Evaluating Proposed SOLAS Amendments

Marine Professional

December 15, 2023

Exponent's Chris Dyson, a marine engineer and director of our London office, published a commentary in the April 2023 issue of Marine Professional, evaluating whether proposed Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) amendments for on-board lifting appliances go far enough to significantly enhance the safety of ship cranes.

Mr. Dyson's article, "Crane Regulation Review Misses the Mark," suggests that while SOLAS represents a step forward, they may still leave ships open to risk. The amendments have been discussed at recent International Marine Organization (IMO) subcommittee meetings, and it appears likely that relevant SOLAS amendments will be adopted and take effect Jan. 1, 2026. 

The SOLAS amendments will require ship cranes to be designed, constructed, and installed in accordance with classification society requirements. While this may close a loophole in present requirements, cranes produced by reputable manufacturers already likely meet this requirement for new builds, which is commonly stipulated in shipbuilding contracts.

However, the proposed guidelines do not go beyond advocating operation and maintenance measures, which should already be implemented by prudent owners and operators, according to Mr. Dyson. Cranes are exposed to extreme environmental factors at sea, exposing them to deterioration, even when not in use; in port, they are commonly operated by stevedores with no ongoing, long-term operational responsibilities. Left unaddressed, this combination can result in crane incidents and failures.

Wire failures and damages also create challenges. Wires are complex mechanisms subject to wear and tear. Over time, they will ultimately fail, even in normal use. The proposed IMO guidelines refer to the ISO standards for wire inspections, but there is no general requirement to replace wires periodically.

While the proposed SOLAS amendments adopt periodic testing, including a five-year load test and annual examination, "they refer to ongoing 'survey' to the satisfaction of the administration and a 'competent' person," similar to current regulations. As Mr. Dyson suggests, delegating periodic testing to a classification society might not guarantee improved standards, but it would likely be a better option than maintaining the status quo.

From the publication: "... while the proposed amendments to SOLAS for on-board lifting appliances are a step forward, they do not advance the regulations and requirements sufficiently such as to be likely to significantly enhance the safety of ship cranes."