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EU-funded safety at sea project has worldwide impact

The results of the ‘HARDER’ project have been incorporated into the revised IMO SOLAS regulations on safety and stability of passenger vessels, applied to shipping around the globe.

Image of ship at sea
© Peter Gutierrez

When water is running into a ship following an accident at sea, a number of different scenarios can be played out. The ship may sink due to flooding of so many compartments that there is not enough buoyancy to keep the vessel afloat. This was the case for RMS Titanic, which sank in 1912, two and a half hours after hitting an iceberg. An even more serious scenario involves capsizing due to loss of transverse stability as this can happen within just a few minutes. The Herald of Free Enterprise and Estonia disasters are examples of this.

The HARDER project (Harmonisation of rules and design rationale), launched in March 2000 under the EU’s Fifth Research Framework Programme, involved a consortium of 19 organisations from industry and academia in Europe. The project was aimed at systematically investigating the validity, robustness, consistency and impact of harmonised damage stability regulations on the safety of existing ships and on the design evolution of various types of new ship concepts.

Innovative test programme

HARDER addressed the key issues pertaining to water ingress/egress, water accumulation and capsize, including transient, intermediate and progressive flooding. It attempted to qualify and quantify these phenomena as a function of design and operational parameters, investigating all known key aspects affecting ship survivability.

Image of lifeboat
Safety first
© Peter Gutierrez

A new simulation tool was developed and the results of simulations were compared with an updated damage database, also compiled by the project. In general, good agreement was found between the simulations and real data. New observations led to proposal of relatively straightforward principles that can be used to predict the survival capability of damaged ships in specific seaways.

Background: defining danger at sea

Vessel capsize can occur very rapidly, making rescue attempts extremely difficult. It is therefore crucial that naval architects deal thoroughly with vessel damage stability during the design phase. The problem can be summarised by two main questions:

  • What is the size of the opening to the sea following damage?
  • Which parameters govern the stability of the damaged vessel?

The extent of damage depends on the type of accident: collision; grounding; damage due to abnormal wave conditions; or damage due to improperly closed watertight openings. These scenarios are difficult to analyse in detail due to the complicated mechanics at play in high-energy accidents. Ship designers around the world rely largely on International Maritime Organisation (IMO) regulations, developed and revised following real disasters at sea.

Worldwide recognition of HARDER achievements

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties on the safety of merchant ships. The latest revised SOLAS convention, adopted in May 2005, has taken into account the results of the HARDER project.

New amendments to the convention, developed over the past decade, are based on the ‘probabilistic’ method of determining damage stability. Because it uses statistical evidence concerning what actually happens when ships collide, the probabilistic method is believed to be far more realistic than the previously used ‘deterministic’ method.

Thanks to their incorporation within the revised SOLAS convention, HARDER project results are now expected to have a major impact on the design of future ships. The new SOLAS amendments are set to enter into force in January 2009.