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Maritime Digitalisation & Communications

MSC amends emergency communications and bridge regulations

Tue 05 Jun 2018 by Martyn Wingrove

MSC amends emergency communications and bridge regulations
MSC amended key shipping regulations covering safety communications and navigation

IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) changed regulations that cover safety communications, routeing measures, navigation and bridge systems at its 99th session

Decisions made by IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) at its 99th session will have great influence on the future of maritime emergency communications, integrated bridge systems and passenger ship safety.

The committee approved amendments to key shipping regulations and adopted new amendments during meetings in London between 16 and 25 May. One of the biggest decisions with ramifications to emergency communications was enabling other satellite operators to provide services to the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

This involved replacing all references to Inmarsat with a “recognised mobile satellite service” in a raft of regulations including SOLAS chapter IV, the International Code of Safety for High Speed Craft and the Code of Safety for Special Purpose Ships. These amendments are expected to enter into force on 1 January 2020.

MSC then recognised Iridium Satellite, with its low Earth orbit constellation of satellites as a future provider of GMDSS. It recognised Iridium Safety Voice, short-burst data and enhanced group calling services.

Iridium now has a lengthy process of approvals and certification before it can provide safety communications of GMDSS levels. It will be working with the International Mobile Satellite Organisation (IMSO), the inter-governmental organisation appointed by IMO to manage oversight of satellite GMDSS providers.

IMSO will monitor the implementation of the Iridium services and report to MSC when the public services agreement with Iridium has been concluded and a letter of compliance issued. 

Iridium expects these regulatory hurdles will be overcome for a commercial GMDSS service to be ready in 2020. It may then take a further year before IMO finally approves Iridium’s service to begin commercially.

MSC also adopted a statement of recognition for services provided by the Inmarsat Fleet Safety to GMDSS, in the coverage area under the Inmarsat-4 satellite, which is the Middle East and Asia.

MSC also instructed the next Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR) sub-committee to evaluate China’s BeiDou navigation satellite system as a future GMDSS provider.

Updates to the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue manual were approved and include a new section related to search and rescue operations in remote areas.

For all forms of communications, MSC asked the NCSR sub-committee to consider changes to communications and navigation requirements for vessels that operate in Polar seas, but do not come under IMO’s International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code). This includes cargo ships of between 300 gt and 500 gt, pleasure yachts of less than 300 gt and fishing vessels of more than 24 m in length.

MSC adopted amendments to IMO’s revised performance standards for integrated navigation systems (INS) which relates to the harmonisation of bridge design and display of information, and approved interim guidelines for the harmonised display of navigation information received via communications equipment.

The committee also adopted performance standards for shipborne Indian regional navigation satellite system receiver equipment and approved updates to IMO’s e-navigation strategy implementation plan.

MSC adopted new ship routes including routeing measures in the Bering Sea and Bering Strait, a traffic separation scheme and other routeing measures in Dangan Channel, in China, and in the vicinity of Kattegat (Denmark and Sweden).

For passenger shipping, MSC amended SOLAS regulations II-1/1 and II-1/8-1 for implementation from 1 January 2020. These concern computerised stability support for the master in case of flooding for existing passenger ships. The committee also approved guidelines on operational information for masters in case of flooding for passenger ships constructed before 1 January 2014.

MSC started reviewing how safe, secure and environmentally sound maritime autonomous surface ships (MASS) operations may be addressed in IMO instruments. It endorsed a framework for a regulatory scoping exercise which includes approving preliminary definitions of MASS and degrees of autonomy.



Next IMO meetings

Technical Co-operation Committee (TC 68): 18-20 June


IMO Council: 120th session: 2-6 July


Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping (HTW 5): 16-20 July



Sub-Committee on Carriage of Cargoes and Containers (CCC 5): 10-14 September


Sub-Committee on Implementation of IMO Instruments (III 5): 24-28 September


Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73): 22-26 October


IMO Council: 121st session: 19-23 November


Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 100): 3-7 December



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