The new SOLAS regulations are a pro-active action of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) regarding the increasing size of passenger ships and the difficulties in safe evacuation of passengers. The Safe Return to Port regulations will imply a change of the design process for designers, ship builders, classification societies and Flag State Administration.
The IMO has defined performance requirements for the functionality of essential systems on passenger ships under predefined casualty scenarios. The SOLAS requirements to "Safe Return to Port" require for defined flooding as well as fire casualties the application of different risk based methods. The relevant amendments to SOLAS refer to both Chapter II-1(new regulation 8-1) and Chapter II-2 (regulations 21-22). The regulations are mandatory for passenger ships constructed on or after July 1, 2010, having a length of 120 metres or more or having three or more main vertical zones. The new safe return to port guideline (GL Rules and Guidelines VI-11-2) gives guidance on the new SOLAS requirements.
These vessels have to be able to return to port after a casualty case, not exceeding a defined flooding or fire casualty threshold, and provide all persons on board basic services in so-called 'safe areas'. For fire casualty cases exceeding the casualty threshold but not exceeding one main vertical fire zone, systems for supporting orderly evacuation have to be available for 3 hours.
In addition to the increased safety for passengers and crew a ship design which conforms to Safe Return to Port regulations will offer further benefits for the operator. Not only the operation of the vessel will be more efficient and flexible through additional system capabilities but also the down time of systems during normal operation will be reduced to ensure a smooth operation of the vessel.