The Revised SOLAS Regulations for Ro-Ro Ferries


The sinking of the m/v STONIA" in the Baltic Sea on 28 September 1994, with the loss of 852 lives has had an immense impact on the world concept of ferry safety. Here are some quotations from the final report into the disaster, which serve to illustrate some of the problems that were encountered in the bad weather conditions that were encountered:

any rafts capsized due to the wind pressure and drifted upside down and many did not fully inflate. "

Liferaft K (floating inverted) -he men wanted to turn the raft the right way up but the girls were very nervous and afraid of going into the water voluntarily to make this possible. When a wave once again washed over the raft, the two girls slid away and disappeared."

Rescue Vessels he heavy weather prevented, or rendered inadvisable, the lowering of lifeboats or rescue boats........... Liferafts were lowered to the sea on wires and then raised again to bring up survivors from the ESTONIA liferafts. The ISABELLA lowered its rescue slide and 16 persons were pulled up along it."

".... The rafts had to be winched manually from the sea. "

hen the crew tried to winch up this raft, it was too heavy because of the number of people in it and water poured into it. The raft tore in the process and filled with water, upon which at least two of the survivors and the three rescue men fell into the sea."

man on board the raft failed several times to climb up (a pilot ladder). He did not understand the instructions shouted to him to wait calmly for a helicopter. When he made a new attempt, a wave washed him into the sea, where he disappeared."

Some recommendations from the report:

ll existing passenger vessels should he re-assessed with regard to evacuation and all reasonable measures taken to increase the time available and possibilities for evacuation. "

"..................urgent action to develop new lifesaving concepts and equipment, especially for passenger vessels where large numbers of untrained people are to be rescued."

ystems should be developed for enhancing the ability of passenger ferries to rescue people from the sea in heavy weather."

ll weather systems should be developed for enhancing co-operation between ferries and helicopters in sea rescue."

Following this disaster, IMO set up a panel of Experts' to enhance the safety of passenger Ro-Ro ferries and we are now beginning to see the formal introduction of the equipment and procedures that they recommended.

New SOLAS Regulations I July 1997

Lights required for all lifejackets (I July 1998)

Originally, ferries were exempted from this provision, because of the problems associated with checking large numbers of lights. A sufficient number of lifejackets must be stowed in the vicinity of assembly points so that passengers do not have to return to their cabins to collect them.

All liferafts to have a float free stowage

This was not always the case in the past when liferafts were stowed in lockers. Pre-1986 vessels have until their first periodical survey after I July 2000 to comply with this requirement.

All liferafts to have a semi rigid boarding ramp fitted at least to one entrance

These must be designed to prevent significant deflation of the main raft if they are damaged. Older vessels have until their first periodical survey after I July 2000 to comply with this requirement.

Liferafts to be served by marine evacuation systems or davit launching systems

For existing vessels not fitted with either MES or davit launching systems, these must be installed not later than their first periodical survey after I July 2000.

MES systems have speeded evacuation times considerably and enable large capacity liferafts to be used. The maximum capacity currently allowed is 150 persons. Chute systems are gaining in popularity over inflatable slide systems, as they are easier to service and take up less ship side length. This latter point is important, as MES systems must not interfere with the launching of lifeboats, which has meant that they have sometimes been fitted further forward or aft than is ideal.

Liferafts to be either automatically self-righting, or be canopied reversible rafts which are capable of operating safely whichever way up they are floating

As an alternative, where a vessel is already fitted with a normal complement of standard liferafts, it must carry these extra enhanced liferafts to accommodate at least 50% of those persons not accommodated in lifeboats.

Manufacturers have developed both types, together with open reversible rafts. These are suitable for more sheltered waters where rescue is likely to rapidly accomplished. Viking first produced automatically self righting liferafts in 1977 for the Danish Navy, so they are not a new concept -just more expensive than standard rafts of similar capacity.

RFD Ltd. spent two years developing their 100 person fully reversible liferaft, which looks a little like a rectangular log cabin, and their arin-Ark' evacuation system was first trialed in Belfast in November 1997.

Every Ro-Ro passenger ship must be equipped with a cans of Rescue'

This must be designed to recover survivors on board the ship from the water, or from a survival craft or rescue boat. Older vessels need not be equipped with this until their first periodical survey after I July 2000.

Zodiac are one of a number of manufacturers that have used an adapted davit launched liferaft-without a canopy or water pockets - for this purpose. This is connected to powered single arm davit. An alternative eans of rescue' would be to equip an MES slide system with handlines or ladders-a system already used on RFD slide systems fitted to some ferries in Dover and elsewhere.

At least one rescue boat must now be a fast rescue boat (FRC) designed to be launched and retrieved even under severe weather conditions.

Older vessels need not be equipped with this until their first periodical survey after 1 July 2000. If an existing lifeboat has to be replaced to make room for the FRC the capacity lost may be compensated for by the fitment of extra liferafts.

Guidelines for FRCs are currently contained in IMO Resolution A.656(16). For example, they must be capable of a speed of at least 20 knots with the rescue boat crew aboard. Because of the special characteristics of these craft, which are mainly rigid inflatables, at least two boat crews must be trained to the standards set out in the STCW Convention. IMO Resolution A.771 (18) also refers to training recommendations for these craft.

Helicopter pick-up areas must be provided and ferries with a length of 130m or more must be fitted with a helicopter landing area

The requirement for a landing area will only apply to vessels constructed on or after I July 1999.

Passengers must be counted prior to departure

This regulation applies to all passenger vessels. From I January 1999 the names and gender of all persons on board, distinguishing between adults, children and infants must be recorded for search and rescue purposes.

A decision support system for emergency management must be provided on the bridge

This regulation applies to all passenger vessels. Ships built before I July 1997 have until their first periodical survey after I July 1999 to comply. This system must provide emergency information and procedures that will help the Master to deal with all types of foreseeable emergencies. The basic system must be in the form of printed plans, but a computer based system may be used in addition.