On 14 June 2017, the presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament reached an informal agreement on new rules to digitalise the registration of ship passengers. The objective is to make the exact number of passengers and other information, such as nationality, immediately available for search and rescue services in the event of an accident. Furthermore, passenger ship safety rules and standards has also been clarified and simplified, so that they are easier to update, monitor and enforce.

The current rules already require to the shipping company to register the gender, the name and the date of birth. However, the data on people on board is stored by the shipping company, and the search and rescue services has to get hold of the company’s designated contact person to obtain this information. Under the new requirements, data will be sent to the relevant authority in electronic format within 15 minutes of the ship’s departure. Ian Borg, the Maltese Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects said:

Travelling by ship in the EU is very safe, but in case something happens, we must make sure that we know immediately how many are missing – perhaps lying in the water or trapped on board. In addition to names, we also need to know their nationalities so that authorities are able to contact relatives and embassies. These new rules make that possible”.

Moreover, on 15 June 2017, the presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament reached an informal agreement on a revised directive on passenger ship safety rules and standards, setting out detailed technical requirements for ships in areas such as construction, stability and fire protection. The new rules leave small ships (under 24 metres) to be regulated at national level, reflecting the fact that these ships are more sensitive to local operating conditions and in general present a lower risk.

In order to incorporate the rules on the digitization and registration of passenger ships and to incorporate the new provisions into their national legislation, Member states will have two years from the directives’ entry into force.

Finally, in the context of an increased sea safety, the European Commission has welcomed the adoption of an international agreement by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on setting up more stringent rules on the safety of passenger ships in a damaged condition.

The revisions to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) concern in particular its chapter II-1, relating to subdivision and damage stability, and focus on passenger ships. The current international standards for passenger ships in a damaged condition (SOLAS 2009 standards on the required subdivision index for passenger ships) reflect the safety level agreed in the IMO some 30 years ago.

The amendments raise the ‘required index R’, the damage stability requirement representing the ship’s capability to remain stable and afloat in the event of flooding after a collision. The requirement is based on a probabilistic damage stability methodology for passenger ships that was developed in the partially EU funded research project HARDER.