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April 6, 2004

MEPC concludes busy session

Revised regulations on sewage from ships have been adopted by IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), which met for its 51st session from March 29 to April 2, 2004.

The Committee also approved in principle the designation of three new Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs).

Other items on the agenda included follow-up to the adoption of the new Ballast Water Convention and air pollution and ship recycling.

Amendments to MARPOL 73/78 - Annex IV

The revised MARPOL Annex IV containing regulations for the prevention of pollution by sewage from ships was formally adopted and is expected to enter into force on August 1, 2005.

It will apply to new ships engaged in international voyages, of 400 gross tonnage and above or which are certified to carry more than 15 persons. Existing ships will be required to comply with the provisions of the revised Annex IV five years after the date of its entry into force. The Annex requires ships to have either a sewage treatment plant or a sewage comminuting and disinfecting system or a sewage holding tank.

Discharge of sewage into the sea will be prohibited, except when the ship has in operation an approved sewage treatment plant and is discharging comminuted and disinfected sewage using an approved system at a distance of more than three nautical miles from the nearest land; or is discharging sewage which is not comminuted or disinfected at a distance of more than 12 nautical miles from the nearest land.

Amendments to MARPOL 73/78 - Annex V

Amendments to the Appendix to MARPOL Annex V on Prevention of pollution by garbage from ships were adopted. They relate to the recording of the disposal of cargo residues in the Garbage Record Book.

Revised MARPOL Annex I and Annex II approved

The MEPC gave final approval to the revised texts of MARPOL Annex I and Annex II with a view to adoption at MEPC 52 in October 2004, with an expected entry into force date of 1 January 2007. Both Annexes have been updated and include amendments adopted in recent years.

Amendments to IBC Code approved

The MEPC approved proposed amendments to the International Bulk Chemical Code (IBC Code), for adoption at MEPC 52. The amendments revise and update the Code and reflect the approved changes to MARPOL Annex II.

Transport of vegetable oils

The MEPC approved, with a view to adoption at MEPC 52, an MEPC resolution on Guidelines for the transport of vegetable oils in deep tanks or in independent tanks specially designed for the carriage of such vegetable oils on board dry cargo ships. The guidelines have been developed to allow general dry cargo ships that are currently certified to carry vegetable oil in bulk to continue to carry these vegetable oils on specific trades.

Identification and protection of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas

The MEPC approved in principle the designation of three new Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs):

  • The Baltic Sea area, except Russian waters;
  • The Galapagos Archipelago (Ecuador); and
  • The waters of the Canary Isles archipelago (Spain).

The proponents of the three PSSAs stated that they would submit detailed proposals for Associated Protective Measures (APMs) linked to the PSSAs to the Sub-Committee on Safety of Navigation (NAV) in 2005 for subsequent consideration by the MEPC.

When an area is approved as a PSSA, specific additional measures can be used to control the maritime activities in that area, such as routeing measures; mandatory ship reporting systems; and Vessel Traffic Services (VTS).

There are six existing PSSAs: the Great Barrier Reef, Australia (designated a PSSA in 1990); the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago in Cuba (1997); Malpelo Island, Colombia (2002); the Florida Keys, United States (2002); the Wadden Sea, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands (2002); and Paracas National Reserve, Peru (2003).

The MEPC approved, in principle, that the current PSSA Guidelines would be reviewed, provided that there are specific proposals, as well as justification, submitted to a future session of the Committee.

Guidance document on bioremediation, revised manual on chemical pollution

The MEPC adopted a guidance document on bioremediation developed by the Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC)/OPRC-HNS (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) Technical Group.

Bioremediation is the use of biological processes to accelerate the removal of contaminants from the environment and is seen as the "environmentally friendly" response to an oil spill since it converts oil into harmless products such as carbon dioxide and water.

The guidelines in the document provide users with clear criteria to enable them to evaluate the circumstances in which to consider the use of bioremediation for shoreline clean-up. The document includes a summary of the most important bioremediation processes and decision-making criteria. The MEPC also adopted the revised Manual on Chemical Pollution - Section 2: Search and Recovery of Packaged Goods Lost at Sea.

Ballast water management

Following the adoption in February this year of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments, the MEPC agreed a plan of action for the development of guidelines, in preparation for implementation of the Convention, including:

  • Guidelines for approval of ballast water management systems;
  • Guidelines for sampling of ballast water and analysis for port State control;
  • Ballast water management plan guidelines;
  • Guidelines for ballast water exchange (operational);
  • Guidelines for ballast water exchange design and construction standards;
  • Guidelines for sediments reception facilities;
  • Guidelines for sediment control on ships; and other guidelines.

Recycling of ships

The MEPC considered further work on ship recycling following the adoption by the IMO Assembly, in November 2003, of resolution A.962(23) on IMO Guidelines on Ship Recycling.

A framework for inter-agency technical assistance was agreed and the MEPC approved the terms of reference for a Joint International Labor Organization (ILO)/IMO/Basel Convention Working Group.

The Group will undertake a comprehensive initial examination of the respective guidelines adopted by the three Organizations, with a view to identifying any possible gap, overlap, or ambiguity.

Besides the IMO guidelines, the Group will examine the Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of the Full and Partial Dismantling of Ships, adopted by the Sixth Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention and Safety and Health in Shipbreaking: Guidelines for Asian countries and Turkey, developed by ILO.

The MEPC invited the shipbuilding and recycling States and the shipping industry and other stakeholders to submit any information on the practical implementation of the provisions of the Guidelines with regard to the identification of potentially hazardous materials on board ships and the preparation of the relevant inventory. A Correspondence Group was established to work on implementation issues relating to the guidelines, including development of a ship recycling plan for each ship to be recycled.

Air pollution rules nearing entry into force

The MEPC noted that the international rules on prevention of air pollution by ships in Annex VI of MARPOL 73/78 (in the 1997 protocol to the MARPOL convention) could enter into force before the end of 2005. As of March 29, 2004, the 1997 Protocol had been ratified by 13 States representing more than 54% of the gross tonnage of the world's merchant shipping and ratification by only two more States is required to satisfy the entry into force conditions (entry into force is 12 months after the Protocol has been accepted by at least 15 states with not less than 50% of world merchant shipping tonnage).

The MEPC welcomed the statements made by Cyprus, Japan and Poland that their national procedures for the ratification of the protocol of 1997 to MARPOL 73/78 have reached the final stage and that they would be able to deposit their instrument of ratification for Annex VI before the end of 2004.

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