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Posted on 9th May 2022

In the not-so-distant past, the world’s oceans were freely navigated, predominantly lawless environments where an ‘anything goes attitude was applied. As new trading channels opened up and the shipping industry flourished, however, a need for standardised rules and protections was identified.  

Now, all vessels are covered by a great number of international laws and regulations that ensure the safety of those who work and travel at sea and strive to secure the continued protection of marine ecosystems for years to come. Most rules fall under one of two umbrellas which most working at sea will be familiar with – MARPOL and SOLAS. 

Here we share an insight into these two essential conventions and what they mean for the international shipping industry’s past, present, and future. 

The influence of the IMO

To understand MARPOL and SOLAS in more detail and their influence worldwide, it’s necessary to talk about the International Marine Organization (most commonly known as the IMO). As a specialised agency of the United Nations, the IMO has global jurisdiction and is responsible for setting and managing international standards for shipping. 

Since its conception in 1948 (and its entire establishment in 1959), the IMO has been responsible for developing and enforcing many treaties and conventions designed to enhance safety at sea, promote the preservation of marine ecosystems, and establish responsible and legal practices within the commercial shipping space. Before the IMO’s involvement, different territories had varying rules and regulations, which quite literally muddied the waters and made compliance and safety difficult, especially given the multi-national nature of many shipping routes and organisations.  

The responsibility of the IMO can be roughly split into two parts – the protection of the oceans themselves from an environmental standpoint and the safety of people out at sea in various capacities as crew, passengers and members of the public. Both SOLAS and MARPOL are subject to continuous amendments to keep up with the challenges faced by the shipping industry and the ever-evolving nature of living and working at sea, including modern pressures such as profitability and sustainability. 

What is MARPOL?

MARPOL (short for the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) is the IMO’s environmental arm, dealing almost exclusively with aspects of shipping that may damage or pollute ocean environments. This stringent set of regulations covers a variety of elements, including sewage management and disposal, shipping of dangerous goods and specific guidance for chemicals, gas and oil carriers. 

What is SOLAS?

SOLAS (short for the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) pre-dates MARPOL by over 30 years, making it one of the oldest conventions. It’s older than the IMO itself, initiated following the 1912 Titanic disaster. 

SOLAS regulations focus mainly on safety and security at sea to protect individuals and prevent large-scale accidents and incidents resulting in injury or loss of life. This extensive set of legislation addresses merchant ships’ construction, equipment, and operation. It covers various safety aspects, including evacuation procedures, safety equipment, healthcare provision on board and risk management protocols.  

How MARPOL and SOLAS make our seas safer 

MARPOL and SOLAS keep the global shipping industry running smoothly and safely by establishing and maintaining a standardised set of rules and regulations everyone must abide by. This is, of course, a good thing – however, keeping up to date with current rules and requirements is a full-time job for shipping companies who need to remain compliant. 

There is always more that can be done. In such an ever-changing and frequently challenging environment (with growing demands on the shipping industry to be more conscious of their ecological impact), the legislation naturally changes and evolves as time goes on. The continuous aim of the IMO is to ensure efficiency and profitability for the shipping industry without compromising safety, security and environmental performance. 

This is where selecting reputable partners for specialised marine safety equipment, and solutions become paramount. When you partner with a specialist you can trust to maintain full compliance, alignment with the regulations becomes easier. We can’t address all MARPOL and SOLAS regulations for you. Still, we can undoubtedly provide dependable and comprehensive support in many areas, including gas detection, sewage management and testing and water safety. 

MARPOL and SOLAS Compliance with Martek Marine 

At Martek Marine, we share some common values and objectives with the IMO – focused on supporting enhanced safety at sea with a passion for responsibility and integrity. Our products are designed to make compliance and safety easy and efficient, protecting crews and ensuring continuous protection and peace of mind.