the 4th meeting of the Pollution Prevention and Response sub-committee) to look at implementation issues. Furthermore, MSC 97 agreed to invite MEPC 71 to inform MSC about the work done, and to invite all future MEPC sessions to inform MSC of any safety issues that arise during discussion at MEPC meetings. The Chair of MSC invited concrete submissions to future MSC sessions on fuel safety issues should anyone feel the need.

IGF Code correction and UIs

MSC 97 agreed that the Secretariat should prepare a corrigendum to annex 1 to the report of MSC 95 (MSC 95/22/Add.1), containing resolution MSC.391(95) on Adoption of the International Code of Safety for Ships using Gases or other Low-flashpoint Fuels (IGF Code), with a correction to paragraph 11.7.1 of the IGF Code, with a view to also incorporating the correction in the authentic text of resolution MSC.391(95) once the corrigendum had been issued.

It also approved a draft MSC circular on unified interpretations of the IGF Code.

These corrections and UIs are happening to deal with seemingly minor paragraphs in the IGF Code that have, on closer inspection, been deemed problematic and/or in need of clarification to make the regulation fit for purpose.

Guidelines on maritime cyber risk management

MSC 96 approved MSC.1/Circ.1526 on Interim guidelines on maritime cyber risk management (the Interim Guidelines) with the understanding that they could be subsequently revoked and superseded by a joint FAL/MSC circular once the work of FAL 41 on facilitation aspects was completed. It agreed that FAL 41 should be allowed to conclude its consideration of the facilitation aspects of cyber security before any further work is undertaken. As stated already in the Interim Guidelines, maritime cyber risk management should be addressed through the existing management practices set out in the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code and the International Safety Management (ISM) Code.

Correcting errors in IMO instruments/early implementation of SOLAS amendments

A discussion continued from the previous session regarding early implementation of amendments to SOLAS, or, as suggested during MSC 97, to rename it as “early application” of amendments that have been adopted. The crux of the matter is that if a flag State decides to goes for early implementation/application, does the port State respect that decision? If not, in the case of what may be seen as ‘relaxed’ requirements, it could be used it as a pretext for port State control officers to deem the ship – even if having a flag State’s blessing – as deficient.

The issue has come up because the legislative process from the adoption of amendments to SOLAS 1974 to their implementation is a lengthy and complex process, and early implementation of amendments to SOLAS 1974 may lack international legal basis and be in conflict with the IMO’s agreed four-year cycle of entry into force of amendments.

MSC 97 also discussed if it would be possible to correct errors in IMO instruments by applying the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969, (article 25 on Provisional application and article 79 on Correction of errors in texts or in certified copies of treaties).

It was stressed that a solution needs to be found urgently to enable swift action to correct and rectify errors in regulations.

The issue was not resolved and will be dealt with under a separate, new agenda item at the next session to review matters related to early implementation of SOLAS amendments, including corrections to existing provisions in force or about to become effective.

Proposal to change deadlines and size of submissions

MSC considered a proposal from the Secretariat to change IMO submission deadlines to 10 weeks instead of 9 for bulky comment papers and to 8 instead of 7 for non-bulky comment papers, and for comment papers to be cut from a maximum of 4 to 3 pages.  This would be to give more time for the documents submitted to be edited, processed and uploaded onto IMODOCS in good time before meetings. There were several objections to reducing comment papers to just 3 pages and the proposal was not supported w.r.t. deadlines either.

Polar Code – next steps

The International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) is due to take effect on 1 January 2017 and will apply to all SOLAS-ships operating in Polar regions. MSC 97 had two submissions regarding non-SOLAS vessel operations in polar waters, one providing data on search and rescue incidents involving non-SOLAS ships and another expressing concerns about the threat to human life and the environment from non-SOLAS vessels. The papers were noted and the information will support work on phase 2 of the Polar Code. It is not clear when that will commence at it has been agreed that work on non-SOLAS ships should commence after we have gained experience with the Polar Code in practice.

Next session – MSC 98

The 98th session has been scheduled to take place from 7 to 16 June 2017; the 99th session is tentatively scheduled in May 2018.

It is anticipated that there will be working and drafting groups on goal-based standards; maritime security; early implementation/application of IMO instruments; and consideration and adoption of amendments to mandatory instruments at MSC 98.

Unni Einemo, IMO Representative for IBIA

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