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Saturday, October 20, 2018


It is worth reiterating the decision taken by the IMO Maritime Safety Committee at its 72nd Session (MSC 72) held in London on 17-26 May on the subject of voyage data recorders for ships.

Based on a paper prepared by the Safety Technical and Environmental Committee (ISTEC), INTERTANKO tabled a submission which contended that fitting VDRs to existing tankers would not be a cost-effective exercise. The INTERTANKO paper formed the basis of a compromise solution agreed at MSC 72, as a consequence of which owners of existing tankers can expect to save the significant cost of fitting such devices.

The possibility of fitting VDRs on new and existing ships has come up for discussion at IMO as part of discussions on the revision of Chapter V of the SOLAS Convention dealing with the safety of navigation. IMO performance standards for shipborne voyage data recorders were adopted in

1997, and equipment test standards were published by the International Electrotechnical Commission in April this year. Debating the question of which ships to fit them to at MSC 72, some delegations favoured the fitting of such devices on all new and existing merchant ships while others argued that the only types of vessels requiring VDRs were new passenger ships, including ro-ro passenger ships. The latter pointed that there was no "compelling need" for VDRs on other ship types - "compelling need" being the principal criterion which all new IMO regulations must satisfy.

The INTERTANKO submission argued that, while the fitting of VDRs on new ships at the time of construction should not pose a problem, a requirement to retrofit them to existing tankers would entail a mammoth financial commitment without the benefit of any tangible rewards. The ostensible reason for carrying a VDR, which costs in excess of US$75,000 a piece, exclusive of fitting, is the need to locate ships which have sunk without trace far away from land and to assist in casualty investigations. Yet, with one or two notable exceptions, tankers do not normally disappear in mid-ocean without trace. INTERTANKO also pointed out that ensuring the compatibility of a modern VDR, based on the latest electronic technology, with a full range of existing equipment onboard a tanker would pose major technical problems. 

In the event, MSC 72 agreed with the INTERTANKO argument. Although new ships constructed on or after 1 July 2002 will be required to carry VDRs, the only existing vessels which will be required to fit such equipment are passenger ships, including ro-ro passenger ships. However, IMO did leave one door open for a continued discussion on the subject of fitting VDRs to existing ships, as there was not a full consensus on the issue at MSC 72. Delegations will be allowed to make further submissions on the topic at MSC 73 in London on 27 November - 6 December 2000, at which point a final decision will be made. 

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