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Panama Maritime X “Maritime Industry and Environmental Protection”

February 14, 2011

Panama Maritime X
Hotel RIU Panama Plaza, 14 February 2011
Morning session “Green Shipping: A Continuous Challenge”
Speech by Mr. E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO
“Maritime Industry and Environmental Protection”
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is a great pleasure for me to be visiting Panama once again. Let me begin by applauding the organizers of this Conference for their choice of theme for this session. Green shipping is indeed a continuous challenge; and if, from time to time, other issues come more sharply into focus (piracy, for example) we should never allow the constant need to improve shipping’s environmental credentials to stray too far from the spotlight.
 
One of the biggest challenges facing mankind today – indeed perhaps the biggest challenge we have ever faced – is how can we improve living standards worldwide and continue to enjoy and, indeed, spread the benefits of the modern, developed lifestyle we are accustomed to, without inflicting irreparable damage on our planet in the process.
 
Shipping, of course, is an essential component of the modern way of life and, in the overall context of sustainable development, is a very positive force. It makes a significant contribution to global well being and prosperity, while having only a relatively small negative impact on the global environment. Let us not forget that more than 90 per cent of global trade – fuel, food, commodities, component parts, finished goods, necessities and luxuries – is carried by sea. Indeed, for the vast majority of cargoes, there is simply no viable alternative. Both the poor and the rich, developed and developing countries alike, benefit from seaborne trade.
 
It goes almost without saying that shipping takes place in a particularly precious and vulnerable setting. Today, marine ecosystems and biodiversity are endangered; marine species, such as whales, seals and dolphins, are reduced in numbers; the world’s fish stocks are under threat; and coral reefs are in catastrophic decline as a result of human-generated pollution. And not only are the seas and oceans of the world worthy of protection for their own sake, they are also key components in the sustainability and preservation of the entire planet.
 
In the last quarter of a century, shipping’s environmental credentials have come under sharper scrutiny than ever before and this is something that is set to continue and increase.  Statistics reveal that shipping is the most environmentally sound form of commercial transport and, set against land-based industries, is a comparatively minor contributor, overall, to marine pollution from human activities.
 
Figures promulgated by the International Chamber of Shipping attest to the fact that land-based discharge (from the likes of sewage, industrial effluent and river run-off) together with atmospheric inputs from land industry sources, account for the lions’ share of marine pollution generated from human activities. In contrast, maritime transport is assessed to be responsible for less than ten per cent of the total.
 
It is interesting and, I hope, instructive to look back at how shipping’s response to pollution issues has developed over the years. And I believe that, despite the somewhat unsavoury reputation that shipping still has to endure in some quarters and also despite the unfortunate high-profile setbacks that still occur from time to time, the story is one of which the industry, as it has shaped itself and put its own house in order recently, has no cause to be ashamed.
 
Within the context of “Green shipping”, the focus today is very much on atmospheric pollution and on the emission of greenhouse gases that, based on scientific evidence and phenomena that are there for all to see, are altering the earth’s climate at an alarming rate. But this was not always the case. Oil pollution from ships was, for the major part of the second half of the last century, a cause for serious concern and IMO, as the industry’s regulatory authority, moved promptly to establishing a comprehensive set of measures, first to control it and, subsequently and gradually, to substantially reduce it.
 
It is hard to imagine it today but, when the Convention establishing IMO was adopted in 1948, marine pollution was regarded as little more than a local problem. Some areas, notably those near ports and on major shipping routes, had experienced occasional oil pollution, but it was not generally thought of as a matter of international, let alone global, concern.
 
By the 1950s, world trade was growing and oil pollution was increasing. When IMO became operational, in 1959, the big boom in international oil trade was fast approaching. Within less than two decades, the world tanker fleet had increased tenfold in tonnage and tankers themselves had grown in size by the same amount.
 
One result of all this was an alarming increase in pollution of the seas, especially oil pollution, which was caused not only by tanker accidents (and some of them were really serious not to ring the alarm bells) but also as a consequence of routine shipping operations, such as the cleaning of cargo tanks.
 
But it was the Torrey Canyon disaster of 1967 that focused the attention of the world on the real danger to the environment posed by the growth in tanker traffic and the impact it had on the size (both in the number and tonnage) of the tanker fleet.  Those of you who have been long in the industry will remember that the Torrey Canyon ran aground while entering the English Channel and spilled her entire cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil into the sea. This resulted in the biggest oil pollution incident ever recorded up to that time, and raised serious questions about the adequacy of measures then in place (both on board and ashore) to prevent oil pollution from ships and mitigate its impact on the environment.
 
IMO wasted no time as it embarked on a multi-faceted, ambitious programme of work, which gradually culminated successfully in the adoption, in 1973, of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, now known universally as MARPOL.
 
MARPOL tackles oil pollution on several fronts. It greatly limits the amount of oil that may be discharged into the sea during routine operations and bans it completely in some areas. It requires Governments to provide reception facilities for oily wastes (from all ships, not just tankers) and IMO has developed guidelines on how these facilities should be provided and held seminars and workshops around the world giving further technical guidance on installing them.
 
With regard to ship design, the 1978 MARPOL Protocol introduced the concept of protective location of segregated ballast tanks, further reducing the amount of cargo spilled after groundings or collisions. The 1983 MARPOL amendments banned the carriage of fuel oil in the forepeak tank – the ship's most vulnerable point in the event of a head-on collision or grounding.
 
In 1992, MARPOL was amended to make it mandatory for tankers of 5,000 dwt and more to be fitted with double hulls, or an alternative design approved by IMO. Amendments to Annex I of MARPOL, adopted in 2001, introduced a new global timetable for accelerating the phase-out of single-hull oil tankers. This was subsequently revised again by further amendments adopted in 2003 leading to single hull tankers prohibited from trading as from last year.
 
Since 1995, all tankers and bulk carriers aged five years and over have been subject to a specially enhanced inspection programme to ensure that any deficiencies – such as corrosion or wear and tear resulting from age or neglect – are detected.
 
On a different front, the Safety of Life at Sea Convention also includes special requirements for tankers. Fire safety provisions, for example, are much more stringent for tankers than ordinary dry cargo ships, since the danger of fire on board ships carrying oil and refined products is much greater. SOLAS also makes it necessary for essential parts of the steering gear of tankers to be duplicated. As with other ships, much of the navigational equipment of tankers must also be duplicated. And special operational techniques for tankers, such as load-on-top, crude-oil washing and inert gas systems, are also enshrined in MARPOL or in SOLAS.
 
It is one thing, of course, to recount the measures that have been put in place to deal with a problem; quite another, to examine whether or not they have achieved their objectives. Let us look at the evidence.
 
Overall, there has been a substantial reduction in marine pollution over the last 15 years, especially with regard to the amount of oil spilled into the sea, despite a massive increase in world seaborne trade and the attendant increase in the world tanker fleet.
 
Let me once again turn to the ICS for the exact figures. Between 1992 and 2008, world seaborne trade rose from 17.5 billion tonne-miles to an estimated 32.7 billion tonne-miles, an increase of around 85 per cent. The carriage of oil and petroleum products accounts for a significant part of this increase, rising by about 40 per cent from 8 billion tonne-miles to an estimated 11.2 billion tonne-miles during the same period. In tonnage terms, the amount of oil transported by sea increased from 1.6 million tonnes in 1992 to over 2.4 million tonnes in 2008. Over 34 million tonnes were carried over the 16 year period. By contrast, the number of major oil spills during the same period shows a steady reduction.
 
Although, there have been setbacks in the form of the  serious accidents that occasionally occur, the overall trend shows a continuing improvement, both in quantity and frequency of oil spills each year.
 
The International Tanker Owners’ Pollution Federation – ITOPF – is another reliable and authoritative source of statistical information. According to ITOPF, the number of large spills (greater than 700 tonnes) has decreased significantly during the last 40 years, such that the average number of major spills for the decade 2000-2009 is less than half of the average for the 1990s and just an eighth of the average for the 1970s.  The same is true for medium sized spills from tankers (7 to 700 tonnes), where the average number of spills occurring in the last decade was 14, half of that experienced during the previous decade. Most notably, for the first time since ITOPF began collating tanker spill statistics, the number of major oil spills involving tankers reached zero in 2009. 
 
While the quantity of oil spilt at sea today bears no comparison with the levels of twenty or even ten years ago, as I mentioned earlier, accidents involving tankers causing serious pollution still happen from time to time. There is also concern about continuing instances of deliberate non-compliance, whereby a small minority of ship officers flout company procedures and MARPOL pollution prevention rules, despite the million-dollar fines being imposed on parties found guilty of such malpractices. This is an unwelcome phenomenon, which only serves to tarnish the otherwise sound reputation of the industry.
 
As ever, the MARPOL Convention remains the most important international treaty instrument covering the prevention of pollution by ships. Since its original adoption, 38 years ago, it has been much expanded, amended and updated and, in its current form, consists of six separate annexes, which address all forms of vessel-source pollution.
 
It sets out regulations dealing with pollution from ships by oil; by noxious liquid substances carried in bulk; by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form; by sewage; by garbage; and with the prevention of air pollution from ships. There can be no doubt that, in conjunction with a variety of other measures, MARPOL has laid the foundation for substantial and continued reductions in pollution from ships, despite, remember, the massive increase in world seaborne trade.
 
***
 
Aside from MARPOL, IMO’s environmental work in recent years has covered a remarkably broad canvas, embracing everything, from the management of ships’ ballast water and the removal of shipwrecks from the seabed to the prohibition of certain toxic substances in ships’ anti-fouling systems. Other IMO Conventions deal with issues such as preparedness, response and co-operation in tackling pollution from oil and from hazardous and noxious substances; the right of States to intervene on the high seas to prevent, mitigate or eliminate danger to their coastlines or related interests from pollution following a maritime casualty; and the safe and environmentally-friendly recycling of ships that have reached the end of their lifetimes. Furthermore, IMO has developed a comprehensive range of measures aimed at ensuring that proper compensation is available for the victims of marine pollution incidents involving ships.
 
The Organization is also tackling potentially “new” inputs that ships may have on marine biodiversity, such as the transfer of invasive species through ships’ biofouling; or the effects of underwater noise from ships on living sea creatures; and even ship strikes on cetaceans.  And it is only right that we should always be thinking proactively about improving shipping’s environmental performance and about how to make it part of the solution to any adverse impacts that may be indentified in the future.
 
***
 
Ladies and gentlemen, I mentioned earlier that atmospheric pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases are the environmental hot topics of the moment. Indeed, the preservation of the earth’s atmosphere is, perhaps, the most significant challenge to our environment today. To respond, IMO, and the maritime community at large, have been working for some time now towards an effective regime to combat and reduce the effects of both emanating from shipping operations.
 
Atmospheric pollution is addressed in Annex VI of MARPOL, which was adopted in 1997 and set, for the first time, limits on sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from ships’ exhausts; prohibited deliberate emissions of ozone-depleting substances; and put a global cap on the sulphur content of fuel oil. It also introduced the concept of Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) to allow for further emission reductions in specially designated sea areas.
Although the shipping industry is but a small contributor to the total volume of gas emissions – compared to road vehicles, aviation and public utilities, such as power stations – atmospheric pollution from ships has, nevertheless, been significantly reduced in the last decade and IMO continues to work towards further reductions as the evidence mounts and the world becomes more aware and more concerned about the damage that might be caused if the issue were left unattended.
 
With that objective in mind, in 2008 IMO adopted amendments to Annex VI, which entered into force in July 2010, and which will see further reductions ushered in, progressively, over the next few years. The revised Annex VI allows for Emission Control Areas (ECAs) to be designated for sulphur oxide and particulate matter, or nitrogen oxide or all three types of emissions from ships. Both the Baltic Sea and the North Sea have been designated as such areas and a new ECA in North American waters, off the coasts of Canada and the United States, will come into force next year.
 
With regard to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from shipping, IMO is in the final stages of developing a robust regime to regulate the issue at the global level. Shipping is the most energy-efficient mode of mass transport and only a modest contributor to global CO2 emissions (2.7 per cent in 2007), but this has not stopped IMO’s and the industry’s quest for further improvements in energy efficiency and emissions reduction, especially in view of the inevitable growth in sea transport in line with increases in global population and international trade.
 
IMO’s work on GHG emissions has evolved and developed over several years. It consists of three distinct ‘building blocks’: technical and operational reduction measures (the development of which is at a very advanced stage); and market-based measures (on which the Organization has also done a great deal of work and which are being pursued in accordance with a work plan set to culminate this year).
 
The technical measures include an Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) for new ships (which is intended to stimulate innovation and technical development of all elements influencing the energy efficiency of a ship from its design phase), while operational measures include a Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) for new and existing ships (which incorporates best practices for fuel-efficient ship operation).
 
The control of GHGs from shipping has been a complex and difficult task from both a conceptual and a technical perspective and, in my view, there can be no denying that the development of technical and operational measures (the cumulative impact of which may reduce emissions by between 25% to 75% below the current level) is a substantial achievement worthy of considerable praise.
 
But the political aspects of the issue have proved just as difficult, if not more so, for our Member States. How should these measures be applied, and to whom? Should they be mandatory or voluntary? If mandatory, should they be introduced as amendments to an existing instrument or form a new, stand-alone one? All of these questions have vexed the membership of IMO and it has not yet been possible for them to reach consensus on them.  Making decisions by consensus has been the hallmark of IMO’s success and I believe it would be for the best if this were also to be the case with GHG emissions as well – no matter how hard the challenge appears to be. 
 
Following the most recent meeting of our Marine Environment Protection Committee in October 2010, some States party to MARPOL Annex VI proposed amendments to that Annex to make the EEDI and the SEEMP mandatory, while some other States did not support the circulation of the proposed amendments.  Consideration of the proposed draft amendments will take place at the Committee’s next session in the coming July, with a view to adoption. 
 
The Committee has also held an extensive debate on how to progress the development of suitable market-based measures for international shipping, following the submission of a comprehensive report by an Expert Group, which had carried out a feasibility study and impact assessment of several possible market-based measures submitted by Governments and observer organizations. An intersessional Working Group, to be held next month, will take this work forward and report to the next MEPC meeting.
 
IMO’s work on greenhouse gas emissions reduction from international shipping proceeds in parallel with that being carried out, for more than ten years now, within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and follows decisions taken at international conferences held in Bali in 2007 and Copenhagen in 2009.
 
In December 2010, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP16) in Cancún once again noted the progress IMO is making in these efforts. Although it did not make specific decisions on the international transport sector, the indications are that the progress achieved thus far by IMO has been duly taken into account: the status quo of the Kyoto Protocol concerning the pursuance, through IMO, of efforts to reduce or limit GHG emissions from international shipping, therefore, remains unaltered.
 
Of the major achievements of the Cancún Conference, I would single out its decisions concerning enhanced action on adaptation and mitigation; approaches and policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation; capacity-building; and the establishment of a Green Climate Fund – to which the contribution of international shipping should, I suggest, be proportionate to the industry’s degree of responsibility.
 
Having decided to establish the Green Climate Fund I just mentioned, the suggestion that, within efforts aimed at raising financing through the international transport sector, further work on market-based measures should be taken forward in IMO and the International Civil Aviation Organization, was another acknowledgement of the Organization’s work on a sensitive issue.
 
As a result, 2011 will see an intensification of IMO’s efforts to develop measures to limit or reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases from international shipping. It is now up to all concerned to redouble their efforts to make further progress, not least through intensive and meaningful deliberations and decisions at the July session of the MEPC.
 
Throughout all this, one thing that, I think, should not be overlooked is that the industry and its regulators share common aims in this respect. GHG emissions reduction is a quest on which we are jointly embarked and in which success will produce a “win-win” situation. After all, improvements in vessel efficiency will result in lower fuel consumption, from which everybody benefits, while also helping significantly to protect the world’s climate.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
As befits a heavy industry being carried out in such a fragile yet crucial milieu, shipping has developed a clear sense of responsibility with regard to its environmental credentials. And, as the international regulatory body for the industry, IMO has been, and continues to be, the focal point for, and the driving force behind, efforts to ensure shipping becomes greener and cleaner.
 
As the annual casualty statistics reveal, accidents do happen, from time to time, despite our best efforts to the contrary.  But, looking at the broader picture, every occasion in which a ship becomes involved in a pollution incident or a major casualty must be set against the literally millions of trouble-free, clean and economically efficient tonne-miles that the shipping industry achieves every day.
 
Despite the current global economic downturn, it seems inevitable that, overall, demand for shipping services will continue to rise, over time, in line with the demands of the world’s growing population and trade. In good times and bad, hundreds of millions of people all over the world rely on ships to transport both the essentials and the luxuries of life. The global economic outlook may currently be uncertain but one thing of which we can all be fairly sure is that, no matter how global markets may contract, expand or otherwise metamorphose, there will always be a demand for ships and shipping.
 
Yet, for many people shipping, together with the huge range of related activities in the maritime sector, does not register a particularly strong echo on their personal radar. The very nature of shipping makes it something of a “background” industry.  For most people, most of the time, ships are simply “out of sight and out of mind” – until, of course, an accident occurs and the world’s TV screens and newspapers are full of harrowing images of distressed wildlife and environmental damage.
 
Despite this, shipping has a good story to tell with respect to the environment. Indeed, the industry, by widely and effectively implementing the various standards developed and adopted by IMO (in the formulation of which it plays an important role), has consistently and continually improved its performance in so many environmental arenas. Less oil is spilled; less chemicals pollute the seas; less garbage is ejected; less raw sewage is emitted; atmospheric pollution is being reduced and greenhouse gas emissions are under scrutiny within our energy efficiency schemes; cleaner hull coatings have been adopted; ballast water is being addressed. The list goes on.
 
The regulatory framework enshrined in the collective body of more than 50 IMO conventions (of which two-fifths are environment-related) provides an operational base that allows the industry not only to be safe and have a good environmental record, but also to be efficient, competitive and cost-effective. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly apparent that, far from being in conflict with one another, good economic performance and responsible environmental practices are, in fact, mutually advantageous.
 
I wish this session, and the Conference as a whole, every success.
 
Thank you.
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