Meeting summary for IMO Sub-Committee on Navigation, Communications and Search and Rescue (NCSR), 8th session, 19-23 April 2021

The Sub-Committee addresses all aspects of safety of navigation, reliable communications and improved coordination to avoid maritime accidents; and ensuring a quick and efficient response in case of a search and rescue incident.

GMDSS modernization completed by the Sub-Committee

The Sub-Committee has completed its review of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) requirements, agreeing draft amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974 and other existing instruments. These amendments are intended to  enable the use of modern communication systems in the GMDSS whilst removing requirements to carry obsolete systems.

The revision of the relevant regulations in SOLAS chapters II-1, III, IV and V and preparation of related and consequential amendments to other existing instruments is the result of a decade of detail-oriented work by the Organization, in particular by the NCSR Sub-Committee.

Safety of navigation and safety of life at sea depend on the integrated satellite and terrestrial radiocommunication systems to support ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore and shore-to-ship distress, urgency and safety communications at sea, which is known as the GMDSS in general. Mandatory requirements for the GMDSS are laid down in the SOLAS Convention.

The draft amendments to SOLAS will now be submitted to the 104th session of the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), scheduled to meet in October 2021, with a view to approval and subsequent adoption at MSC 105 in 2022 for their entry into force on 1 January 2024.

Recognition of Japanese Regional Navigation Satellite System

The Sub-Committee considered a proposal for recognition of the Japanese Regional Navigation Satellite System Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) as a component of the world-wide radio navigation system (WWRNS) and prepared a circular for approval by MSC 104.

IMO has an important role in accepting and recognizing radionavigation systems which can be used by international shipping. IMO currently recognizes the global positioning system (GPS), global navigation satellite system (GLONASS), BeiDou navigation satellite system (BDS), Galileo global navigation satellite system and Indian regional navigation satellite system (IRNSS), and will consider the recognition of the QZSS at MSC 104. SOLAS chapter V requires all ships to carry a global navigation satellite system or terrestrial radio navigation receiver, or other means, to establish and update the ship’s position by automatic means, for use at all times throughout the voyage.

Polar Code application to non-SOLAS ships – work continues

The Sub-Committee has agreed, in principle, that the safety of navigation related provisions of the Polar Code be extended to include specific sizes of fishing vessels, pleasure yachts and smaller cargo ships. Draft amendments to SOLAS chapter XIV will be developed to apply the relevant provisions of the Polar Code to, as a minimum, the following types of ships on all voyages operating in polar waters: fishing vessels of 24 metres and above; pleasure yachts of 300 gross tonnage and above not engaged in trade; and cargo ships of 300 gross tonnage and above but below 500 gross tonnage. A correspondence group was re-established and instructed to prepare draft amendments to SOLAS chapter XIV and the Polar Code, and report back to the next session.

IMO’s Polar Code helps ensure the safety of ships operating in the harsh Arctic and Antarctic areas, taking into account extremes of temperature, and that critical equipment remains operational under those conditions.

The 31st Assembly in 2019 adopted a resolution urging Member States to implement, on a voluntary basis, the safety measures of the Polar Code, as far as practicable, on non-SOLAS ships operating in the Arctic and Antarctic.

While the Polar Code is mandatory under SOLAS, this generally excludes fishing vessels, pleasure yachts, smaller cargo ships under 500 gross tons and vessels on domestic voyages. Consideration is now being given to the possible application of safety of navigation and voyage planning provisions of the Polar Code to non-SOLAS ships and how best to enhance the safety of these ships when operating in polar waters.

Revision of guidelines on places of refuge – work continues

The Sub-Committee reviewed a proposed revision of the Guidelines on places of refuge for ships in need of assistance and decided to continue the work intersessionally by instructing a correspondence group, which will report back to NCSR 9. The guidelines were adopted in 2003 (resolution A.949(23)) to provide guidance when a ship is in need of assistance but safety of life is not involved (when safety of life is involved, SAR provisions should be followed).

Consequential amendments related to the revised EPIRBs Performance standards

In connection to the performance standards for float-free Emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) operating on 406 MHz (resolution MSC.471(101)), the Sub-Committee approved the draft MSC resolutions on Amendments to the Performance standards for shipborne simplified voyage data recorders (S-VDRs) (resolution MSC.163(78)) and Amendments to the Performance standards for voyage data recorders (VDRs) (resolution MSC.333(90)), with a view to adoption by MSC 104. In addition, the Sub-Committee agreed to the draft revisions of MSC circulars on Guidelines for shore-based maintenance of satellite EPIRBs and Guidelines on annual testing of 406 MHz satellite EPIRBs for approval by MSC 104.

Liaison Statement to ITU

The Sub Committee approved two liaison statements to International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in relation to the revision of Recommendation ITU-R M.1371-5 and protection of GMDSS terminals operating in the frequency band 1 518-1 559 MHz from IMT systems.

Preliminary draft IMO position on relevant ITU WRC-23 agenda items

The Sub-Committee noted the progress made by the sixteenth meeting of the Joint IMO/ITU Experts Group on Maritime Radiocommunication Matters concerning the development of the preliminary draft IMO position on relevant ITU WRC-23 agenda items. The Sub-Committee approved the terms of reference for the seventeenth meeting of the IMO/ITU Experts Group, to be held from 1 to 5 November 2021, and instructed the Experts Group, inter alia, to further develop the draft IMO position .

Routeing measures and mandatory ship reporting systems

Proposals for new routing measures, which contribute to safety of life at sea, safety and efficiency of navigation and/or protection of the marine environment, are routinely considered by the NCSR Sub-Committee. In light of time constraints, it was agreed that the convening of a meeting of the Experts Group on Ships’ Routeing would be recommended to take place in advance of the plenary session of NCSR 9 to consider any proposals.

Matters concerning maritime search and rescue

The Sub-Committee considered the report of the twenty-seventh meeting of the ICAO/IMO Joint Working Group on Harmonization of Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue and approved the provisional agenda for the next meeting to be held from 6 to 10 September 2021.