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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Zero pollution from shipping? A question of reception

Climate change. This seems to be the key environmental focus for the global shipping community as well as the world's politicians and regulators. Energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are certainly at the top of the agenda for the IMO's Marine Environmental Protection Committee, and consequently a key focus for many in the industry.


But for the weekend fishermen, the families with their picnics and others simply enjoying South East Asia's beaches, there are likely more obvious and localised environmental concerns. And while views from most coastal locations in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore will include the silhouette of a ship, the near shore view will likely also include some form of marine pollution. Be it a plastic bag, a discarded fishing line or even a small trace of oil residue, marine pollution is present and visible. And regardless of the actual source of this pollution, many make the connection between what washes up on their beaches and the internationally trading vessels passing in the distance.


This view from the beach presents us with two very significant problems. Firstly, the disposal of garbage and other wastes into the marine environment. Secondly, the negative image of the shipping industry that continues to persist within the minds of the man on the street, or in this case , the beach.


In reality, a proportion of the marine litter washed up on the beaches of S.E. Asia emanates from the land. Urban run-off from rivers and drains carry most of the plastic wastes which we find on our beaches. And this is the case world-wide. Likewise, for oil and other pollutants. The major proportion of marine pollution comes from the land.


But this does not limit the objective of the shipping industry to cultivate a zero pollution culture. For the shipping industry, the key to ensuring nothing ends up in the ocean is ashore. This solution is simple in concept but clearly complex in execution. To provide an adequate facility in every port to ensure all the ships calling there are able to dispose of their wastes while delivering their cargoes should not in theory be a problem.


For its part the IMO has upped its efforts in this area after an ambitious work plan was put forward by an inter-industry forum on reception facilities in 2007. To their credit, the member states of the IMO embraced the work plan and adopted it almost in its entirety with the fruits of the Organization's labour providing better and more transparent communication between industry and port states as well as establishing the long overdue standards for good practice for both the providers and the users of reception facilities.


With some logistical, practical and operational planning, combined with a strong political will, the establishment of port reception facilities can be realised. In Europe, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has been giving some teeth to the European Directive on the provision of port reception facilities by taking port states to court when deemed not to be providing adequate facilities. Across the Atlantic in the U.S., the United States Coast Guard (USCG) has also been re-examining the adequacy of its ports to receive waste. Both regions are tough on illegal discharges. But both have also recognised that this increased vigilance must also come with the provision of a solution to the industry. So the answer is to provide reception facilities, but at the same time to come down heavily on those who still persist in avoiding the use of these facilities and so discharge illegally.


While this is clearly a global issue, tackling it on a region-by-region basis may be a practical solution in the short term. This is why INTERTANKO has welcomed the emerging developments between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore through their Cooperative Mechanism to address this problem in the region. Through this Mechanism the three countries have demonstrated their will to address this in coordination with the international shipping industry. The vehicle for cooperation is the Cooperation Forum and the newly formed technical panels.


The first step for these panels is to establish clear communication. Industry claims a lack of facilities while the countries state that they exist. It is clear that something is amiss. So the gathering of detailed facility information in the region would seem a logical and straightforward first step. Once we have identified what is available, then we can move to the next stage and address whether what is available actually meets the needs of the shipping industry. In other words, are the facilities actually adequate?


It is perhaps only a small part of the problem in terms of both marine pollution and the enhancement of the industry's image. But it's a step in the right direction. Once we have the facilities in place the industry can meet its zero pollution objectives. This in turn provides further creditability to shipping as the greenest mode of transport, which would permeate into the thoughts of those on the beaches.


Will providing reception facilities prevent climate change? Well, not directly. But if it enhances the reputation and credibility of the shipping industry then perhaps it would lend itself well to the belief that shipping is part of the solution to climate change in providing an environmentally sound and efficient means of global transportation.  

 Contact: Tim Wilkins