IBIA report from IMO: MSC 98

The 98th session of the Maritime Safety Committee met from June 7-16 at the International Maritime Organization’s headquarters in London. The main elements of interest to the marine fuels industry came up in discussions relating to relating to the potential impact on ship safety associated with meeting demand for fuels complying with the 0.50% sulphur limit that is due to take effect on 1 January 2020. This has been covered in a separate report: http://ibia.net/imo-meeting-considers-flashpoint-and-other-safety-implications-of-0-50-bunker-fuel-sulphur-limit/

In his opening speech, the IMO Secretary-General emphasised the need for IMO regulations to be evenly and harmoniously implemented, and spoke about the continuation of discussions at MSC 98 regarding early implementation of new mandatory requirements and amendments to avoid conflict between port and flag state in how they are interpreted. He also highlighted that much remains to be done to reduce piracy and MSC’s work on Guidelines for Verification of Conformity with Goal-Based Ship Construction Standards. His full speech is available here: http://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/SecretaryGeneral/Secretary-GeneralsSpeechesToMeetings/Pages/MSC-98-opening.aspx

This report will not cover all elements discussed during MSC 98, but outline outcomes of potential general interest.

Early implementation of IMO instruments

IMO HQ London

MSC 98 had a long and complex debate on voluntary early implementation of changes to IMO instruments. The occasional need for early implementation is mainly due to the IMO having agreed to stick to a four-year cycle for amendments to SOLAS and related mandatory instruments.

A working group developed a definition that voluntary early implementation means a decision by a contracting government to bring into effect amendments for ships flying its flag prior to the actual entry-into-force date. MSC also agreed on how early implementation should be effectively communicated by IMO and member states to all relevant parties, and agreed that early implementation would only be encouraged in exceptional circumstances.

There have been a few examples of voluntary early implementation being positively encouraged to update elements of regulations, for example related to the IGF Code, which have been found to be impractical after adoption, to allow amendments to be put into practice immediately rather than wait until it can take effect formally in accordance with the four-year cycle for amendments to SOLAS.

Maritime cyber risk management

A paper submitted by the US (MSC 98/5/3) highlighted the need for managing cyber risk, saying it should become a part of operational risk management in the same way as we now consider a range of other operational risks. The US proposed that it must be incorporated into safety management systems through the ISM Code (International Safety Management Code).

Although considered urgent, it was noted during discussions that incorporating this onto a safety management system (SMS) will take some time to ensure there is experience that can allow effective audits of this element. MSC 98 adopted an MSC resolution calling for cyber risks to be appropriately addressed in safety management systems no later than the first annual verification of a company’s Document of Compliance after 1 January 2021.

The MSC circular notes that all maritime industry stakeholders, including administrations, ship operators, various service providers, and ports “should expedite the work towards safeguarding shipping from current and emerging cyber threats and vulnerabilities.”


MSC 98 had several documents to discuss on the subject, which is only partially within the IMO’s remit. IMO relies on cooperation with various other organisations and bodies on piracy issues (international, regional and national).

According to information provided by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), instances of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the Gulf of Guinea are under-reported by some 60 to 70%. It was noted that this was leading to ineffective analysis and understanding of the problem, a less efficient response, and exacerbating the risk to crews.

MSC 98 heard about the Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea (MDAT – GoG), which commenced operations in June 2016. Information provided by ships to the MDAT-GoG when transiting West African waters is intended to help build a common maritime picture between countries in the region and support actions and interventions by regional navies in response to piracy attacks.  It was agreed that this approach was helpful, and that IMO should encourage voluntary reporting to MDAT – GoG.

A number of countries stressed the primary role of coastal states in efforts to combat piracy, stressing that incidents should be reported to the coastal state first and foremost to enable a swift response. While this principle was noted and supported, it was with some reservations because there are some coastal states (Somalia was given as an example) that are not well prepared to offer protection to ships or respond effectively to piracy incidents. To get a clear picture of what is happening, states should also report attacks to the IMB.

A view reiterated during MSC 98 was that stakeholder countries should work to combat the root causes of piracy. It was also noted that while international efforts had helped reduce piracy in the Gulf of Aden since 2008, there has been a spate of new incidents in 2017 with the dormant threat of Somali pirates resurfacing. (The tanker Aris 13 was hijacked by Somali pirates in March this year).

MSC 98 also considered a proposal from India, MSC 98/15/2, with proposed draft guidelines for floating armouries. After a long debate in plenary, it was agreed that armoured vessels are under the control of their flag states and as such it is a regulated area, but many felt this was not an area for MSC do develop guidelines for and that it was beyond the mandate of IMO and perhaps better discussed under UNCLOS.

Finally, MSC 98 discussed a request from Oman in MSC 98/15/3 to amend the boundaries of the High Risk Area (HRA) as defined in the Best Management Practices for protection against Somalia based Piracy (BMP 4).   Oman wants the HRA boundaries to be revised to exclude the seas near Oman to because no ships have been hijacked in this part of the Arabia Sea in the past three years and the HRA status is having adverse economic impact on shipping in and out of Oman.

There was widespread support for this request, but this is not actually decided by the IMO, but by industry under BMP 4, which is periodically reviewed. The next review of the will take Oman’s comments into account, MSC 98 was told. MSC 98 was also advised that Oman has just had a new piracy incident; a Marshall Islands-flagged ship came under attack by a skiff this month just 92 nautical miles off the coast of Oman.

Safety standards for cold ironing of vessels

MSC 98 considered a proposal from China to develop mandatory and non-mandatory safety provisions for cold ironing of vessels and guidance on safe operation of On-shore Power Supply (OPS) service in port (MSC 98/20/7).  It was agreed that this will be included in MSC’s agenda going forward and be on the provisional agenda for the 5th session of the SSE Sub-Committee in 2018, with three sessions needed to complete the item, in association with the SDC and III Sub-Committees as and when requested by the SSE Sub-Committee.

Non-SOLAS vessels operating in Polar Regions

MSC 98 had a long debate regarding when the development of the second phase of the Polar Code should begin, its scope of application and its recommendatory or mandatory status.

The key question up for consideration was whether to apply the mandatory Polar Code to non-SOLAS ships operating in polar waters (MSC 98/10 and MSC 98/10/2). The issue is serious because of the frequency of non-SOLAS vessels being involved in accidents in Polar waters, in particular fishing vessels, but other non-SOLAS ships are also at risk. The remoteness of Polar waters means search and rescue operations may take too long to arrive at the scene, and conditions can be very challenging.

There was no clear agreement hence it was agreed to put safety measures for non-SOLAS vessels in Polar Regions on the agenda for MSC 99 as a separate agenda item and invite submissions on scope, measures, what ship types should be covered.

Development of regulations for autonomous ships

MSC 98 had a long and vigorous debate on a proposal to undertake a regulatory scoping exercise to determine how the safe, secure and environmentally sound operation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) may be introduced in IMO instruments (MSC 98/20/2 and MSC 98/20/13).

There was also a lunchtime presentation on the subject, highlighting the benefits of automation because it enhances safety by reducing room for human error. While fully autonomous ships are still seen as being some way off, many areas are already ripe for some level of automation to help with various safety features such as prevention of collisions and groundings.

MSC 98 agreed that the IMO should be proactive on this and embark on the process of a regulatory scoping exercise, addressing different levels of automation. It was agreed to include this in the MSC’s agenda, with four sessions needed to complete the item.

Committee’s organisation and method of work

MSC 98 adopted revised Rules of Procedure of the Maritime Safety Committee after agreeing to increase the number of Members required for a quorum to 25% of the Membership of the Organization. It also agreed to maintain the ability to call extraordinary sessions of MSC. This has to be requested in writing by at least 20 members and be approved by Council or Assembly.

Next sessions – MSC 99 and MSC 100

The 99h session has been tentatively scheduled to take place from 16 to 25 May 2018; and the 100th session is tentatively scheduled to take place from 3 to 7 December 2018.

It is anticipated that there will be working and drafting groups on goal-based standards; maritime autonomous surface ships; safety measures for non-SOLAS ships operating in polar waters; maritime security; and consideration and adoption of amendments to mandatory instruments.

Should you require further detail on any of the items covered here, or other items discussed at MSC 98 that are not covered in this report, please contact me.

Unni Einemo, IMO Representative for IBIA

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