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 The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization has decided to propose to the IMO Council in November the holding of a Conference in the 2000-2001 biennium to adopt a legal instrument to regulate the use of shipboard anti-fouling systems, in particular to phase out those containing organotins such as tributyltin (TBT).

The Committee met from 28 June - 2 July 1999 for its 43rd regular session at the London headquarters of IMO, the United Nations agency concerned with ship safety and the prevention of marine pollution.

The decision to request a conference on anti-fouling systems followed progress by a Working Group in developing the basic structure of a proposed legal instrument to effect the phasing out of organotins acting as biocides in antifouling systems on ships.

At the last session (MEPC 42), the Committee agreed a draft Assembly resolution which includes a proposed deadline of 2008 for the complete prohibition of organotins acting as biocides in antifouling systems on ships. The draft Assembly resolution will be considered by the 21st IMO Assembly in November 1999 for adoption.

Antifouling 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 was used to coat ships' hulls, until the modern chemicals industry developed effective antifouling paints using metallic compounds.

The compounds slowly "leach" into the sea water, killing barnacles and other marine life that have attached to the ship - but 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 antifouling paints, developed in the 1960s, contains the organotin tributyltin (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 antifouling paint containing TBT on non-aluminium hulled vessels of less than 25 metres in length and eliminate the use of antifouling paints with a leaching rate of more than 4 microgrammes of TBT per day. Some countries, such as Japan, have already banned TBT in antifouling paint for most ships.

Alternatives to TBT paint include copper-based coatings and silicon-based paints, which make the surface of the ship slippery so that sealife will be easily washed off as the ship moves through water. Further development of alternative anti-fouling systems is being carried out. Underwater cleaning systems avoid the ship having to be put into dry dock for ridding the hull of sealife, while ultrasonic or electrolytic devices may also work to rid the ship of foulants.

The anti-fouling Working Group will continue its work on developing the draft regulations at MEPC 44.

Harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water

An MEPC Working Group continued developing draft new regulations for ballast water management.

The proposed new regulations are intended to address the environmental damage caused by the introduction of harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water, used to stabilize vessels at sea. Globally, it is estimated that about 10 billion tonnes of ballast water is transferred each year.

The water taken on board for ballasting a vessel may contain aquatic organisms, including dormant stages of microscopic toxic aquatic organisms - such as dinoflagellates, which may cause harmful algal blooms after their release. In addition, pathogens such as the bacterium vibrio cholerae (cholera), have been transported with ballast water. As ships travel faster and faster, the survival rates of species carried in ballast tanks have increased. As a result, many introductions of non-indigenous organisms in new locations have occurred, often with disastrous consequences for the local ecosystem - which may include important fish stocks or rare species.

The Working Group reviewed a number of key issues based on the current proposed draft regulations, with progress reported in achieving consensus on the content of certain draft regulations. However, a number of important issues and aspects remain open for further consideration, including:

  • the preferred approach to application - whether the globalized approach, the designation of Ballast Water Management Areas or other approaches;

  • development of a range of standards, e.g., for evaluation and acceptance of new ballast water management and control options;

  • development of a regionalization concept; and

  • the extent of application of the provisions to some categories of vessels, such as fishing vessels, pleasure boats, etc.

The overall outline of a draft legal instrument was prepared and some draft text developed, but the Committee agreed preparation of the instrument was not sufficiently advanced to be able to propose (to the IMO Council which meets prior to the Assembly in November) the holding of a Diplomatic Conference to adopt an instrument in the next biennium (2000-2001).

The issue will remain a high priority item in the work programme and the Committee agreed the Working Group on ballast water should continue its work at the next session.

Options for introducing the proposed regulations include:

  • a new Annex to MARPOL 73/78; and

  • a completely new Convention on ballast water management, under which the terms for entry into force would be determined by a Conference, instead of having to comply with existing terms established by MARPOL 73/78.

Current options for preventing the spread of harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water include exchanging the ballast water in deep ocean, where there is less marine life and where organisms are less likely to survive. Other options include various (filtration, thermo, chemical, radiation) treatments of the ballast water en route to kill the living organisms.

Committee adopts regulations for tankers carrying persistent oil and shipboard pollution emergency plan for chemical tankers adopted

The Committee adopted regulations making certain sized tankers carrying persistent oils (such as heavy fuel oil) as cargo subject to the same stringent requirements as crude oil tankers.

The amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 (MARPOL 73/78) will make existing oil tankers between 20,000 and 30,000 tons deadweight carrying persistent product oil, including heavy diesel oil and fuel oil, subject to the same construction requirements as crude oil tankers. The amendments, expected to enter into force on 1 January 2001, under tacit acceptance, relate to Regulation 13G of Annex I (Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Oil).

Regulation 13G requires, in principle, existing tankers to comply with requirements for new tankers in Regulation 13F, including double hull requirements for new tankers or alternative arrangements, not later than 25 years after date of delivery. Currently, the regulation applies to crude oil tankers of 20,000 tons deadweight and above and product carriers of 30,000 tons deadweight and above, but does not currently apply to tankers between 20,000 and 30,000 tons deadweight which carry heavy diesel oil or fuel oil.

The aim of the amendments is to address concerns that oil pollution incidents involving persistent oils are as severe as those involving crude oil, so regulations applicable to crude oil tankers should also apply to tankers carrying persistent oils.

The Committee also adopted related amendments to the Supplement of the IOPP (International Oil Pollution Prevention) Certificate, covering in particular oil separating/filtering equipment and retention and disposal of oil residues.

A third amendment adopted relates to Annex II of MARPOL Regulations for the Control of Pollution by Noxious Liquid Substances in Bulk. The amendment adds a new regulation 16 requiring a Shipboard marine pollution emergency plan for noxious liquid substances.

The Committee also adopted amendments addressing the maintenance of venting systems, to the International Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk (IBC Code) and the Code for the Construction and Equipment of Ships carrying Dangerous Chemicals in Bulk (BCH Code).

The Committee also agreed an MEPC Circular on Implementation of the 1999 Amendments to the IOPP Certificate, to clarify implementation in particular as regards ships whose existing IOPP Certificate may expire after the amendments (and requirement for revised IOPP Certificate) enter into force.

Deletion of tainting as criterion for marine pollutants

The Committee approved proposed amendments to MARPOL Annex III ( Prevention of Pollution by Harmful Substances Carried by Sea in Packaged Form) to delete tainting as a criterion for marine pollutants from the Guidelines for the identification of harmful substances in packaged form.

Tainting refers to the ability of a product to be taken up by an organism and thereby affect the taste or smell of seafood making it unpalatable. A substance is defined as tainting when it has been found to taint seafood.

The proposed draft amendments will now be circulated, in accordance with the provisions of the MARPOL Convention, with a view to adoption at the next session of the Committee in March 1999 (MEPC 44). If adopted, the amendments will mean that products identified as being marine pollutants solely on the basis of their tainting properties will no longer be considered marine pollutants.

Annex III of MARPOL applies to all ships carrying harmful substances in packaged form, or in freight containers, portable tanks or road and rail tank wagons. The regulations require the issuing of detailed standards on packaging, marking, labelling, documentation, stowage, quantity limitations, exceptions and notifications, for preventing or minimizing pollution by harmful substances.

"Harmful substances" covered by Annex III are those substances which are identified as marine pollutants in the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG Code).

Recycling of ships

The Committee agreed to include an agenda item on ship recycling during its next session in March 2000 (MEPC 44).

The decision followed a proposal put forward by Norway to add ship scrapping to the work programme of the MEPC with the aim of developing safety and environmental measures regarding ship scrapping. Ships sold for scrapping may contain environmentally hazardous substances such as asbestos, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, ozone depleting substances and others. Concerns have been raised about the working and environmental conditions at many of the world's ship scrapping locations.

MEPC 44 is expected to discuss how the Committee might proceed or otherwise with the issue.

Particularly sensitive sea areas

The MEPC approved new procedures for designation of a "particularly sensitive sea area" (PSSA), which will supersede the current procedures set out in the Guidelines in resolution A.720(17) (adopted in 1991).

The current Guidelines in resolution A.720(17) allow areas to be designated a PSSA if they fulfill a number of criteria, including: ecological criteria, such as unique or rare ecosystem, diversity of the ecosystem, or vulnerability to degradation by natural events or human activities; social, cultural and economic criteria, such as significance of the area for recreation or tourism; and scientific and educational criteria, such as biological research or historical value.

The proposed new procedures are intended to make the process of consideration at IMO simpler, taking into account environmental, ship safety and navigational aspects. The proposed new procedures will be submitted to the 21st Assembly in November for adoption as a resolution.

When an area is approved as a particularly sensitive sea area, specific measures can be used to control the maritime activities in that area, such as routeing measures, strict application of MARPOL discharge and equipment requirements for ships, such as oil tankers; and installation of Vessel Traffic Services (VTS). There are currently two designated PSSAs: the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, and the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago in Cuba. The Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago was designated a PSSA in September 1997.

The Committee considered proposals for PSSA designation from Egypt and Colombia and requested these Governments provide further information for consideration at the next session.

Inadequacy of reception facilities

The MEPC approved a draft Assembly resolution on Provision and use of port waste reception facilities which requests MEPC to develop guidelines on the provision and use of port waste reception facilities.

Draft guidelines have already been prepared by a correspondence group on reception facilities and contain information for the provision and improvement of port waste reception facilities and provide information relating to the ongoing management of existing facilities, as well as for the planning and establishment of new facilities. The guidelines are also intended to encourage the better and more active use of waste facilities with the ultimate aim of helping to achieve the complete elimination of intentional pollution of the marine environment by oil, plastic and other harmful substances.

The lack of reception facilities for dirty ballast water, waste oil and garbage is still a major problem in some areas for the shipping industry and represents the main reason for pollution of the marine environment. Parties to MARPOL have a duty to ensure the provision of adequate reception facilities in ports, terminals, ship repair yards and marinas.

The provision of reception facilities is particularly important when countries wish their coastal areas to be designated as special areas.

Information, provided by Member States, on provision of reception facilities is available here.

Follow-up to air pollution conference and new Annex VI

The MEPC adopted an MEPC resolution on Guidelines for Monitoring the World Wide Average Sulphur Content of Residual Fuel Oils Supplied for Use on Board Ships. The guidelines are intended to establish an agreed method to monitor the average sulphur content of residual fuel oils supplied for use on board ships. MEPC will at future sessions further discuss measures to reduce SOx emissions from ships, should the average sulphur level in fuels, calculated on the basis of these guidelines, show a sustained increase.

The Committee was asked by the 1997 conference on Air Pollution, which adopted a new Annex VI of MARPOL 73/78 on the Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships, to develop sulphur monitoring guidelines.

Annex VI, when it comes into force, will set limits on sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ship exhausts and prohibit deliberate emissions of ozone depleting substances.

Draft HNS-OPRC Protocol

The Committee considered necessary arrangements for holding a Diplomatic Conference to adopt a revised draft Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2000 (HNS Protocol) in March 2000. The conference will be held alongside the next session of the Committee. The IMO Council in June gave the go ahead for the Conference to be held.

The draft protocol was approved in principle at MEPC 42 in November 1998 and no further changes were made, though a number of draft Conference resolutions were finalised.

The draft HNS-OPRC Protocol follows the principles of the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation, 1990 (OPRC) and is intended to be adopted by States already Party to the OPRC Convention. Like the OPRC Convention, it aims to provide a global framework for international co-operation in combating major incidents or threats of marine pollution. Parties to the HNS-OPRC Protocol will be required to establish measures for dealing with pollution incidents, either nationally or in co-operation with other countries. Ships will be required to carry a shipboard pollution emergency plan.

The proposed protocol, when it comes into force, will ensure that ships carrying hazardous and noxious liquid substances are covered, or will be covered, by regimes similar to those already in existence for oil incidents.

Revised Crude Oil Washing specifications

The Committee approved proposed amendments to resolution A.446(XI), as amended by resolution A.497(XII) on Amendments to the revised specification for the design, operation and control of crude oil washing systems. The proposed amendments will be submitted to the 21st Assembly in November for adoption.

Crude oil washing, which was introduced into MARPOL 73/78 as part of the 1978 Protocol, involves cleaning of oil tanks by crude oil washing, rather than water - in other words, the cargo itself. When sprayed onto the sediments clinging to the tank walls, the oil simply dissolves them, turning them back into usable oil that can be pumped off with the rest of the cargo. There is no need for slop tanks to be used since the process leaves virtually no oily wastes.

The draft amendments are aimed at simplifying the system for monitoring and controlling COW in order to avoid any health risks associated with internal examinations of tanks by surveyors.

Meanwhile, the Committee adopted amendments to Section 9 of the Standard Format for the COW manual. Section 9 covers Determination of the suitability of a crude oil for use in crude oil washing.

Revision of MARPOL Annex IV

The Committee considered draft texts of amendments to MARPOL Annex IV, Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution by Sewage from Ships, prepared by the Correspondence Group. The Committee agreed to establish a drafting group on revision of MARPOL Annex IV at the next session in order to make further progress in preparation of the draft text of amendments.

MARPOL Annex IV has not yet entered into force and the Committee has been considering modifications to requirements of Annex IV which may facilitate wider acceptance by Member Governments and entry into force of the Annex.

Enforcement of MARPOL 73/78

The Committee considered the report of the Correspondence Group on preparation of the draft text of a new publication MARPOL How to do it, which should provide guidance as to how the MARPOL Convention should be enforced. The Committee considered the draft texts prepared by the correspondence group in the light of provisions of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and agreed to further consider them at the next session.

Environmental awareness in youth

The Committee noted the initiatives taken by the Hellenic Marine environment Protection Association (HELMEPA) to raise environmental awareness among youth. The Committee fully agreed that it is clearly of paramount importance that young people be made aware of the oceans and the issues facing them. In order to ensure the successful continuation of IMO activities by generations to follow, the Committee agreed that it is essential to raise the awareness of young people to the environment in general, and, in particular, the activities of IMO for the protection of the marine environment, providing opportunities to the young in encouraging them to take part in the leadership of various activities related to IMO. Member Governments were invited to submit information to the next session on their activities aimed at raising awareness in youth.

Amendments adopted

The Committee adopted the following amendments:

  • amendments to MARPOL Annex I, Annex II and the IOPP Certificate;

  • amendments to the IBC Code; and

  • amendments to the BCH Code.

Amendments approved

The Committee approved the following amendments for adoption by MEPC 44:

  • amendments to MARPOL Annex III to delete tainting from the criteria for harmful substances in packaged form.

The Committee approved the following amendments for adoption by MEPC 45:

  • amendments to the IBC Code regarding the carriage of carbon disulphide;

  • amendments to the IBC and BCH Codes resulting from the revision of the Medical First Aid Guide; and

  • amendments to the IBC and BCH Code regarding cargo hose requirements.

MEPC circulars approved

The Committee approved the following MEPC circulars:

  • MSC/MEPC circular on harmonized reporting procedure;

  • MSC/MEPC circular on application of cargo tank venting requirements to combined chemical/oil tankers;

  • MEPC circular on revised guidelines on tank cleaning additives;

  • MSC/MEPC circular on guidelines on methods for making reference to IMO and other instruments in IMO Conventions and other mandatory instruments;

  • MEPC circular on hydrostatic balance loading; and

  • MSC/MEPC circular on clarification related to the implementation of the ISM Code.

Draft Assembly resolutions approved

The Committee approved the following draft Assembly resolutions:

  • draft Assembly resolution on self assessment of flag State performance;

  • draft Assembly resolution on global and uniform implementation of the harmonized system of survey and certification;

  • draft Assembly resolution on investigation of human factors in marine casualties and incidents;

  • draft Assembly resolution on amendments to the procedures on port State control (resolution A.787(19));

  • draft Assembly resolution on amendments to the COW specifications; and

  • draft Assembly resolution on procedures for adoption of, and amendments to, performance standards and technical specifications.