Report from the 53rd session of IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee

The 53rd session of IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 53) will close its proceedings this afternoon. The following is a short briefing on a few of the decisions and agreements that may be of interest. 

Air Pollution from Ships -  Subsequent to the entry into force this May of MARPOL Annex VI regulating emissions from ships, a group of EU Member States, with substantial support from other Administrations, has guided IMO into opening this set of regulations for a review with the clear aim of reducing further the limits agreed in 1997.  

The revision of MARPOL Annex VI was delegated to the IMO Sub-Committee on Bulk Liquid and Gases (BLG), which will meet next year in April. It is speculative to anticipate proposals yet to be submitted to IMO, but preliminary indications are that all current emissions limits would be subject to revisions and, in addition, it is proposed that elements like Particulate Matters be added to the convention. The revision process would also aim to bring greater clarification through amendments to the current provisions, particularly to the NOx Technical Code.  

Guidelines for the PSC Officers for MARPOL Annex VI - This issue deals with the current, recently enforced MARPOL Annex VI and the way PSC officers check ships for compliance. The problem with the guidelines proposed to MEPC 53 for approval was that ships were left with no defence should the bunker suppliers fail to do their part of the job, i.e. provide bunker delivery notes and bunker samples as required or simply provide bunkers which are in compliance with the requirements. INTERTANKO put forward a submission which suggested upgrading the ship's ability to defend itself from third party non-compliance and to avoid being detained. Not surprisingly, this paper has created a lot of discussion attracting on the one hand sympathy and support, but on the other hand being challenged on whether the meaning of the entire convention is to make ships liable for non-compliance irrespective of whether the ships receive the right documentation or the right bunkers.  

The U.S. and U.K. have stated that in 1997 there was an agreement between the Parties to MARPOL that ships should keep that liability. INTERTANKO could find no evidence of such an agreement.  

In brief, the result can be summed up as follows: MEPC 53 agreed to accept INTERTANKO’s suggestion that should ships not receive the documentation and the right bunkers as required by MARPOL Annex VI, then the ship should issue a Notification to its Flag Administration with copies to the Port Authority under whose jurisdiction the non-compliance by suppliers was experienced and to keep a copy onboard for scrutiny by PSC officers as appropriate. MEPC 53 could not agree that ships should not be detainable but it was widely recognised that this issue has to be addressed further. In discussions INTERTANKO had with the U.S., it was agreed that prior to MEPC 54, a group of experts would address this issue and find a solution to defend ships from being penalised for some third party lack of compliance, particularly in countries which have not ratified MARPOL Annex VI. Further details and guidance on these aspects will be given in the next Weekly NEWS.  

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) - MEPC 53 has agreed to delegate to IMO's Bulk Liquids and Gases Sub-Committee (BLG) the development of a mandatory instrument to require the provision of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all MARPOL Annex VI cargoes and for the marine fuels delivered to ships. This is the beginning of the final stage of a lengthy battle INTERTANKO has had to ensure tanker crews have the necessary safety data and data they need to efficiently operate and handle the oil cargoes. 

Ship-to-Ship Transfer (including bunkering) - MEPC has agreed with a proposal from Spain and Mexico to include on the IMO agenda an assessment of new provisions to MARPOL Annex I to regulate ship-to-ship (STS) transfer. This task was also assigned to the BLG. The Oil Companies’ International Marine Forum (OCIMF) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) submitted their last revision of the STS Guide and indirectly questioned what value a regulation would add to these guidelines. 

On the other hand, the proposal from Spain and Mexico suggested that a coastal state might be given the authority to deny such an operation in Particularly Sensitive Special Areas (PSSA). This latter suggestion has provoked many statements, including from the U.K., U.S., Norway, Russia and others, pointing out that any provisions to regulate STS transfer within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of a country should not contravene the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other relevant international regulations. Russia has also raised concerns that this proposal would give the coastal state the right to deny cargo transfer from a tanker in distress.  

Contact: Dragos Rauta