MEPC Focuses on Environmental Issues

Wednesday, October 16, 2002
As environmental issues took center stage at IMO during the 48th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) last week (October 7 to 11), delegates from more than 80 countries discussed a range of topics relating to the protection of the marine environment from pollution by ships. Under the chairmanship of Australia's Mike Julian, the Committee progressed its work in several key areas, including ship recycling, ballast water management and greenhouse gas emissions from ships. Draft IMO Guidelines on ship recycling were discussed in detail, with a view to producing a final draft for adoption by the next IMO Assembly in 2003. The draft guidelines note that, in the process of recycling ships, virtually nothing goes to waste. The materials and equipment are almost entirely reused. Steel is reprocessed to become, for instance, reinforcing rods for use in the construction industry or as corner castings and hinges for containers. Ships' generators are reused ashore. Batteries find their way into the local economy. Hydrocarbons on board become reclaimed oil products to be used as fuel in rolling mills or brick kilns; light fittings find further use on land etc. Furthermore, new steel production from recycled steel requires only one third of the energy used for steel production from raw materials. Recycling makes a positive contribution to the global conservation of energy and resources and, in the process, employs a large, if predominantly unskilled, workforce. Properly handled, ship recycling is, without question, a "green" industry. However, the guidelines recognize that, while the principle of ship recycling may be sound, the working practices and environmental standards in the yards often leave much to be desired. While ultimate responsibility for conditions in the yards has to lie with the countries in which they are situated, other stakeholders must be encouraged to contribute towards minimizng potential problems in the yards. The guidelines have been developed to give advice to all stakeholders in the recycling process, including administrations of ship building and maritime equipment supplying countries, flag, port and recycling states, as well as intergovernmental organizations and commercial bodies such as shipowners, ship builders, repairers and recycling yards. The concept of a "Green Passport" for ships is included in the guidelines. It is envisaged that this document, containing an inventory of all materials potentially hazardous to human health or the environment, used in the construction of a ship, would accompany the ship throughout its working life. Produced by the shipyard at the construction stage and passed to the purchaser of the vessel, the document would be in a format that would enable any subsequent changes in materials or equipment to be recorded. Successive owners of the ship would maintain the accuracy of the Green Passport and incorporate into it all relevant design and equipment changes, with the final owner delivering it, with the vessel, to the recycling yard. The MEPC agreed to refer certain key outstanding issues to various IMO Sub-Committees for further consideration. The Ship Design and Equipment Sub-Committee (DE) and the Sub-Committee on Bulk Liquids and Gases (BLG) will be asked to produce a list of potentially hazardous materials which might be found on board ships. Such materials may be inherent in the structure of the vessel or its equipment, carried as stores or spares or generated during the normal operations of the vessel including cargo residues. The Sub-Committee on Flag State Implementation (FSI) will be asked to look into the possible future need to examine the issue of last voyages and port State control. Ballast Water Management The Committee is to recommend to the IMO Council that a Diplomatic Conference be convened in early 2004 to adopt a draft convention on ballast water management, following substantial progress made on the issue at this meeting and at the intersessional working group on the subject that had met prior to MEPC. Among the outstanding issues to be resolved was the development of appropriate standards for ballast water treatment. At the previous meeting of the MEPC, 14 separate options had been developed. These have now been reduced to just two options for short term standards and a single option for long term standards which is linked to what the draft Convention is trying to achieve, a substantial reduction in the risk of transfer of harmful aquatic organisms through ballast water. Greenhouse gases The committee approved in principle a draft Assembly resolution on greenhouse gas emissions from ships and invited Members to submit comments to the next meeting of the MEPC with a view to its finalization. In its draft form the resolution urges the MEPC to identify and develop the mechanism or mechanisms needed to achieve the limitation or reduction of GHG emissions from international shipping, and in doing so give priority to the establishment of a GHG emission baseline, the development of a methodology to describe the GHG-efficiency of a ship expressed as a GHG-index for that ship, recognizing that CO2 is the main greenhouse gas emitted by ships. It also calls for the establishment of Guidelines by which the GHG emission index may be applied in practice. The Guidelines would take into account related cost-benefit evaluations and verification procedures and be based on an evaluation of technical, operational and market-based solutions. It also calls for Governments, in co-operation with the shipping industry, to promote and implement voluntary measures to limit or reduce GHG emissions from international shipping, when the GHG emission indexing scheme is developed by the Marine Environment Protection Committee. Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) and Special Areas (SAs) It was agreed to designate the Wadden Sea area in Northern Europe as a PSSA. The Committee also agreed, in principle, to designate the Paracas National Reserve in Peru as a PSSA, pending consideration of a separate proposal from Peru for an "Area to be Avoided" by the NAV Sub?Committee and approved by the Maritime Safety Committee. It was also agreed that the Oman Area of the Arabian Sea be designated as a Special Area under Annex I of MARPOL 73/78, which is expected to be adopted by MEPC 49 in July 2003. The Committee agreed to issue a circular containing a guidance document to help Member States in preparing proposals for areas to be designated as PSSAs. The guidance contains a framework of what needs to be included in a proposal.
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