Applicability of article 2(4) of the MARPOL Convention to FPSOs and FSUs

At the recent meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee 56th session (MEPC 56), the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) expressed its concern about the, in their view, unclear status of Floating Production, Storage and Offloading Facilities (FPSOs) and Floating Storage Units (FSUs) as a ship under MARPOL and other IMO Conventions. ICFTU asked MEPC 56 to confirm that article 2 of the MARPOL Convention, on the definition of a ship, was entirely applicable to FPSOs and FSUs.



Since 2001, the MEPC has worked on amendments to MARPOL Annex I to exempt FPSOs FSUs from many of the requirements of an oil tanker.  In the Annex to resolution MEPC.139(53) adopted on 22 July 2005, in introducing the Guidelines, the following was recorded:


MEPC 49 noted the complex issues involved in applying the requirements of MARPOL Annex I to FPSOs and FSUs, whose arrangements, functions and

operations fall under the overriding control of coastal states;

FPSOs and FSUs are a form of floating platform and do not lie within the definition of oil tanker in regulation 1.5 of revised MARPOL Annex I;

The Committee noted that the environmental hazards associated with the quantities of produced oil stored on board operational FPSOs and FSUs are similar to some of the hazards related to oil tankers.


At BLG 11 (April 2007), Australia submitted document BLG 11/7/2 with respect to oil transfer operations between ships at sea, and noted that:


FPSOs and FSUs are included in the definition of ‘ship’ in article 2 of the MARPOL Convention;

no further explicit reference is required as the relevant conventions (ISM Code Chapter 7) apply.



ICFTU says that whilst extensive work has been done to identify from which provisions of MARPOL Annex I FPSOs and FSUs can be excluded, there have yet to be discussions to clarify to what extent the requirements of "a ship" within other conventions (e.g. the STCW, SOLAS and ISM Code) are applicable. This is particularly problematic where the interface between production and maritime requirements is not easily defined and maritime crew, without being part of the vessel management, are expected to assume full responsibility with little notice.


ICFTU also says that this is particularly relevant where FPSOs and FSUs have the provision to disconnect their moorings in an emergency, or extreme weather conditions, and operate under their own power. ICFTU documents states that "recent incidents have exposed the dangers that this lack of clarity permits and, in one case, it came close to allowing 12,000 tonnes of crude oil to pollute the shoreline".


ICFTU concludes that they are of the view that any FPSO or FSU, capable and required to operate as a ship, is a ship under article 2 of MARPOL Convention and, with exception of the amendments to Unified Interpretations adopted in 2005 to MARPOL Annex I, should at all times be able to show compliance with the relevant IMO Conventions. ICFTU invited MEPC 56 to confirm that article 2 of the MARPOL Convention on the definition of a ship is entirely applicable to FPSOs and FSUs at all times, whether moored or detached from the mooring and under their own power.


The IMO Secretariat clarified that the 1973 MARPOL Convention states in its article 2(4) that the term “ship”, for the purposes of the Convention, includes “fixed or floating platforms”. It then followed that the requirements of MARPOL Annex I were applicable to FPSOs and FSUs with the exceptions and specificities contained in regulation 39 of the same Annex on special requirements for fixed or floating platforms, which clearly states that “Fixed or floating platforms when engaged in the exploration, exploitation and associated offshore processing of seabed mineral resources ….. shall comply with the requirements of this Annex applicable to ships of 400 gross tonnage and above other than oil tankers ...


Regulation 39.3 of MARPOL Annex I determines that “In verifying compliance with this Annex in relation to platforms configured as FPSOs and FSUs, Administrations should take account of the Guidelines developed by the Organization. Resolution MEPC.139(53) on Guidelines for the application of the revised MARPOL Annex I requirements to FPSOs and FSUs, as amended by resolution MEPC.142(54) include: applicability details to FPSOs and

FSUs concerning all 39 regulations of MARPOL Annex I.



MEPC 56 confirmed that article 2 of the MARPOL Convention on the definition of a ship was applicable, for the purposes of the Convention, to FPSOs and FSUs with the special requirements for these types of ships as defined in regulation 39 of MARPOL Annex I and resolution MEPC.139(53), as amended.


Contact: Dragos Rauta