SOLAS - The International Convention for the safety of life at sea
Of all international conventions dealing with maritime safety, the most important is the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). It is also one of the oldest, the first version having been adopted at a conference held in London in 1914. Since then there have been four other SOLAS conventions: the second was adopted in 1929 and entered into force in 1933; the third was adopted in 1948 and entered into force in 1952; the fourth was adopted (under the auspices of IMO) in 1960 and entered into force in 1965; and the present version was adopted in 1974 and entered into force in 1980. The SOLAS conventions have all covered many aspects of safety at sea. The 1914 version, for example, included chapters on safety of navigation, construction, radiotelegraphy, life-saving appliances and fire protection. These subjects are still dealt with in separate chapters in the 1974 version. The 1914 Convention was, as the title implies, concerned primarily with the safety of human life. The late 19th and early 20th centuries represented the golden age of passenger travel by sea: there were no aircraft, and emigration, from Europe to the Americas and other parts of the world, was still taking place on a massive scale. Passenger ships were therefore much more common than they are today and accidents frequently led to heavy casualties. The annual loss of life from British ships alone averaged between 700 and 800 during this period. The incident which led to the convening of the 1914 international SOLAS conference was the sinking of the White Star liner Titanic on her maiden voyage in April 1912. More than 1,500 passengers and crew died and the disaster raised so many questions about current standards that the United Kingdom Government proposed holding a conference to develop international regulations. The Conference was attended by representatives of 13 countries and the SOLAS Convention which resulted was adopted on 20 January 1914. It introduced new international requirements dealing with safety of navigation for all merchant ships; the provision of watertight and fire-resistant bulkheads; life-saving appliances and fire prevention and fire fighting appliances on passenger ships. Other requirements dealt with the carriage of radiotelegraph equipment for ships carrying more than 50 persons (had the Titanic's distress messages not been picked up by other ships the loss of life would probably have been even greater); the Conference also agreed on the establishment of a North Atlantic ice patrol. The Convention was to enter into force in July 1915, but by then war had broken out in Europe and it did not do so, although many of its provisions were adopted by individual nations. In 1927, however, proposals were made for another conference which was held in London in 1929. This time 18 countries attended. The conference adopted a new SOLAS convention which followed basically the same format as the 1914 version but included several new regulations. It entered into force in 1933. One of the two annexes to the convention revised the international regulations for preventing collisions at sea (Collision Regulations). By 1948 the 1929 convention had been overtaken by technical developments and the United Kingdom again hosted an international conference which adopted the third SOLAS Convention. It followed the already established pattern but covered a wider range of ships and went into considerably greater detail. Important improvements were made in such matters as watertight subdivision in passenger ships; stability standards; the maintenance of essential services in emergencies; structural fire protection, including the introduction of three alternative methods of subdivision by means of fire resistant bulkheads, and the enclosure of main stairways. An international safety equipment certificate for cargo ships of 500 gross tons and above was introduced...
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