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March 1, 2002

Ballast water management and ship recycling on IMO agenda
When the International Maritime Organization's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meets in London next week, issues it will address include ballast water management, air pollution and recycling of ships.

The MEPC meeting will review a draft of a proposed International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments. It will put together a working group to push this work forward. If the group makes enough progress at this and the next MEPC session (October 2002), a Diplomatic Conference to adopt the Convention may be convened in 2003.

Ballast water exchange at sea is currently the only widely used technique for preventing the spread of unwanted aquatic organisms. This technique has a number of limitations and raises safety concerns. New ships could be designed to allow ballast exchange in a much wider range of conditions.

Key to the new convention will agreement on standards. These will guide the development of ballast water treatment techniques. These techniques should be applied on board a vessel and should be:

    (1) safe for the ship and crew;

    (2) environmentally acceptable;

    (3) practical;

    (4) cost effective; and

    (5) biologically effective.

Ship Recycling

There's been growing international public concern about ship scrapping, which frequently exposes third world workers to hazardous conditions and is often conducted without too much concern for the environment. IMO's response has been to set up a Correspondence Group on Ship Recycling.

Next week's MEPC meeting is expected to discuss proposals to develop IMO guidelines on ship recycling. Initially these would cover preparation of ships before recycling commences.

Greenhouse gas emissions

The MEPC is expected to establish a Working Group during the session to:

(a) evaluate proposals for greenhouse gas emissions reduction contained in the IMO Study on Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ships;

(b) collate and evaluate information submitted by Members;

(c) draw up a work plan; and

(d) prepare materials for consideration in developing an IMO Strategy for greenhouse gas reduction.

It is expected that the MEPC, through the Working Group, will devise a framework of the IMO Strategy for greenhouse gas reduction for further consideration at MEPC 48.

Meantime, there has been a stunning lack of progress in implementing MARPOL 73/78 Annex VI. That's the one that aims to set limits on emissions of NOx and SOx emissions from ship exhausts and to prohibit deliberate emissions of ozone depleting substances.

The Annex was adopted in September 1997 and will enter into force 12 months after being ratified by 15 States whose combined fleets of merchant shipping constitute at least 50% of the world fleet. To date, four acceptances representing 14.05% of world tonnage have been received.

Clearly, there's a long way to go and there's concern that if the IMO rules don't come into effect soon, then national governments and agencies (such as the U.S. EPA) will take unilateral action. Any standards set by such groups are likely to be far less shipowner-friendly than those developed by IMO.

A resolution (adopted by the conference that adopted Annex VI) invites MEPC to identify any impediments to entry into force of the Protocol, if the conditions for entry into force have not been met by December 31 2002.

Tanker Condition Assessment Scheme - Model Survey Plan

MEPC 47 will "consider with a view to approval" a Model Survey Plan for tankers that is part of the Condition Assessment Scheme (CAS) for certain tankers. The CAS was adopted in April 2001 as part of the revised phase out scheme for single-hulled tankers adopted in reaction to European pressure after the Erika incident.

Essentially, the CAS allows certain tankers to trade beyond what would otherwise be their phase out dates.

Although the CAS does not specify structural standards in excess of the provisions of other IMO conventions, codes and recommendations, its requirements stipulate more stringent and transparent verification of the reported structural condition of the ship and that documentary and survey procedures have been properly carried out and completed.

Harmful effects of the use of anti-fouling paints for ships

The MEPC will consider follow-up action to the adoption in October 2001 of the International Convention on the control of harmful anti-fouling systems on ships. Parties to the Convention are required to prohibit and/or restrict the use of harmful anti-fouling systems not only on ships flying their flag, but also on ships not entitled to fly their flag but which operate under their authority and all ships, whatever their flag, that enter their ports, shipyards or offshore terminals.

Annex I of the Convention states that by an effective date of January 1, 2003, all ships shall not apply or reapply organotins compounds which act as biocides in anti-fouling systems.

By January 1, 2008 (effective date), ships either:

(a) shall not bear such compounds on their hulls or external parts or surfaces; or

(b) shall bear a coating that forms a barrier to such compounds leaching from the underlying non-compliant anti-fouling systems.

This applies to all ships (excluding fixed and floating platforms, floating storage units (FSUs), and Floating Production Storage and Offtake units (FPSOs).

The new convention will enter into force 12 months after 25 States representing 25% of the world's merchant shipping tonnage have ratified it.

Special Areas and Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas

The Committee will consider giving final approval to the designation of two new areas as Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSA): around the Florida Keys proposed by the United States and the PSSA for Malpelo Island proposed by Colombia. The MEPC approved the two PSSAs in principle at its last session but is expected to review input from the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation (NAV) relating to any navigational issues in the two proposals, before making a final decision.

Other issues

MEPC 47 will also discuss and review a number of other issues including a consolidated revised draft of Section IV of the Manual on Oil Pollution and preparations for the 3rd International R&D Forum to be held in Brest, France from March 11-13, 2002, which will examine research and development of new technology in oil spill response, particularly regarding spills of high density or heavy oils like bunker oil.