REGULATIONS

Modern Regulation of Ocean Shipping

Some of mankind's earliest written records are from Greek and Phoenician sources and pertain to regulation of maritime matters.  Over a century ago major maritime nations passed their own laws, such as Lord Plimsoll in England who wanted to prevent the overloading of ships.  Disasters such as the sinking of the Titanic and the burning of the Morro Castle demonstrated the need for international regulations.  The Safety of Life at Sea convention, or SOLASas it is known was the result.  SOLAS regulated the construction and the equipment that ships on international voyages were required to have.  It was under these regulations that I spent most of my career at sea.  In the last twenty years there have been major changes in the regulatory environment of ocean shipping.  These changes are the result of safety concerns of many nations due to loss of life and environmental damage caused by maritime disasters.   These regulations apply to all maritime nations, and are administered by IMO, the International Maritime Organization, which is part of the United Nations
First there was the STCWconvention, or Standards of Training and Watchkeeping regulations.  This came about because there was no uniform standard of licensing and documenting ships crews of many nationalities.  In some countries you could purchase a license with little or no proof of your ability to perform your job.   What STCW did was require all crew to get a certificate from a government approved school stating that he had been trained to the international standard.   For lower ratings this required a five day course in Basic Safety Training, which was mostly devoted to lifesaving and firefighting procedures.  For Captains it required many courses of up to two weeks, that were costly and time consuming, and for me it was like going back to the Academy all over again.  I took the required course in 2001, after finding a sailing opportunity with Mercy Ships.  Many of my classmates and contemporaries took an early retirement at this time and a lot of senior officers and good experience was lost to the industry as a result of this convention.
Second came the ISM, or International Safety Management Convention.  This was a system of record keeping that required you to have a system in place of written procedures for various critical operations such as getting underway, arriving in port and docking, starting up a piece of equipment, and contingencies such as a fire in the engine room or galley, a man falling overboard, or a collision with another ship, or a grounding.  It required you to have a number of checklists to back up your compliance with these procedures.  It required you to have a documented trail of all maintenance work done and an inventory of all parts ordered and required for the completion of this maintenance.  It required you to demonstrate that all crew knew about the system and their duties under the system.  All the forms and checklists were controlled forms, and subject to periodic audits to prove you were in compliance.  Needless to say, it takes about as long to do the paperwork as it takes to do the job, so that it could be argued that the lost time could actually make things less safe, but at least you can prove who is to blame for any problem.
Third came ISPS, or International Ship and Port Security, which was promoted by the 9/11 Terrorist attacks.  You have to control access to all ports and ships, and to the control spaces of those ships.  It has made it difficult to get into a port area, and to board a ship, and requires the crew to be vigilant and not to let visitors aboard a ship without proper identification.  It sounds reasonable on paper, but in practice it is difficult since you need to escort visitors from the gangway to their destinations, and that means that you need to have extra personnel on duty to perform that service.  With the size of crews being reduced that means longer hours for everyone, and more paperwork for everyone.  These regulations were written by people who did not have to do the work.

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