Sunday, January 15, 2012

World Maritime Day 2012

The World Maritime Day theme for 2012 is “IMO: One hundred years after the Titanic”, which will focus on the Organization’s roots and safety of life at sea.

We had planned to write about this closer to the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, but with the activities of this weekend in Italy, thought that it would be a good time to share the progress that has been made by the International Maritime Community since that tragic day  nearly100 years ago.  This article will highlight changes that were implemented as a result of the Titanic sinking.  Undoubtedly, there will be lessens learned from the Costa Concordia accident, and the next SOLAS Convention will perhaps recommend additional safety changes.

SOLAS Convention

One of the consequences of the sinking, in 1912, of the Titanic, in which more than 1,500 people lost their lives,  was the adoption, two years later, of the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (the SOLAS Convention).

The 1914 version of the Convention was gradually superseded, respectively, by SOLAS 1929, SOLAS 1948, SOLAS 1960 (the first adopted under the auspices of IMO, then known as IMCO) and SOLAS 1974.  SOLAS 1974 is still in force today, amended and updated many times.

Changes since Titanic Sinking

Ice patrol    (Graphic - changes in safety since the Titanic)

In the first SOLAS 1914, after the Titanic disaster, ice patrols in the north Atlantic were set up and continue to be a SOLAS requirement. 

Speed of navigation around ice

The Commission into the Titanic ruled the loss was due to collision with an iceberg brought about by
excessive speed at which she was being navigated. Under SOLAS, when ice is reported on or near his course the master of every ship at night is bound to proceed at a moderate speed or alter course.

Public address system

There was no public address system on the Titanic and news filtered to the passengers slowly, adding to the disorder and confusion. Under SOLAS, all passenger ships must be fitted with a public address system. 

Training of crew in lifeboat drill

The crew of the Titanic lacked training in loading and lowering the lifeboats and few knew which boat they were assigned to. Lifeboats were not filled to capacity because senior officers did not know the boats had been tested and were strong enough. Under SOLAS, every crew member must participate in regular practice drills and have easy access to training manuals.

Lifeboat design

Some people died from hypothermia in the Titanic lifeboats because they were open and gave no protection against the cold. Under SOLAS, lifeboats must be fully or partially enclosed. On passenger ships, partially enclosed lifeboats can be used as they are easier to get into, but they must have a collapsible roof to fold across.

Number of lifeboats

The Titanic did not have enough lifeboats for all passengers. Under SOLAS, passenger ships must carry enough lifeboats (some of which can be substituted by life rafts for all passengers, plus life rafts for 25%.

Immersion suits

The sea temperature when the Titanic sank was below freezing point and many people died in the water from hypothermia. Under SOLAS, a specific number of immersion suits must be carried on both passenger and cargo ships, mainly for the crews of rescue boats.


The land station at Cape Race, Newfoundland and ships other than the Carpathia and the Californian heard the Titanic distress call but the airwaves were crackling and the Titanic’s position was misinterpreted. With EPIRBs and global positioning systems, the position of a ship in distress can be automatically sent.

Distress watch

The Californian was less than 20 miles away but the radio officer had gone off duty when the distress messages were sent. Under SOLAS, every ship while at sea must maintain a continuous watch on the distress and safety frequencies.

Distress alert

The Titanic used radio which had a limited range of 200 nautical miles. Ships can now communicate globally via satellites.

Helicopters and rescue planes

Unavailable in 1912, helicopters and rescue planes are now used to locate, search for and rescue survivors.

Lifeboat drill

No lifeboat drill was held on the Titanic. Under SOLAS chapter III an ‘abandon ship’ and fire drill must take place weekly on all passenger ships.  (This is usually held before sailing, but must be completed within 24 hours of embarkation).

Evacuation chutes

Passengers on the Titanic jumped from windows and doorways into the lifeboats as they were lowered, often injuring themselves or other passengers New emergency evacuation chutes are both safer and quicker.


It has always been recognized that the best way of improving safety at sea is by developing international regulations that are followed by all shipping nations and from the mid-19th century onwards a number of such treaties were adopted. Several countries proposed that a permanent international body should be established to promote maritime safety more effectively, but it was not until the establishment of the United Nations itself that these hopes were realized.  Read more about IMO's history.

No comments: