Saturday, July 9, 2011

Environmental Clock Is Ticking For Maritime Freight Nations

So Many Important Matters So Little Time for IMO to Impose Reality
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) the United Nations agency with special responsibility for the prevention of marine pollution by freight carriers and other shipping, has its work cut out to cover all the ground it wants to in its 62nd session which convenes at its London headquarters on Monday and lasts until Friday (15th July).

In a preview of its scheduled topics the matters under consideration range across the entire spectrum of problems facing the shipping industry when it comes to a satisfactory cleaning up of its collective act. This includes the designation of specially protected areas, methods for disposal of garbage when at sea, and sewage and ballast water issues as well as the headline grabbing CO2 emission regulation control.

There are many in the industry, particularly from certain nations, who view the IMO as determined to over regulate in these areas whilst others criticise it for doing too little too slowly but the task it faces is a daunting one, all it can do is set the rules, it is for individuals and their regulatory authorities to enforce them.

Anyone who read our short article last year on the horrifying effects which ballast water from one unknown vessel had in the Baltic Sea will be pleased to see the waterway designated a Special Area with respect to pollution by sewage from ships (although many might consider this a case of closing the stable door after the horse has long bolted) but the IMO can only react to what is now an extremely serious situation. The MEPC will also consider for adoption, the first set of international recommendations to address biofouling by ships, to minimize the transfer of aquatic species, which were agreed in draft form by the Sub-Committee on Bulk Liquids and Gases (BLG).

We recently featured work being undertaken on this by such as MOL and the MEPC will consider reports with a view to granting Basic Approval to seven and Final Approval to two, ballast water management systems that make use of active substances (such as the Ozone in the new MOL system). The IMO states that they will consider ‘opening the door’ to new methods and concepts to prevent risks arising from the transfer of invasive species, provided that such methods will ensure at least the same level of protection of the environment set out in the convention and are approved in principle by the MEPC.

The Baltic (as well as the North Sea) is already designated as an Emission Control Area (ECA) for the control of emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulphur oxides (SOX), and particulate matter under MARPOL Annex VI Regulations for the prevention of air pollution from ships whilst another region, the North American ECA, will be coming into force shortly. Now the session will decide whether to add draft MARPOL amendments to designate certain waters adjacent to the coasts of Puerto Rico (United States) and the Virgin Islands (United States) as another ECA region.

There are proposals to designate the Saba Bank in the north-eastern part of the Caribbean islands and the Strait of Bonifacio as Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSA) and introduce specific regulations to ensure these regions are ecologically preserved.

With regard to garbage disposal (more particularly a passenger vessel problem) the Committee will consider a requirement specifying that discharge of all garbage into the sea is prohibited with exceptions only for certain substances in particular circumstances.

The MEPC is expected to consider for approval draft guidelines for the carriage of blends of petroleum oil and bio-fuels, which set out set out carriage and discharge requirements for bio-fuel blends containing 75% or more of petroleum oil. This ties in with one of the main proposals of the meeting, the introduction of mandatory measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from international shipping movements. Several states have requested that the committee consider making compulsory the proposals covering the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), for new ships, and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP). Both have already been disseminated via MEPC Circulars for voluntary use.

The EEDI is a non-prescriptive, performance-based mechanism that leaves the choice of technologies to use in a specific ship design to the industry. As long as the required energy-efficiency level is attained, ship designers and builders would be free to use the most cost-efficient solutions for the ship to comply with the regulations. In March a working party looked at the GHG situation overall and considered suitable market-based measures to reduce GHG emissions from international shipping.

The inter-session group held an extensive exchange of views on issues related to the desirability of market-based measures providing certainty in emission reductions or carbon price; revenues for mitigation, adaptation and capacity-building activities in developing countries; incentives for technical and operational improvements in shipping; and offsetting opportunities. The MEPC is expected to outline future work by the Organization on this matter, including, as identified by the Working Group, further in-depth examination of the impact of any market-based measures on developing countries.

It is to be hoped the MEPC manages to give sufficient and urgent attention to all of these most serous matters in the forthcoming five day meeting. Many around the world believe the clock is running down for the environment as we know it in many areas and it is essential that shipping, the artery through which all world trade flows, ensures it does its utmost to ensure that all nations abide by stricter cleaner rules with maximum penalties for ship owners and operators and the flag states who fail to live up to the new standards.