What are the performance standards for water level detectors on bulk carriers?

Hello Queseanians,

I was reading the Audio Transcript of the Factual Report of the “El Faro” shipwreck and wondered what performance standards are for water level detectors on bulk carriers and single-hold cargo ships other than bulkers.

SS El Faro case:
On September 29, 2015, El Faro left loaded from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the normal, direct route to San Juan would pass south of Hurricane Joaquin. However, tropical storm and hurricane wind fields were forecast to be near the vessel’s normal route, and ten hours after departing from Jacksonville, she had deviated from her charted course.

Satellite image at 11:45 UTC (7:45 a.m. EDT) on October 1 depicting the approximate final position of El Faro in relation to Hurricane Joaquin

On Thursday, October 1, 2015, at about 07:15 a.m. eastern daylight time, just minutes before the distress alerts, the El Faro master had called the designated person ashore. He reported that the ship was experiencing some flooding. He said the crew had controlled the water ingress, but the ship was listing 15 degrees and had lost propulsion. The El Faro sinking is one of the biggest marine tragedies, as all 33 crew members died. However, we should learn from such tragic accidents to prevent similar ones in the future.


At 7:15 a.m., the chief mate returned to the bridge:

  • Chief mate: “I think that the water level’s rising, Captain.”
  • Captain: “(okay). Do you know where it’s comin’ from?”
  • Chief Mate: “(At) first the Chief said something hit the fire main. Got it ruptured. Hard.”
  • Captain: “Um, there’s no way to secure that?”
  • Chief Mate: “We don’t know if they still have any pressure on the fire main or not. Don’t know where’s sea – between the sea suction and the hull or what, uh, but anything I say is a guess.”

Hi @ZhengYiSao

An IMO Resolution MSC.188(79) was adopted on 3 December 2004 about the performance standards for water level detectors on bulk carriers and single-hold cargo ships other than bulk carriers. The standards provide technical functional requirements for water level detection and alarm arrangements.

For single-hold cargo ships (complying with SOLAS regulation II-1/23-3), the sensors should be capable of being located in:

  • the aft part of the hold or
  • above its lowest point in such vessels having an inner bottom not parallel to the designed waterline

For bulk carriers (complying with SOLAS regulation XII/12), the sensors should be capable of being located in:

  • the aft part of each cargo hold or
  • the lowest part of the spaces other than the cargo holds

MSC.188(79).pdf (736.4 KB)

After the El Faro, one of the safety Recommendations from the Coast Guard Marine Board Investigation Report (2017) directed a regulatory initiative to require high water audio and visual alarms capable of providing audible and visual alarms on the navigation bridge in cargo holds of dry cargo vessels. Also, it was recommended that the applicability of SOLAS Chapter II-1/25 should be amended to include all new and existing multi-hold cargo ships.

The 8th session of the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Ship Design and Construction (SDC) agreed to various amendments to the standards in January 2022.

The amendments include the insertion of two new sections concerning the use of bilge alarms as water level detectors on multiple-hold cargo ships for compliance with new SOLAS regulation II1/25-1, audible and visual alarms, and the periodic testing of water level detectors on board. Basically, the new regulation harmonizes the requirements for bulk carriers and non-bulk carriers. However, this will not apply to tankers, tanks above the bulkhead deck, or any liquid holds.

The new performance standards will be anticipated to apply to water level detectors installed on or after 1 January 2024.

MSC.188(79) - Rev.1.pdf (61.6 KB)