July 14, 2003

O'Neil calls for "realistic" approach in MEPC tanker debate
Opening yesterday's 49th meeting of IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee, IMO Secretary-General William O'Neil urged a realistic and pragmatic approach to consideration of proposals to amend oil tanker regulations in the MARPOL convention.

Referring to proposals brought to IMO in the wake of the Prestige incident, O'Neil urged delegates to ensure their decisions were "realistic, pragmatic and well-balanced" so as to avoid such negative repercussions as:

  • damage the concept of universality in the regulation of shipping;
  • discrimination against other regions of the world;
  • negative repercussions on the supply of oil;
  • undermining the authority of IMO;
  • confusing the industry as to which regulations prevail; and -
  • permitting other regions to create their own regimes if in disagreement with IMO."

O'Neil reminded delegates that following the sinking of the Prestige off the west coast of Spain in November 2002 he visited the then President of the European Union Transport Ministers' Council and the European Commission Transport Commissioner and simultaneously kept an open line of communication with the flag and coastal States involved, as well as with the classification society concerned.

"My efforts were also directed," he said "towards convincing all parties that any regulatory changes which might be considered for introduction should be brought to IMO where they would be examined promptly and action on them would be taken expeditiously within the requirements as laid down in the MARPOL Convention."

As a result, the proper process was followed when the proposals to amend the MARPOL Convention were submitted to IMO by the European Union Members. These were promptly circulated for consideration by MARPOL Parties under the provisions of the Convention concerning the amendment procedures. In addition, the Informal Group of Experts on the Impact Assessment of the Proposed Amendments to the MARPOL Convention, which had been set up in 2000 in the wake of the Erika incident, was reactivated and a completed report submitted to the MEPC.

O'Neil reminded delegates that the Council had approved the holding of a two-day Extra Session of MEPC in December this year, to be held during the 23rd regular session of the Assembly, should the MEPC decide it needed that session.

The proposals to amend MARPOL 73/78, submitted by all the fifteen Member States of the European Union, call 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.

O'Neil highlighted another pressing issue for the MEPC: the finalization of the draft text of a Convention for Ballast Water Management.

Noting that the World Summit on Sustainable Development last year agreed that the process of development aiming at measures to address invasive species in ballast water should be accelerated and urged IMO to finalize the draft ballast water convention as a priority environmental issue, Mr. O'Neil referred to the issue as a complex and challenging task.

However, he added, an Intersessional Working Group had been able to reduce the number of options and issues still to be decided at the current session.

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