The Certificate of Class as a statutory certificate: Amendments of 20 May 2005 to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974

05/09/2007 International Law Office (Shipping & Transport - Spain)

The publication of the 2005 amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) in the Official Bulletin on April 3 2007 enacted the revised Annex I, Chapter II(1) of the convention in Spain.

The new Rule 3(1) states that vessels must be designed, built and maintained pursuant to (i) the structural, mechanical and electrical requirements of a classification society recognized by the government, or (ii) the governmental rules, provided that these offer the same degree of safety.

As a consequence of this new rule, not only the design and building process, but also the maintenance of vessels must be certified by a classification society under the classification rules. For the first time, a vessel must comply with the rules of a classification society throughout its entire life. Furthermore, the national safety construction and maintenance rules will apply only where it is established that they offer at least the same level of safety.

Arguably, the classification certificate - which certifies that the vessel complies with the rules of the relevant classification society - may be considered as a statutory certificate that vessels must hold throughout their operational life. Therefore, the classification certificate will no longer be a voluntary certificate under Spanish law.

The maritime authorities have their own surveyors (civil servants who are employed by the authorities) and, in general, do not delegate the task of inspecting Spanish vessels to the class surveyors. Hitherto, such inspections were performed by a civil servant who verified that the vessel complied with the applicable national and international regulations before issuing a certificate under Royal Decree 1837/2000 (which implemented the regulations on the inspection and certification of civil vessels). Classification certificates are not included in the list of compulsory certificates under the decree. Moreover, classification certificates are not required under Royal Decree 91/2003 (which implemented the regulations on the inspection of foreign vessels in Spanish ports). Therefore, these royal decrees could be amended pursuant to the new SOLAS rule.

The fact that the classification certificates are now among the statutory certificates required by law for civil vessels in Spain implies that the effect of the rules of the classification societies will be similar to that of the governmental technical regulations.