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Friday, April 19, 2024

The End Of The Grandfather Clause? Implications For Owners, Builders & Suppliers

The quaintly-named grandfather clauses have been a feature of maritime safety and anti-pollution conventions for decades. They are designed to protect existing ships from the impact of amendments which involve major changes to construction or equipment, because it was felt unreasonable to expect a shipowner to have to carry out expensive alterations to his fleet every time the regulations were changed. Today, attitudes have changed. Two major conventions adopted under the auspices of the Londonbased International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency concerned with maritime safety and pollution prevention, have been amended specifically to make major changes retroactive. The treaties are the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 (MARPOL 73/78).

The reasons for this were best summarized by Norway in a note sent to IMO's senior technical body, the Maritime Safety Committee, in 1991. The note stated that "new regulations tend to make new ships more expensive and it is therefore desirable to modify a ship to extend its life instead of replacing it with a newer, safer vessel. It could, therefore, be said that the introduction of new requirements for new ships, without also improving the old, tends to slow down an improved safety level for the fleet as a whole." The problem today is that the world fleet of merchant shipping is aging; for example, cargo ships now average 20-years in age.

Old ships are not only more prone to accidents than new ones, but they were also built to design standards that are now regarded as out of date. But the current economic scene makes it almost impossible to operate new ships at a profit. Owners are therefore clinging to existing ships for as long as they can.

The changes to MARPOL 73/78 were adopted in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. All new oil tankers ordered after July 6 have to be fitted with double hulls or an alternative design approved by IMO. This is perhaps the most important difference between IMO measures and OPA90, which only allows the double-hull option.

The decision was taken after a lengthy examination of design alternatives which showed that designs such as the mid-deck concept offer the same degree of protection as double hulls, and in some cases, better. The changes will become mandatory for existing tankers in 1995.

They will apply to 25-year-old ships. The amendments also include provisions for an enhanced program of surveys and inspections which are expected to result in many existing ships being scrapped because the cost of converting them to the new standards will be too high.

The changes to SOLAS are intended to improve the survivability of existing Ro/Ro passenger ships and will become effective October 1, 1994. They are based on new damage stability standards that have applied to all passenger ferries built since April 1990.

The new measures will be introduced during an 11-year phase-in period. The period of grace will depend upon the degree to which each ship complies with the new standard. Those which only achieve 70 percent, for example, will have to be fully modified when the amendments enter into force. Those which already reach 95 percent will be permitted to operate until October 1, 2005.

The SOLAS amendments, which were adopted in May 1992, will also improve the fire safety of existing passenger ships (including cruise ships). Some of the amendments will become applicable on October 1, 1994, others in 1997 and the remainder on October 1, 2000.

The measures include requirements for smoke detection and alarm and sprinkler systems in accommodation and service space, stairways and enclosures. Others include the provision of emergency lighting, general emergency alarm systems and other means of communication. The SOLAS changes were heavily influenced by two major disasters: the capsizing of the ferry Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987, in which 183 people died, and the fire on the Scandinavian Star in 1988, in which 159 people died. It is expected that the extension of the modified SOLAS 90 standard in particular will result in several existing Ro/Ro ships being scrapped because of high conversion However, it is unlikely that the . T a n d f a t h e r clause will disappear :ompletely. Providing ships are well naintained, they can operate safely 'or many years and the IMO phiosophy is to concentrate more on ;he effective implementation of ex- Lsting conventions than the adoption of new regulations. The amendments to MARPOL and SOLAS were both adopted as a result of accidents which revealed deficiencies in existing regulations and led to intense public and political concern. More worrying in some ways is the fact that the amendments did not achieve full consensus. The MARPOL amendments did not satisfy the U.S. while the SOLAS changes were not acceptable to the U.K., which has insisted on the full SOLAS 90 standard being introduced. IMO exists to develop measures which are applied internationally. The danger is that any further unilateral actions will weaken IMO's position as the world forum for shipping safety and pollution prevention.

Despite economic and other problems, shipping is now safer than it was 20 years ago and marine oil pollution has been reduced 60 percent, according to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. A major reason for this has been the success of IMO measures, which are now so widely accepted that it is virtually impossible to operate a ship on international voyages that does not meet IMO requirements. In the long run, it would be a tragedy for shipping safety and the marine environment if the IMO consensus were to be replaced by a series of differing, conflicting national codes, the sort of chaos the IMO was created to prevent.

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