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Black boxes and AIS transponders on the way
IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) adopted a raft of amendments to the international SOLAS convention at its seventy-third session earlier this month. As a result, passenger ships and newbuildings of other ship types will have to carry "black boxes" (more formally VDR's -- or voyage data recorders) while just about all oceangoing commercial ships will have to carry AIS transponders. Another amendment to SOLAS approved by MSC clears the way for greater use of ECDIS.

The regulations for VDRs are contained in a revised Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) of SOLAS which also makes it mandatory for certain ships to carry an automatic identification system (AIS). Currently ships are recommended but not required to carry VDRs. Performance standards for VDRs were adopted by IMO in 1997.

The following ships will be required to carry VDRs, under regulation 20 of the new SOLAS Chapter V:

  • passenger ships constructed on or after 1 July 2002;
  • *ro-ro passenger ships constructed before 1 July 2002 not later than the first survey on or after 1 July 2002;
  • passenger ships other than ro-ro passenger ships constructed before 1 July 2002 not later than 1 January 2004; and

ships, other than passenger ships, of 3,000 gross tonnage and upwards constructed on or after 1 July 2002.

The performance standards that VDR's must meet were set in 1997. They state that the VDR should continuously maintain sequential records of preselected data items relating to status and output of the ship’s equipment and command and control of the ship. The VDR should be installed in a protective capsule that is brightly colored and fitted with an appropriate device to aid location. It should be entirely automatic in normal operation. Under the new regulation, all VDRs must undergo an annual performance test.

Administrations may exempt ships, other than ro-ro passenger ships, constructed before 1 July 2002, from being fitted with a VDR where it can be demonstrated that interfacing a VDR with the existing equipment on the ship is unreasonable and impracticable.

Study to examine VDRs for existing cargo ships: The MSC adopted a resolution on the carriage of VDRs on existing cargo ships. It calls for a feasibility study to be carried out to ascertain the need for mandatory carriage of VDRs on these ships. The aim is to finalize the study by January 2004 so that, if the study demonstrates a compelling need for mandatory carriage of VDRs on existing cargo ships, relevant amendments to SOLAS Chapter V and the associated performance standards can be drafted. In the meantime, the resolution invites Governments to encourage shipowners to install VDRs on existing cargo ships voluntarily, so that wide experience of their use may be gained.

AIS transponders
A new SOLAS regulation adds a requirement for carriage of automatic identification systems (AISs) capable of automatically providing information about the ship to other ships and to coastal authorities .

The regulation requires AIS to be fitted aboard

  • all ships of 300 gross tonnage and upwards engaged on international voyages,
  • cargo ships of 500 gross tonnage and upwards not engaged on international voyages and
  • passenger ships irrespective of size built on or after 1 July 2002.
  • It also applies to ships engaged on international voyages constructed before 1 July 2002, according to the following timetable:
    • passenger ships, not later than 1 July 2003;
    • tankers, not later than the first survey for safety equipment on or after 1 July 2003;
    • ships, other than passenger ships and tankers, of 50,000 gross tonnage and upwards, not later than 1 July 2004;
      ships, other than passenger ships and tankers, of 10,000 gross tonnage and upwards but less than 50,000 gross tonnage, not later than 1 July 2005;
    • ships, other than passenger ships and tankers, of 3,000 gross tonnage and upwards but less than 10,000 gross tonnage, not later than 1 July 2006.
    • ships, other than passenger ships and tankers, of 300 gross tonnage and upwards but less than 3,000 gross tonnage, not later than 1 July 2007;
    • Ships not engaged on international voyages constructed before 1 July 2002, will have to fit AISs not later than 1 July 2008.

A flag State may exempt ships from carrying AISs when ships will be taken permanently out of service within two years after the implementation date.

Performance standards for AIS were adopted in 1998. The new regulation requires that AIS shall:

  • provide information - including the ship’s identity, type, position, course, speed, navigational status and other safety-related information - automatically to appropriately equipped shore stations, other ships and aircraft;
  • receive automatically such information from similarly fitted ships;
  • monitor and track ships;
  • exchange data with shore-based facilities

.

Clear waters ahead for ECDIS
Regulation 19 of the new SOLAS chapter allows an electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS) to be accepted as meeting the chart carriage requirements of the regulation. The regulation requires all ships, irrespective of size, to carry nautical charts and nautical publications to plan and display the ship’s route for the intended voyage and to plot and monitor positions throughout the voyage. But the ship must also carry back up arrangements if electronic charts are used either fully or partially. Performance standards for electronic charts were adopted in 1995, by resolution A.817(19)), which was amended in 1996 by resolution HSC.64 (67) to reflect back-up arrangements in case of ECDIS failure. Additional amendments were made in 1998 by resolution MSC 86 (70) to permit operation of ECDIS in RCDS mode.


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