Jhe 9th session of the IMO Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications, Search and Rescue (NCSR 9) was held from 21 to 30 June. Navigation and voyage planning requirements for fishing vessels, pleasure yachts and small freighters operating in polar waters have been finalized, along with requirements to make inclinometers mandatory for measuring angles of inclination for container ships and bulk carriers. ECDIS performance standards have been revised to take account of the next generation of electronic navigational charts.
• Finalized Draft Mandatory Navigation and Voyage Planning Requirements for Non-SOLAS Vessels Operating in Polar Waters
• Finalized draft of revised performance standards for Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS)
• Finalized draft SOLAS amendments to make the carriage of electronic inclinometers mandatory for container ships and bulk carriers
• Finalized draft of revised “Guidelines on Places of Refuge for Ships in Need of Assistance”
Non-SOLAS vessels in polar waters
Incidents in polar waters pose a risk to human life, to the polar environment and to search and rescue operations. The 2nd phase of the development of the Polar Code considers safety measures for fishing vessels, yachts and small cargo ships operating in polar waters.
NCSR 9 finalized draft amendments to SOLAS Chapter XIV and the Polar Code to impose navigation and voyage planning requirements on non-SOLAS vessels operating in polar waters, effective 1 January 2026. The requirements apply to:
• fishing vessels of 24 meters and over,
• pleasure yachts of 300 GT and more not engaged in trade, and
• freighters of 300 GT and more but less than 500 GT.
The draft amendments are expected to enter into force on January 1, 2026, subject to approval and adoption by the MSC.
Guidelines on Places of Refuge for Ships
Maritime incidents may involve ships in need of assistance in waters beyond national jurisdiction. IMO Resolution A.949(23) provides guidelines to help flag States, masters, companies and rescuers respond effectively.
NCSR 9 has finalized a draft revision of the “Guidelines on Places of Refuge for Ships in Need of Assistance” to incorporate experiences and developments since its adoption in 2004.
A draft Assembly resolution containing the revised guidelines will be submitted to MSC 106 (November 2022) for approval and adoption.
Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS)
Modernization of the GMDSS
The GMDSS is a global emergency and safety information communication system. Amendments to SOLAS, its 1988 protocol and related IMO instruments to modernize GMDSS requirements were adopted by MSC 105 (April 2022) and will enter into force on 1 January 2024.
The modernization involves generic requirements, independent of specific service providers, as well as the removal of transport requirements for obsolete systems and a reorganization of SOLAS requirements for communications equipment. The definitions of sea areas A1 to A4 have been modified to reflect the fact that the geographic area of coverage may vary between different satellite service providers.
Accordingly, NCSR 9 approved revisions to the following COMSAR Circulars:
• Harmonization of GMDSS requirements for radio installations on board SOLAS ships (COMSAR/Circ.32/Rev.1)
• GMDSS Coast Station Operator Certificate Program (CSOC)
It was agreed to revoke COMSAR/Circ.16, COMSAR/Circ.17, COM/Circ.110, COM/Circ.110/Corcc.1 and COM/Circ.117 accordingly, effective January 1, 2024.
The revised and revoked COMSAR circulars will be forwarded to MSC 106 (November 2022) for approval.
NCSR 9 further approved the following draft MSC Circulars:
• GMDSS operating guide for ships in distress
• Procedure for responding to DSC distress alerts by ships
• Guidance on Distress Alerts (replacing COMSAR/Circ.45)
• Advice on alerting search and rescue authorities
Draft circulars will be submitted to MSC 106 (November 2022) for approval.
BeiDou Message Service System (BDMSS) in the GMDSS
NCSR 9 reviewed the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) evaluation report on China’s BeiDou Message Service System (BDMSS) for use in GMDSS and noted that BDMSS could meet the criteria for providing mobile satellite communication systems in the GMDSS, in accordance with resolution A.1001(25), subject to further on-site confirmation and verification.
A comprehensive list of outstanding issues was approved, including technical, operational and implementation issues to be resolved before China Transport Telecommunication Information Group Co., Ltd. (CTTIC) can be integrated into the GMDSS as a recognized mobile satellite service provider.
IMSO was requested to submit a report to MSC 106 (November 2022) regarding on-site verification and the status of each outstanding technical and operational issue, as a basis for MSC’s consideration of recognition of BDMSS in the GMDSS.
Maritime Safety Information in the GMDSS
In addition to providing distress alerts, GMDSS is also used to broadcast important maritime safety information (MSI) to ships, such as navigational information and weather forecasts or warnings.
As of January 1, 2020, Inmarsat (UK) and Iridium (US) have been recognized for use in GMDSS. NCSR 9 examined the broadcast and reception of search and rescue (SAR) and MSR information on several recognized mobile satellite services. Work will continue in a correspondence group until NCSR 10 (May 2023).
NCSR 9 finalized a draft second revision of the NAVTEX manual (MSC.1/Circ.1403/Rev.1). The manual describes the structure and operation of the NAVTEX service, which is an international direct-printing service for the promulgation of MSI and urgent safety-related messages to ships. The draft revision is expected to enter into force on January 1, 2023, subject to approval by MSC 106 (November 2022).
NCSR 9 has finalized draft “Advice for Ships Carrying Large Numbers of Crew or Passengers in the Event of Evacuation with Multiple Casualties”. The guidance will be submitted to MSC 106 (November 2022) for approval.
Criteria for the provision of GMDSS services
NCSR 9 considered a revision to Resolution A.1001(25) on “Criteria for the Provision of Mobile Satellite Communication Systems in the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS)” to take into account the experience gained.
Work will continue in a correspondence group until NCSR 10 (May 2023).
Display of electronic charts and information systems (ECDIS)
NCSR 9 has finalized a draft second revision of the “ECDIS Guidance for Good Practice” (MSC.1/Circ.1503/Rev.1) to improve the unified implementation of ECDIS type approval during approval of ECDIS software and relevant updates. The revision also removes obsolete references to the IHO’s Data Presentation and Performance Verification (DPPC) dataset with respect to anomalies.
NCSR 9 has finalized a draft revision of the “ECDIS Performance Standards” (Resolution MSC.232(82)) to include references to IHO Product Specifications S-98, S-100 and S-101 within current performance standards to enable the introduction of the next generation of electronic navigational chart technology (S-101 ENC).
The revised performance standards will apply to ECDIS equipment installed from 1 January 2029. During a transitional period, from 1 January 2026 to 1 January 2029, ECDIS equipment may comply with the performance standards in force (resolution MSC.232 (82) ) or the new ECDIS performance standards based on S-101.
The draft guidance and performance standards will be forwarded to MSC 106 (November 2022) for endorsement and adoption, as appropriate.
Strong movements of ships at sea regularly cause loss of life and containers, as well as damage to bulk cargo.
NCSR 9 finalized draft SOLAS amendments to make electronic inclinometers mandatory for measuring angles of heel for container ships and bulk carriers of 3,000 gross tonnage and above. The draft requirements do not apply to cargo ships carrying occasional bulk cargoes and general cargo ships carrying containers on deck.
The amendments are expected to enter into force on January 1, 2026, subject to approval and adoption by the MSC.
Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) System
NCSR 9 agreed on the following draft amendments to improve the performance of the LRIT vessel identification and tracking system:
• “Revised performance standards and functional requirements for long-range identification and tracking of ships” (resolution MSC.263(84), as amended)
• “Long Range Identification and Tracking System – Technical Documentation (Part I)” (MSC.1/Circ.1259/Rev.8)
• “Advice on the investigation and certification of compliance of vessels with the obligation to transmit LRIT information”
• “LRIT system service continuity plan”