[FAQ] How Is Special Purpose Ships (SPS) Code Applied in Shipping?


The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, as amended, and UK Merchant Shipping legislation allow a cargo ship to carry up to 12 passengers in addition to the crew, reads an official release from the UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency.

The SOLAS Convention recognises that a passenger is “every person other than the master and members of the crew or other persons employed or engaged in any capacity on board a ship on the business of that ship”. A ship carrying more than 12 passengers by definition is a passenger ship, and is subject to enhanced constructional and operational requirements to ensure the safety of the passengers.

The MCA recognises that there are ships which are designed and operate in specialist roles when carrying more than 12 persons in addition to the crew, and under conditions that make compliance with passenger ship requirements inappropriate. Where such persons are not passengers, in that they will be working regularly on board, are certified medically fit and have received relevant safety training to do so, the MCA considers these persons to be special personnel with attributes that differ from a passenger.

The SPS Code

The SPS Code, or “the Code” as referred to in this MGN, means:

  • IMO Resolution MSC.266(84) of 13 May 2008 – Code of Safety for Special Purpose Ships, 2008, as amended by Resolutions MSC.299(87), MSC.408(96), MSC.445(99) and MSC.1/Circ.1422 (for ships built on or after 1 July 2009); or
  • IMO Resolution A.534(13) of 17 November 1983 – Code of Safety for Special Purpose Ships, 1983), as amended by Resolutions MSC.183(79), MSC.453(100) and MSC.464(101). (for ships built before 1 July 2009).
  • Where the 1983 SPS Code is applicable, references in this MGN to chapters and paragraphs of the 2008 SPS Code should be taken as references to their equivalents in the 1983 SPS Code.

The total number of persons allowed on board (crew, special personnel and up to 12 passengers) is determined by the number of persons specified by the ship’s certification.

References to ships “constructed” or “built” in this MGN refer to the dates at which the keels of which are laid or which are at a similar stage of construction for the purposes of construction in accordance with SOLAS chapter II-1 simultaneously with the 2008 SPS Code (the applicable UK date for new ships under the 2008 SPS Code being on or after 1 July 2009, in reflection of the discretion given to Administrations in accordance with paragraph 1.2.1 of the 2008 SPS Code).

Modifications made to existing cargo ships to bring them into compliance with the SPS Code are to be considered as constituting “alterations and modifications of a major character”. Such modifications would require compliance with the latest version of the SPS Code. Operators should discuss any proposed modifications to UK cargo ships with the MCA at an early stage to confirm SPS requirements. For cargo ships operating in accordance with the MCA’s Enhanced Authorisation Scheme (MGN 561) or Alternative Compliance Scheme (MGN 568) which are converted to comply with the SPS Code, the status of such ships on these schemes will not be affected.

Alterations made to existing vessels certified as SPS vessels, or which are operating as SPS type vessels under existing arrangements, should be referred to MCA at an early stage for agreement on which provisions of the SPS Code shall apply to the alterations. This is offered to separate out provisions for minor alterations on existing SPS type vessels from conversion.

For application of the 1983 SPS Code which allows for relaxations for near-coastal voyages, meaning a voyage in the vicinity of the coast of an Administration as defined by that Administration, MCA defines this application to voyages which are restricted to operations within the UK EEZ only.

If vessels meet the definition of a Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) and are certificated in accordance with the Code for the Construction and Equipment of Mobile Offshore Drilling Units (MODU), 2009 then they do not require SPS Certification but may operate in a SPS style role, subject to agreement from MCA.

Application of construction standards in the SPS Code

Ships carrying more than 12 special personnel and passengers in aggregate should:

  • if constructed on or after 1 July 2009, comply with 2008 SPS Code;
  • if constructed before 1 July 2009, comply with either the 1983 or the 2008 SPS Code unless the ship undergoes significant modification (as referred to in para 2.4) then it should comply with the current code.

Cargo ships flagging to the UK and carrying, in addition to the crew, more than 12 persons, which shall include not more than 12 passengers, shall demonstrate compliance with one of the above-named codes, as applicable to build date or date of significant modification.

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Source: Gov.UK


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