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Safety rules and standards for passenger ships

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Safety rules and standards for passenger ships

The occurrence of several large-scale maritime incidents involving passenger ships has led the Commission to propose rules intended to improve passenger safety whilst maintaining the freedom to provide services in the internal market.


Directive 2009/45/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 May 2009 on safety rules and standards for passenger ships [See amending act(s)].


This Directive establishes a legal framework laying down harmonised safety rules and standards for passenger ships.


The Directive applies to passenger ships and craft, which, regardless of their flag, engage on domestic voyages. This concerns:

  • new passenger ships *;
  • existing passenger ships of 24 metres in length and above;
  • high-speed passenger craft *.

Each European Union (EU) country, as host country, shall ensure that passenger ships and high-speed passenger craft, which are to engage on domestic voyages within the sea areas under their jurisdiction, meet the requirements of the Directive.

The following are excluded from the scope of the Directive:

  • passenger ships intended for military purposes;
  • pleasure yachts which do not carry more than 12 passengers and are intended for non-commercial purposes;
  • passenger ships and craft without means of mechanical propulsion or of primitive build or constructed in material other than steel or equivalent;
  • historical ships or individual replicas thereof; and
  • passenger craft exclusively engaged in port areas.

Classes of passenger ships

Passenger ships are divided into four different classes (A, B, C and D) according to the sea area(s) in which they are authorised to operate. Each EU country shall establish and maintain a list of sea areas which are under its jurisdiction. They shall indicate the sea areas where the operation of ships is allowed for part or all of the year. This list shall be made public on the website of the EU country's competent maritime authority. The Commission shall be informed of the publication of this list and any amendments made thereto.

Application of safety rules and standards

EU countries shall authorise the operation of passenger ships or high-speed passenger craft covered by the Directive which meet the safety rules and standards laid down therein. As host country, they shall recognise safety certificates issued by other EU countries. Under Directive 95/21/EC, any host country may carry out an inspection of passenger ships and high-speed passenger craft and audit its documentation.

Safety requirements

The Directive sets out detailed safety requirements which new and existing passenger ships of Classes A, B, C and D must meet. These requirements cover ship construction, machinery, electrics, fire protection and life saving equipment

Furthermore it obliges EU countries to take specific measures to ensure persons with reduced mobility have safe access to all classes of passenger ships and high-speed passenger craft operating a public transport service. In order to do this, EU countries shall, as far as possible, apply the guidelines laid down in Annex III of the Directive and present a national action plan for the implementation of these guidelines.

Additional safety requirements, equivalents, exemptions and safeguard measures

However, EU countries have some flexibility with regard to the application of safety requirements. They may, as part of a specific procedure laid down by the Directive, take measures intended to:

  • improve safety requirements;
  • authorise equivalents for the detailed rules included in Annex I of the Directive;
  • exempt ships from some specific requirements for domestic voyages made in that country's sea areas under certain predetermined conditions.

A passenger ship or craft in compliance with the Directive may nevertheless be suspended from operation or obliged to take additional safety measures if an EU country considers that there is a risk for persons, property or the environment. The merits of the measure taken by this country shall be considered by the Commission pursuant to articles 5 and 7 of Decision 1999/468/EC.


For those ships registered in an EU country (flag State), that EU country shall carry out several types of survey upon new or existing passenger ships:

  • for new ships, an initial survey before the ship is put into service; and for existing ships an initial survey before the ship is put into service on domestic voyages in a host state;
  • an annual survey;
  • additional surveys if necessary.

High-speed passenger craft shall also be subject to surveys by the EU country in which they are registered according either to the “High-Speed Craft Code” or the “Code of Safety for Dynamically Supported Craft”.


Following an initial survey, a safety certificate shall be issued for a period of 12 months by the EU flag State to new or existing passenger ships. The renewal of the certificate shall be subject to annual surveys.

The EU flag State shall grant a safety certificate to high-speed passenger craft meeting the requirements of the High-Speed Craft Code *.


This Directive aims to meet the need to improve the safety of maritime passenger transport. It repeals and replaces Directive 98/18/EC.

Key terms of the Act

  • “Passenger ship”: a ship which carries more than 12 passengers;
  • “High-speed passenger craft”: a high-speed craft as defined in Regulation X/1 of the 1974 SOLAS Convention, as amended, which carries more than 12 passengers, with the exception of passenger ships of Class B, C or D engaged on domestic voyages in sea areas when:
    • their displacement corresponding to the design waterline is less than 500 m3; and
    • their maximum speed, as defined in Regulation 1.4.30 of the 1994 High-Speed Craft Code and Regulation 1.4.37 of the 2000 High Speed Craft Code, is less than 20 knots;
  • “High-Speed Craft Code”: the “International Code for Safety of High-Speed Craft” contained in IMO Resolution MSC.36(63) of 20 May 1994, or the International Code for Safety of High-Speed Craft, 2000 (2000 HSC Code), contained in IMO Resolution MSC.97(73) of December 2000, in their up-to-date versions.



Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2009/45/EC



OJ L 163 of 25.6.2009

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 2010/36/EU



OJ L 162 of 29.6.2010

Successive amendments and corrections to Directive No 2009/45/EC have been incorporated in the basic text. This consolidated version is for reference purposes only.

Last updated: 14.09.2010