What is SOLAS?

SOLAS is also known as the International convention for “safety of life at sea”.  SOLAS is one of the main conventions on which the International Maritime Organization (IMO) relies on. The main concern of this convention is to ensure the safety of merchant ships and human life.

History of SOLAS

The need for “Safety of Life at sea” came after the disaster of the Titanic in 1914. The first convention was held in 1914 in London which was organized by the British government but they couldn’t enter it into force due to the First world war. Later they adopted new versions in 1929 and 1948.

After International Maritime Organization (IMO) was formed they formed a fourth version of the convention in 1960 and then it was entered into force in 1965. It was the first major achievement of the IMO and it was also a modernized convention that was keeping up with new technical developments.

The previous versions were only considered the number of lifeboats and other emergency requirements with safety procedures but in the new version of SOLAS, IMO has provided safety precautions and procedures in every aspect that regard to merchant ships. From “the construction of the ship to Abandoning of the ship”.

The purpose of the convention was to be up to date but implementing amendments was a slow process in the 1960 version. Later IMO adopted a completely new version in 1974 with a solution for the time period of processing amendments. Then it was updated on a specific given date.

Finally, the 1974 convention was entered into force on 25 May 1980 and this is the latest and the current version. The convention is always updated from time to time to enforce new safety norms for the modern shipping industry. Although in 2014, the IMO agreed that amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) should be followed by a four-year cycle.

The SOLAS convention consists of a treaty and an Annex.

Initially, there were only 12 chapters, later in 2016 and 2017 two other chapters were added.

  • Chapter I – General Provisions
  • Chapter II-1 – Construction – Subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations
  • Chapter II-2 – Fire prevention, fire detection, and fire extinction
  • Chapter III – Lifesaving appliances and arrangements
  • Chapter IV – Radio communications
  • Chapter V – Safety of Navigation
  • Chapter VI – Carriage of Cargoes
  • Chapter VII – Carriage of dangerous goods
  • Chapter VIII – Nuclear ships
  • Chapter IX – Management for the Safe Operation of Ships
  • Chapter X – Safety measures for high-speed craft
  • Chapter XI-1 – Special measures to enhance maritime security
  • Chapter XI-2 – Special measures to strengthen shipping security
  • Chapter XII – Additional security measures for bulk carriers
  • Chapter XIII – Verification of compliance
  • Chapter XIV – Safety measures for ships operating in polar waters.

Generally, the SOLAS convention applies for cargo ships of 500 gross tonnage or over and passenger ships engaged in international voyages.

In 2018 the SOLAS convention 1974 has 164 contracting states. That means 99% of merchant ships in the world. Every contracting flag states have the responsibility of ensuring the minimum standards provided by the convention for ships under their flags.

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