EXTRA minimum requirements governing bulk carrier structures are likely to be introduced soon, Lloyd's Register (LR) deputy chief ship surveyor John Ferguson says. Mr Ferguson said LR and members of the International Association of Classification Societies (Iacs) were carrying out high priority research and development work. 'It must therefore be anticipated that there will be a consolidation and introduction of minimum requirements for transverse watertight bulkheads, double bottom structure, side shell structures and hull girder global strength,' he said. Statistics showed that an historically critical age group for bulk carrier casualties was between 14 and 18 years - and in three years or so, a large proportion of bulk carriers in service would be in this age group. This could only be changed by a substantial scrapping programme, Mr Ferguson said. He said the trend could become more marked if the age profile of the existing bulk carrier fleet continued to advance and operational problems which had been identified were given insufficient regard in practice. Mr Ferguson said LR's research into enhancing the safety of bulk carriers was on-going. In addition, co-operative research programmes were being carried out within the Iacs by member societies. He said there had been considerable progress. 'But it would be complacent to think that the problem of bulk carrier safety has been solved or that confidence has been fully restored.' Mr Ferguson said nearly all of the bulk carriers which had been lost or which had sustained serious damage had see a lot of service. A large proportion of bulk carriers were within, or would soon be entering that category, he warned. 'It is therefore important that, despite a dramatically improved safety record, there should be a continued preoccupation with the safety of these ships,' Mr Ferguson said. A correspondence group within the International Maritime Organisation was preparing draft amendments to the IMO's Solas (Safety of Life at Sea) Convention. This would prevent bulk carriers from carrying high-density cargo unless: They are able to withstand the flooding of any cargo hold in all relevant loading conditions; and They are able to demonstrate that all transverse bulkheads have sufficient strength to withstand flooding of any single cargo hold. Mr Ferguson said it was not unknown for a bulk carrier to break into two during loading operations. This was much more likely now that hull girder bending stresses significantly greater than acceptable values might be imposed, without the awareness of the ship's crew. Mr Ferguson said two of the most important aspects for preventing bulk carriers from inadvertent cargo overloading or over-stressing of the hull were the ability of the ship's staff to: Plan a safe cargo loading or unloading sequence; and Monitor closely the ship's loading condition and associated hull stresses during the loading or unloading process. He said due to the introduction of very high cargo loading rates and the commercial need for multi-port loading and unloading, the task of load planning had become increasingly difficult and demanding. 'The human error aspect is particularly critical if re-scheduling of the loading, which frequently happens, is required,' he said.