What is "SOLAS"?

With special emphasis on lifesaving and fire safety requirements
On her maiden voyage from Southhampton, England bound for New York, the RMS TITANIC collided with an iceberg on April 15, 1912, just south of the tail of the Grand Banks and sank within two and a half hours. Although the night was clear and seas were calm, the loss of life was enormous with more than 1,500 of the 2,224 passengers and crew perishing. The TITANIC, brand new flagship of the White Star Line, was the largest passenger liner of its time displacing 66,000 tons and capable of sustained speed in excess of 22 knots. The vessel had been built with the latest safety design, featuring compartmentation and such innovations as automatically closing water tight doors. It is ironic that publicity regarding these features had given it the reputation of being unsinkable. The sheer dimensions of the TITANIC disaster created sufficient public reaction on both sides of the Atlantic to prod governments into action, producing in international treaty on ship safety, the first Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention. The first International Conference on the Safety of Life at Sea, was convened in London on November 12, 1913. The convention signed on January 30, 1914, by the representatives of the world's various maritime powers, provided for the International Ice Patrol, and included minimum standards for radio communications and lifesaving equipment on passenger ships. Although the International Ice Observation and Ice Patrol Service began in 1914, World War I intervened and prevented the formal ratification of the treaty. The second International Conference on Safety of Life at Sea was convened in London on April 16, 1929. Eighteen nations participated, all of which signed the final act on May 31, 1929, which included requirements for safety measures on cargo ships, in addition to the passenger ship requirements. Fire protection requirements were included too, with requirements for construction with "fire-resisting bulkheads" above the bulkhead deck at intervals not exceeding 40 meters. Such bulkheads were required to resist a temperature of 815 degrees Celsius for 1 hour. By 1933, the required number of countries had ratified the convention, and SOLAS came into force for the first time. Because of the fear in the United States Senate as a result of ambiguities in Article 54 dealing with control, the 1929 convention was not ratified by the United States until 1936, and even then the ratification was accompanied by three reservations. Serious fires occurring on passenger vessels in the early 1930’s, including the GEORGES PHILIPPAR and L’ATLANTIQUE, gave rise to great concern in the maritime countries, which concluded that the existing requirements were insufficient. U.S. ratification of the 1929 convention followed the 1934 fire on the passenger ship MORRO CASTLE which burned off the coast of New Jersey, resulting in the deaths of 124 persons. Public outcry from the incident led to the creation of a special Senate subcommittee and subsequent US ratification on August 7, 1936, of the 1929 SOLAS Convention. The subcommittee included a Fireproofing and Fire Prevention group set up to consider measures to avoid the rapid spread up and down stairways and along corridors and through accommodation spaces that occurred on the MORRO CASTLE. They determined that the best method of controlling fire spread "would be construction of such nature that it would confine any fire to the enclosure in which it originated." This view has become one of the fundamental principles of structural fire protection reflected in both SOLAS and U.S. regulations today. It is important to note that the subcommittee’s philosophy relied on the nature of construction. This means that in confining the fire to the space in which it originated, reliance on any automatic or manual "active" systems of control was eliminated, and the structure itself could be relied on to contain the fire. The subcommittee’s view was that this philosophy, which is known today as "passive" fire protection, was the most fool-proof means of confining a fire. Starting in 1936, a series of fire tests were conducted on board the test ship SS NANTASKET which proved the principle of passive fire protection. As a result of these tests, U.S. regulations for the construction of passenger vessels were amended in 1936. The new regulations called for the installation of internal bulkheads of non-combustible material to contain a fire in the space of origin. In the United Kingdom, regulations for fire safety measures in passenger vessels, formulated in 1937, allowed combustible construction, but relied on automatic sprinkler systems for fire protection. Similar development of national requirements for fire prevention took place in France and other maritime countries. At the third SOLAS Convention in 1948, delegates of the U.S., United Kingdom, and France proposed the adoption of their national systems of fire protection. The 1948 Safety Convention adopted all three systems. They were known as Method I, (U.S.), Method II (United Kingdom), and Method III (France). In addition, specific provisions were incorporated in the Convention for fire detection and fire extinguishing appliances in machinery and other spaces, for means of escape, for musters, and for fire drills. SOLAS 48 entered into force on 19 November 1952. The requirements of SOLAS 48 were reviewed at the Safety Conference in 1960; a number of amendments were incorporated in SOLAS 60, which came into force on 26 May 1965.

The attention of maritime countries was then aroused after old passenger vessels, including the LAKONIA, YARMOUTH CASTLE, and VIKING PRINCESS, suffered serious fire casualties with heavy loss of life. In May 1966, a special meeting of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) of the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO) was called to consider measures for improving the fire safety of passenger vessels. [NOTE: In May 1982, IMCO changed its name to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).] The MSC first directed attention to the problem of fire safety in older passenger vessels and, after thorough consideration of the problem, agreed upon a series of proposed amendments to the fire safety regulations in SOLAS 60. In November l966, representatives and experts from 46 countries met at the special IMCO Assembly and adopted the proposed amendments and recommendations submitted by the MSC. These 1966 amendments (IMCO Resolution A.108(ES.III)) proposed additional fire protection standards for existing passenger vessels. Major changes required vessels to be constructed of steel; separation of accommodation spaces from machinery, cargo, and service spaces; protection of control stations, stairways and lifts; reduction in the amount of combustible material used in accommodation spaces; and the installation of automatic sprinkler or fire detection systems. Under these provisions, old passenger vessels were required to be brought into close conformity with one of the methods of fire protection specified in the 1960 Safety Convention. For pre-SOLAS 48 vessels, the additional requirements normally involved structural modification. Another task was the improvement in fire safety of future passenger vessels. The MSC requested that the IMCO Subcommittee on Fire Protection develop a new system of fire protection, taking into account the best features of the existing three methods of fire protection and considering the maximum use of non-combustible material and the appropriate use of automatic sprinkler and detection systems. Requirements for new vessels were proposed as the 1967 Fire Safety Amendments (IMCO Resolution A.122(V)). In part due to the stringent amendment approval process, the 1966 and 1967 Amendments were never ratified by the required number of countries to bring them into force internationally. In 1968, the U.S. unilaterally required all passenger vessels operating from U.S. ports, with overnight accommodations for 50 or more passengers, to meet the 1966 Fire Safety Amendments or U.S. passenger vessel requirements. The present law (46 U.S.C. 3505) requires that the Secretary of the Department of Transportation (through delegation to the U.S. Coast Guard) determine that vessels meet the 1966 and 1967 SOLAS Amendments and applicable U.S. requirements. SOLAS 74, which came into force on 25 May 1980, incorporated the 1966 and 1967 Amendments for fire safety. The 1974 revision provided for ongoing revisions of the convention as necessary, and today, administered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), SOLAS 1974 is amended every 4 years, and is very much a living document. Today, SOLAS covers almost all types of commercial ships engaged in international service, has been ratified by all major maritime nations. In addition to the original three 1914 subjects, the current SOLAS convention includes ship structures and stability, machinery and electrical systems, navigation, fire safety, carriage of dangerous cargoes, ship management, and other safety-related subjects. Today, the structural or "passive" fire protection requirements have been complemented with many improvements in the area of "active" fire protection which includes fire detection and fire suppression systems. Many of the new requirements for active fire protection are also being retroactively applied to vessels built prior to 1 October 1994. One of the most notable of active system retroactive requirements is that for automatic sprinkler, fire detection and fire alarm systems in accommodation and service spaces and stairway enclosures and corridors in passenger vessels. All passenger vessels not meeting SOLAS 74 or SOLAS 60, Part H (the unratified 1966 and 1967 fire safety amendments) had to meet these requirements as of October 1997. Passenger vessels meeting the more stringent "passive" fire protection design requirements found in SOLAS 74 and SOLAS 60 Part H, must be in compliance with these requirements by October 2005. Lifesaving systems have changed too. Gone (at least for new construction) are the open pulling (oar-propelled) lifeboats of the Titanic's day. Today's lifeboats have full or partial rigid enclosures to protect the occupants from the elements, and are propelled by diesel engines. Lifeboats on tankers are equipped with air supply and sprinkler systems which allow them to travel through fire on the water. Many cargo ships have a free-fall launched lifeboat that is dropped from a ramp on the stern of the ship. Chapters II-2 and III of SOLAS cover fire safety, and lifesaving systems, respectively. Until the 1974 revision, SOLAS contained little in the way of technical detail for these systems. It was up to each national maritime safety administration (the Coast Guard in the United States), to ensure that these systems were adequate for use on their ships, through an equipment approval process. However, beginning with a 1983 revision, specifications for lifesaving systems were included in SOLAS, in what is now IMO’s Life-Saving Appliances (LSA) Code, and a companion Recommendation on Testing of Life-Saving Appliances. More recently, a Fire Test Procedures Code has been developed which contains performance requirements for certain fire safety systems. These international standards have given rise to the expression "SOLAS approved," implying that some kind of international approval system is in place. In fact, each national maritime safety administration is still responsible for ensuring that equipment on its ships meets the SOLAS requirements.

This is changing, however. In 1992, the United States introduced a work item at IMO on international approval of lifesaving appliances. Negotiations on this subject have not led to an international or "SOLAS"

approval system, but much has been done to standardize testing procedures so that data exchange between approving authorities should be easier.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful