Significant amendments to the SOLAS regulations recently introduced by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) are changing the face of shipbuilding. The most prominent of the new rules are Safe Return to Port and the move from a deterministic method to a probabilistic method of evaluating damage stability.

Both are the result of a comprehensive review of passenger ship safety, which was initiated by the IMO back in 2000 to ensure safety standards catering for the significantly larger passenger ships being built.

With the stability regulations applicable from January 2009 and Safe Return to Port in July 2010, shipyards have had to fundamentally rethink their basic designs for the first time in 35 years. The last major change was in 1974, with only piecemeal amendments in the interim.

Regular review of cruise rules

Carnival played a role in developing the new regulations as part the Cruise Lines Industry Association, helping to ensure they were appropriate and timely.

“Shipyards have had to fundamentally rethink their basic designs for the first time in 35 years.”

‘It is essential that from time to time our industry takes an in depth review of the way we design our ships to ensure the safety of the crew and its passengers,”says Chris Joly, Carnival Corporate Shipbuilding’s principal manager, marine engineering. “As in all industries, there are those who are safety resistant, those that are safety compliant and those that are safety proactive. To those companies that will need to make big changes in their design to comply it is very timely and will probably make a significant, although not outwardly visible impact on their passengers’ safety. “

As a proscriptive set of rules, he believes the Safe Return to Port regulations will affect the layout of the machinery spaces, systems, isolations and electrical distribution.

“To some it will be some small changes to design objectives, some further distribution of services and fuel and water storage in order to comply strictly with the new requirements, but to others it will have an enormous impact,” he says.

Joly’s colleague Stephen Payne, vice-president and chief naval architect, also believes the new regulations are fundamental and sensible and he says they will bring the stability methodology into line with that for other ships. He says adapting to the regulations should not be overly onerous, with careful design.

“There are enough variations that we can’t just recycle existing designs; it would be extremely difficult to adapt the existing designs because every inch of space is used,”he says. “However, in a newbuild it’s quite easy. When we started from scratch and worked in everything that we needed to do, the impact was not as great as first thought.”

Flexible shipyards

Carnival Corporation’s two new Princess ships, which are due to enter service in 2013 and 2014, are the company’s first to meet the new regulations. The two 3,600-passenger ships are being built at Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard and, at an estimated 141,000t, they will be the largest in the fleet.

“Carnival Corporation’s two new Princess ships are the company’s first to meet the new regulations.”

“When we were contemplating the new designs a couple of years ago it was very difficult because we didn’t know the full implications of the regulations,” says Payne. “But having had these for a time now, we know a large extent of the implications and have managed those in the new Princesses.

“If you compare the general arrangement of the new Princess ships with those of the older ships, you won’t see any difference. It’s really all behind the scenes in the pipework and the route systems.

Occasionally the new rules may dictate a particular arrangement but our experience to date is that this is of little consequence.”

Joly agrees, particularly because it has been the norm for Carnival to provide normal and emergency electrical supplies to pump services, high level safety oversight systems and automatic smoke strategies for many years.

“Many passenger vessels have for many years been built with a high degree of redundancy in order to ensure that a single failure has as little impact as possible to the ship and its passengers,”he says.

Advantages and efficiencies

Meanwhile, in some instances the rules have also provided an impetus to find improved cost-effective solutions. Joly cites one example: “In order to prevent cooling systems of separate sections of the machinery running in the same compartment, we are working with one shipyard and a supplier to provide a novel design of shaft intermediate bearing that can not only run in oil in its normal mode, but can also run with water lubrication if the compartment is flooded.”

Another potential, although yet untested, advantage is that greater reliability may lead to other efficiencies in terms of lost time and cancelled cruises.

“There is an industry view that the Safe Return to Port regulations may lead to more efficient and more fully optimised ships,”Payne says. “Additional system capabilities should lead to greater flexibility and the enhanced redundancy feature of essential systems could lead to reduced down times due to single point system failures. Time will tell if this is a realistic advantage.”

Positive future for cruise

“The implementation of the new regulations can only be positive for the industry.”

So, have the requirements of the new rules deterred the industry from ordering new tonnage? Payne doesn’t think so. He believes the current dearth of orders has more to do with the general economic situation and that, for prototype designs, the new rules needn’t pose a significant problem.

“In working up the new Princess design, Carnival’s experience has shown that given a thorough understanding of the rules and the implications of various actions, it needn’t be difficult to design for the new rules and there needn’t be any significant cost implications,”he says.

In the long term, the implementation of the new regulations can only be positive for the industry.

“It demonstrates that the industry is moving forward,”adds Payne. “It is an evolutionary process, remember that the number of lifeboats and lifesaving requirements that Titanic was required to have onboard was dictated by regulation on its length. This was subsequently changed to the philosophy of a lifesaving place for all.”

Only time will tell if these new rules do have any impact on the safety of passengers, according to Joly.

“We have always designed to ensure that we reduce the residual risk of travelling in our ships to the minimum,”he says. “The greatest single factor, however, remains a well organised and trained crew, without which all the regulations for a safe design become merely academic.”