A Diplomatic Conference to adopt a new Convention on the control of harmful anti-fouling systems for ships is to be held from 1–5 October 2001 at IMO Headquarters in London.
Under the terms of the proposed new Convention, Parties to the Convention would be required to prohibit and/or restrict the use of harmful anti-fouling systems on ships flying their flag, as well ships not entitled to fly their flag but which operate under their authority and all ships that enter a port, shipyard or offshore terminal of a Party. The Convention would apply to all ships of above 400 gross tonnage, which would be required to have their anti-fouling systems surveyed and to carry an anti-fouling certificate. Anti-fouling systems to be prohibited or controlled would be listed in an annex to the Convention, which could be updated as and when necessary.
Although considerable progress has been made in successive meetings of the MEPC towards agreement on the draft text of the Convention, there remain several important elements to be resolved by the conference, including:
the entry into force provisions;/>> />>/>> -/>> whether the 2008 prohibition should require the removal of organotin-based anti-fouling systems or allow over-coating with a sealer prior to applying an alternative anti-fouling coating; />>/>> -/>> whether the effective ban dates of 1 January 2003 and 1 January 2008 should be independent from the entry into force; />> -/>> whether or not to include a clause to cover damage or delay resulting from sampling of a ship's anti-fouling system.
The Conference is set to mark the conclusion of the MEPC's response to an Assembly resolution adopted in November 1999, which called on the MEPC to develop an instrument, legally binding throughout the world, to address the harmful effects of anti-fouling systems used on ships. The resolution called for a global prohibition on the application of organotin compounds which act as biocides in anti-fouling systems on ships by 1 January 2003, and a complete prohibition by 1 January 2008.
Anti-fouling paints are used to coat the bottoms of ships to prevent sealife such as algae and molluscs attaching themselves to the hull – thereby slowing down the ship and increasing fuel consumption. In the early days of sailing ships, lime and later arsenic were used to coat ships' hulls, until the modern chemicals industry developed effective anti-fouling paints using metallic compounds.
These compounds slowly "leach" into the sea water, killing barnacles and other marine life that have attached to the ship. But the studies have shown that these compounds persist in the water, killing sealife, harming the environment and possibly entering the food chain. One of the most effective anti-fouling paints, developed in the 1960s, contains the organotin tributylin (TBT), which has been proven to cause deformations in oysters and sex changes in whelks.
The harmful environmental effects of organotin compounds were recognized by IMO in 1990, when the MEPC adopted a resolution which recommended that Governments adopt measures to eliminate the use of anti-fouling paint containing TBT on non-aluminium hulled vessels of less than 25 metres in length and eliminate the use of anti-fouling paints with a leaching rate of more than four microgrammes of TBT per day. Some countries, such as Japan, have already banned TBT in anti-fouling paint for most ships.