IMO 104th session of the Maritime Safety Committee considers remote surveying

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) held its 104th session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) from 4–8 October 2021. This meeting was conducted remotely and a number of topics will be of interest to the superyacht, commercial vessel and yacht and small craft leisure sector, including remote surveys, which came up for discussion:

Covid-19 issues. In recognition of the ongoing difficulties faced by seafarers and management companies during the pandemic, the Committee approved a draft assembly resolution on issues relating to seafarers in respect of crew changes, vaccination and ‘key worker’ designation. The resolution urges Member States to:
– designate seafarers as ‘key workers’ in order to facilitate shore leave and safe and unhindered movement across borders, and recognise their relevant documentation for this purpose;
– consider the implementation of the industry-recommended framework of protocols for ensuring safe ship crew changes and travel during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic;
– prioritise vaccination of seafarers, as far as practicable, in their national COVID-19 vaccination programmes;
– consider exempting seafarers from any national policy requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for entry, taking into account that seafarers should be designated as ‘key workers’ and that they travel across borders frequently;
– provide seafarers with immediate access to medical care and facilitate medical evacuation of seafarers in need of urgent medical attention when the required medical care cannot be provided either on board or in the port of call.
The resolution is expected to be adopted at the 32nd session of the Assembly in December.

The Committee also approved guidance to administrations, flag and port states on seafarers’ training and certification which still poses a challenge to authorities during the pandemic.

Remote surveys

One result of the pandemic has been the sharp increase in remote vessel surveys, inspections and audits. Whilst classification societies have rules and procedures for remote inspections e.g. underwater surveys of ships’ hulls, there is no current harmonised system for ensuring that remote surveys can be conducted to a similar standard as in-person attendance. Recognising this need, a number of papers were submitted on the subject under agenda item 15, Work programme. Following a discussion of the topic in plenary, the Committee agreed to include a new output in the biennial agenda of the Implementation of IMO Instruments (III) Sub-Committee for 2022-2023, with a target completion year of 2024. The title of the output is “develop guidance on the assessment and applicability of remote surveys, ISM Code audits and ISPS Code verifications”.

Modernisation of GMDSS

Following the comprehensive review of the GMDSS by the NCSR Sub-Committee the Committee approved the draft amendments to SOLAS. It may be recalled that the aim of the amendments is to enable the use of modern communication systems in the GMDSS whilst removing requirements to carry obsolete systems. The changes are largely technical in nature and take into account new equipment and various service changes. These amendments are not expected to enter into force before 1 January 2024. With respect to the amendments, the following should be noted:
– The carriage requirements for radio equipment will not change.
– Although the Iridium system is now approved for use in the GMDSS (letter of compliance issued December 2019) it will still be necessary to carry HF equipment when operating in polar regions.

Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships

Following the completion of the Regulatory Scoping Exercise (RSE) (see MSC 103 report), the Committee agreed to a new output “Development of a goal-based instrument for maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS)” with a target completion year of 2025.

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