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December 2, 2003

MEPC meets on phase-outs, CAS and HGO bans

IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) is currently considering the adoption of proposals for an accelerated phase-out scheme for single hull tankers. It held one meeting yesterday and will meet again Thursday. Also on its agenda are extended application of the Condition Assessment Scheme (CAS) for tankers and a proposal for a regulation banning the carriage of Heavy Grades of Oil (HGO) in single-hull tankers.

This is the latest round in a saga that got started as an effort to head off unilateral action by the EU after the Prestige incident. Despite the moves at IMO, the EU has, of course, now unilaterally imposed its own rules. What's under discussion in London this week is the extent to which the rest of the world will go along with the EU. Given the protracted nature of the EU legislative and rule making process, it seems improbable that the EU will amend its new rules to match any watered-down variant coming out of the MEPC meetings. The U.S., of course, lives in its own OPA 90 world.

The proposed amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 relating thereto (MARPOL 73/78) were initially discussed during the forty-ninth session of the MEPC in July, during which it was agreed to hold the additional MEPC session in December (the next regular session will meet as scheduled in March-April 2004).

Following the July MEPC meeting, a number of points within the overall context of the proposed draft amendments to MARPOL were left awaiting final decision. The current meeting will seek to finalize the draft text for adoption.

The proposals to amend MARPOL 73/78, initially submitted by all the fifteen Member States of the European Union, called for further acceleration of the phase-out timetable for single-hull tankers, an immediate ban on the carriage of heavy grades of oil in single-hull tankers and for the Condition Assessment Scheme (adopted in 2001 in the wake of the 1999 Erika incident) to be applied to tankers of 15 years of age and above.

The status of the proposals following MEPC 49 in July 2003 is as follows, with further discussion scheduled for the current MEPC session:

The MEPC has agreed on an accelerated phase-out for Category 1 tankers (pre-MARPOL tankers). This would bring forward the final phasing-out date for these tankers to 2005, from 2007.

The proposal to bring forward the phasing-out of category 2 and 3 tankers (MARPOL tankers and smaller tankers) to 2010, from 2015 received some support in principle at MEPC 49, but there was also concern relating to the phase-out of tankers of less than 20 years old in 2010 that this would lead to. There was a suggested proposal, for further consideration at this week's meeting, which could see the operational life of these tankers extending to 2015 or until the ship reaches a specified age (e.g. 20, 23 or 25 years), subject to satisfactory results from the Condition Assessment Scheme (CAS).

The MEPC has agreed, in principle, that the CAS should be applied to single-hull tankers of 15 years, or older (as against being applicable to all Category 1 vessels continuing to trade after 2005 and all Category 2 vessels after 2010).

The MEPC has noted the proposed consequential enhancements to the CAS scheme which would be needed.

In relation to the proposed draft regulation on the carriage of Heavy Grades of Oil (HGO) in single-hull tankers, which would ban the carriage of HGO in single-hull tankers, the MEPC has agreed on the need for further technical discussion at this week's meeting of the proposed new regulation 13H on prevention of oil pollution when carrying heavy grades of oil, in particular in relation to the physical properties of heavy grades of oil (including their definition, in relation to density and/or kinematic viscosity) and in pollution combating.

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